Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Friday, January 19, 2018

With apologies to the Farrelly brothers: My program stops at EIGHT-mile long runs!

A friend recently had an interesting ad crop up on his Facebook feed. People like this fellow who have known me for a while, since before the glut of Internet weirdness and pseudo-scams and half-intelligible noise inevitably permeated the running world, understand that throwing certain links my way is analogous to danging a five-pound rock of crystal meth in the face of a broke tweaker on a tear and politely asking, "Any thoughts on this?"

I suggest that you take a spin through the pages at the other end of the Facebook link before reading on, so that you're not biased by what follows here, inasmuch as that could possibly matter.

The person pitching the 9-Mile Marathon training program is Marlies Kort, a 45-year-old Dutch triathlete who apparently now resides in the Caribbean. Marlies has run some solid times, including a 2:52:46 at age 41 to win the master's division at the 2013 New York City Marathon, and won the 45-to-49 division at the Ironman 70.3 Boulder last year. She clearly knows what she's doing.

You'll note that the page is riddled with an unusually high number of spelling and grammatical errors. I normally correlate this with a certain level of skepticism about the content itself for a number of straightforward, pedestrian, and defensible reasons. But if Marlies is not a native speaker of English, I can cheerfully give her a pass in this area.

You'll also surely notice that the text contains a flurry of bolded words, and that there appears to be little to no systematic process for determining which words merit emphasis. This is distracting, but again, not damning in and of itself, and probably relates to the language issue.

In the introductory video, Marlies says she was inspired to create the program because she noticed a distressing pattern of older marathoners overtraining, particularly via overemphasizing long runs, and showing up to the starting line too fried to enjoy a positive experience. This is unquestionably true, and not a recent development, although I would argue that undertraining is responsible for the overwhelming fraction of disappointing marathons in the program's target population -- 3 1/2- to 5 1/2-hour runners, or midpackers.

The primary selling point is that the program is
In other words, it's another more-for-less marathon program purporting to be based on scientific (i.e., theoretical and empirical) principles. In fact, Marlies says that the program is "a predictable and repeatable new running science." It is, she says, "the ONLY comprehensive training system on the market today to run a solid marathon, based on max 9-mile training runs, a 90-day schedule and 3 to 4 runs per week." The odds favor this claim being true, at least in terms of the training parameters.

This passage jumps out at me more than anything else:
In order to make AFA and ESS work, you MUST train a REDUCED number of weekly  miles and LESS miles per long run. At a very specific heart rate, we call MHR. In The 9-Mile Marathon training program you'll find the training schedules and the MHR test-protocol to figure out your personal marathon running hr 'sweet-spot'. When you apply this system, you will finish your marathon in the finish time the 9-Mile Training System predicted for you (finish time prediction tables- based on your personal data - are included as well). 
After poking around the site, I learned that AFA stands for "accumulated fatigue avoidance," while ESS stands for "energy supply switch." Marlies' use of MHR to refer to "marathon heart rate" is confusing because in the ex phys vernacular, the "M" stands for "maximum," and I don't know many people who can bang out nine-milers at this level of exertion, or, for that matter, 5Ks.

The strangest direct claim about the program is probably this one:
Independent of the way we train, we'll all feel tired around 20-24 miles. Those 'traditional' 18 mile long training runs aren't preparing you for this either! It is my personal experience that training The 9-Miler Way is a MUCH BETTER WAY to survive those last miles, and to recover quicker after the race
I'm trying to figure out in what world stopping at 9 miles in training is better preparation for the rigors of a 26.2-mile run -- even a sub-maximal one -- than at least few runs of 18 miles or more. Marlies is right in that very slow marathon runners, who are in effect tackling the same distance as an elite runner racing a 50-miler because of how long  they're out there, risk overdoing long runs in training, and shouldn't do these every week. But to translate this into "long runs are bad" is laughable.

The most repetitive selling point, not to be confused with the most visible one and mentioned in at least three different places, is that this kind of training won't interfere substantially with your social life. If that's a real concern, why not take this a small logical step further and just not even really train at all? Just walk a lot, maybe mixing in some jogging when it's nice out, but not so much that excessive sweating becomes a factor and forces you to do laundry more often or upgrade your makeup. If this seems to lead to more fatigue in the marathon you choose, just slow down and have fun.

Overall, this is a pretty standard scheme: elite runner offers a shortcut for slow runners with catchy lures that actually promise a lot less than meets the eye after a little investigation. Marlies doesn't promise any personal records, just a positive experience, which can mean a lot of things. Anyone who wants to feel catered to by a world champion can sign up and probably receive a thrill that makes the $47 cost of the program worth it.

(By the way, I assume people of a certain vintage understand the reference in the title.)


  1. Scam, Scam, Scam!!! If your an American and you love your country and you love the freedom of running then keep your $47 and invest in a coach or program in the United States like Beck here.

  2. The Dutch also practice assisted suicide for people with depression. Marlies should get her MD and if after the runner uses her program and he or she is still distraught over the marathon time Marlies could give the runner the opportunity to exit via "Old Horse Syndrome" persistent with delusional grandiose marathon time thought disorder.