Since joining Stazza’s Stable in December 2018, Aoife has run one marathon (Dublin), where she knocked 15 minutes off her PB, running 2:32:34 to win the Irish National Title.

She’s also taken over four minutes off her 10 mile PB, running 54:23 in Dungarvan (Feb 2020). After the Dungarvan 10, she started her build-up for the Vienna Marathon and was looking good for 2:27:30-2:28 but, like many races, Vienna was cancelled due to the coronavirus. 

She took a three-week break in May which coincided nicely with the national lockdown. Since late May, she’s built back up gradually and will now race the invitational, elite only Valencia marathon on the 6th December. 

Aoife’s National title in the Dublin marathon was the fastest time ever run by an Irish woman in Ireland. Her 2:32:34 ranks her fifth on the Irish all-time list. 

Her three 10 mile PBs from 2019 (55:17, 56:47, and 57:21) were the three fastest times over 10 miles by an Irish woman for the year. Her 54:23  from this year’s Dungarvan ranks her first in Ireland for 2019 and fourth on the Irish all-time list .

As stated elsewhere, the ‘A’ goal for Valencia is 2:26:29 (this will rank her second on the Irish all-time list). The qualifying time for the Tokyo Olympics (if they go ahead) is 2:29:30. 

So, let’s have a cheeky little gander at how Aoife got on in round one of her Valencia marathon build-up. Here’s the scheduled graft for round one:

Aoife Cooke 

Mon – 8 miles easy + 8 miles easy 

Tue – 8 miles easy + 6 miles easy 

Wed – warm up—40x400m in 78”-76” (rec. 200m in 2’)—cool down 

Thur – 6 miles easy + 8 miles easy 

Fri – 8 miles easy + warm up—12x80m hill sprints—cool down 

Sat – 8 miles easy + 8 miles easy 

Sun – Endurance Spine #1: 4 miles warm up—12 miles @ 5’50”—4 miles easy 

She dropped out the 40x400m with most splits being 76”-77” and none slower than 77” (covering a smidgen over 20 miles for the workout, including warm up and cool down). 

She recovered nicely from the big track workout and by Friday afternoon was well able for the hill blast session.

Her first Endurance Spine run went a tad better than expected: she dropped out the 12 miles tempo section @ 5”47” (3” per mile faster than scheduled), feeling ok throughout, and kept the pace consistent. Special mentions to fellow Stablemates, Mark Smith (2:26 marathoner) and Paul Moloney (50’ 10 miler) for pacing Aoife on her Endurance Spine run.

Aoife had no problems banging out the 120 miles for the week.

From a coaching point of view (pov), Aoife delivered a beautiful first week and is now set to really get going. 

Previously, I’ve posted at length about why there’s no need to run farther than 8 miles/65’ for maintenance runs and about the importance of double runs over singles. I’ve also posted a three-part article about the importance of hill blasts for marathoners/all runners and how they improve amongst many other things, running economy. 

Let’s look at the individual workouts, starting with the 40x400m. Many of you may think this is a nod to Zatopek, or Verheul, or Daniels, or Canova (his marathon build-up for sub elites). But in reality, this was a completely different session to any of the aforementioned. Zatopek’s famous 40x400m session had him running his 200m recoveries in 45” (roughly 6’ mile pace) whereas Aoife was shuffling her 200m in 90”. Rather than give you a history lesson on the 40x400m sessions, let’s look at Aoife’s session and why I dished it out…

Throughout Covid, we haven’t been able to get on the track in Cork and we’ve had to do our workouts on the road, with most sessions building up to 12km+ of faster work. Entering this block of marathon specific work, my concern was Aoife’s speed/speed endurance. There are many ways to skin a Stablemate but you’ve gotta know how your Stablemates tick…

What was the goal? Aoife’s MP will be 5’35”. I wanted a big volume session at roughly 20”-25” faster than MP (16km of work at around 5’10” pace and total volume of 24km, excluding warm up and cool down)—there’s no need to go any faster. Going faster hugely increases the risk of injury/sickness, means much more recovery time, and takes the cleanness out of the balance of the week, and doesn’t fit with the overall structure of the build-up.

WORKOUT:40x400m in 77″

Aoife had no pacers, just me, my mellifluous voice, and Stazza’s stick to encourage her through the graft. She boxed-off the first workout, in lane three—perfectly.

Because we didn’t hammer the workout—Aoife controlled the workout with aplomb—she recovered in time for Friday’s hill blasts (I’ll write about these another time). She dropped out the hill blasts without any bother, showing she had fully recovered from the track workout and that her speed’s returning. 

To finish off her first 120 mile week of this build-up, she had to fire-off a 20-mile Endurance Spine run. We’ve been working on her Endurance Spine runs since June, inching them out from 6 miles @ 6’30” pace to Sunday, where she spanked-out a 20-miler with 12 miles @ 5’47”, again, like Wednesday’s track session, always in control. This time, however, Stablemates Paul Moloney and Mark Smith ran with her—Paul finished off the 20 miles with a few miles down around 5’10” pace, while Mark stayed with Aoife.

STABLEMATES: Aoife tucks in (Paul in black and Mark in grey)

So round one proved a perfect start for the build-up to the Valencia marathon.

Here’s round two…

Aoife Cooke 

Mon – 8 miles easy + 8 miles easy 

Tue – 8 miles easy + 6 miles easy 

Wed – warm up—8x2km in 6’50” (rec. 1km in 3’55”)—cool down 

Thur – 6 miles easy + 8 miles easy 

Fri – 8 miles easy + warm up—12x80m hill sprints—cool down 

Sat – 8 miles easy + 8 miles easy 

Sun – Structural run #1: 3 miles warm up—16 miles @ 6’—3 miles easy

Some quick thoughts…

Again, the mileage will be up around 120 for the week. 

This week’s midweek workout is a variation on Canova’s 8x2km workout—it’s slightly different in terms of recovery pace and that we’re working at sea level (a point 99.9% of coaches miss when employing/stealing Canova’s work). Throughout the build-up, we’ll modify Canova’s, marathon specific, extension of speed sessions, to meet Aoife’s needs.

The Stazza Structural runs marry with the Stazza Endurance Spine runs. We work these on a fortnightly basis, increasing distance and speed. This week, Aoife will pop-out a 22-miler with 16 of the miles @ 6’ pace. 

Next week, we’ll review round two and look forward to round three…