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Fine-Tune Your Marathon Training According to Your Unique Traits

Whether you’re a tortoise or a hare, a lover of hills, or rock-bounding trail runner, exploring your athletic DNA can help make sense of your training.

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As you start into a marathon training plan, it’s important to consider the ways in which you might respond to training—what makes you the kind of athlete you are. Understanding how your body and mind react to physical exertion can help you not only set appropriate goals, but also assist in tweaking training to optimize your unique potential.

This short quiz will help you pinpoint strengths and weaknesses as you enter into training. If you’re new to running and aren’t sure how to answer these, just keep them in the back of your mind as you begin to train. You can also reflect on other sports or exercise programs you’ve participated in to give you some data to work with. Ultimately, your strengths and weaknesses will reveal themselves as you begin to log some miles. For each question, pick the response that best describes you and keep track of your tally.

What type of training do you prefer?

  1. Long tempo runs and intervals
  2. Short and fast repeats

It’s only natural to enjoy things that you are good at. For instance, if you are a runner who tends to prefer longer workouts, it’s likely because you have a greater volume of slow-twitch muscle fibers and therefore tend to perform better as the distance gets longer. Or, if you aren’t currently running, maybe you noticed that you prefer long, leisurely bike rides to all-out 30-minute spin classes. On the other hand, if you’re an athlete who has more fast-twitch fibers, then you are probably naturally inclined to prefer short and speedy workouts, whether that’s running sprints on the track or riding hard in a spin class. If you find yourself in the latter camp, not to worry. While you may struggle with the endurance-based training a bit more early on, with time and training, you can run a great marathon.

What type of training do you adapt best to?

  1. Longer work: tempo runs and long runs
  2. Everything in moderate doses
  3. Faster work: repeat runs at mile to 5K pace

Answering this can be a bit of a guessing game, but consider the type of workouts you’ve done (in any sport) in the past and how you felt they affected your fitness level. Some people will feel really fit after just a couple of weeks of long, moderately paced endurance training, while others feel their fitness is boosted by regular high-intensity work. Knowing this gives you some quick insight into your physiological makeup. As you may have guessed, our bodies tend to adapt better to the training we are naturally best at. It doesn’t mean that you can’t train for a marathon if you tend to best adapt to sprint work, but you may need to commit to a slightly longer training block to ease into the longer training.


At which distances are you strongest?

  1. Far better at longer distances (>10K) than shorter
  2. Good across the board, but slightly better at longer distances
  3. Good across the board, but slightly better at shorter distances
  4. Far better at shorter distances (<10K) than longer

This question further pinpoints where your natural inclination and talent lie and how to best approach training. If you don’t have a natural proclivity for running longer distances, be sure to be patient as you build your endurance. It will come with time and training.

How do you typically approach a race?

  1. I tend to hold an even pace throughout or even pick it up in the second half
  2. I go out hard and tend to fade toward the end
  3. I have a great kick, but struggle to keep up

How you answer this question speaks to your general level of endurance. If you tend to log fairly even race paces, you probably possess a fairly strong aerobic engine. If you chose the second option, also known as the “fly and die” approach, you will probably have to put some effort into building your endurance and aerobic strength. Finally, if you’re more of a sprinter, you probably picked the last option, which simply means you’ll need to work on your endurance.

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What types of runs do you best recover from?

  1. Long runs and marathon-specific workouts
  2. Everything about the same
  3. Strength and speed workouts

Knowing how you recover from certain workouts will help you plan your training. If you know you need two days of recovery between a long run and a speed workout, plan accordingly. Your recovery time may even dictate the length of certain training segments. For instance, if you recover slowly from marathon-specific training, you may need to lengthen that block of training. Conversely, if you recover quickly from that type of training, you might shorten it. This allows you to maximize your development as a marathoner, and helps you skirt injuries, overtraining, and training plateaus.


Tally your scores from all questions. Then find where your score falls in the ranges below to determine where your strengths may lie as a runner.

>6: In for the Long Haul
7–10: Jack of All Trades
11–15: Fast and Furious

A lower score indicates a natural propensity for endurance events, while a higher score might mean you’re more of a sprinter.

But remember, even the highest-scoring runner is not precluded from the marathon. This quiz is purely meant to help you gather information to properly structure training.

While some folks are endowed with ideal endurance genes—think of the athletes who win the Boston and New York City marathons—most of the rest of us aren’t perfect marathon specimens. The good news is that even if you don’t have long, lean legs, a perfect stride, or a natural proclivity for mentally focusing over many miles, you can successfully finish a marathon with the right training.

Adapted from Hansons First Marathon: Step Up to 26.2 the Hansons Way by Luke Humphrey, with permission of VeloPress.