Stadephobia is not a real word. I just made it up. It combines the ancient Greek words stade, which was a unit of measure used in footraces (1 stade = 180 meters), and phobia, meaning fear, and it’s my name for the phenomenon of fear of distance. In general, phobias are irrational fears of things like spiders and open spaces, but in endurance sports many athletes experience a perfectly rational fear of longer race distances. The Ironman race distance, for example, can be quite intimidating for the athlete who has not yet mastered it.

How to overcome Stadephobia

As natural as such fears are, they shouldn’t be allowed to get out of hand. In excess, stadephobia sabotages athletes by tempting them to make poor training decisions out of an insecure need to prove to themselves that they can successfully complete the distance they’ve signed up for. It also causes athletes to start events in a state of high anxiety and low confidence that is intrinsically performance-hindering. So, how do you manage fear of distance? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Trust the process.

You are not the first athlete ever to attempt to complete whichever race distance you’re currently preparing for, whether it’s a marathon, an Ironman, or even a 100-mile ultramarathon. Keep this fact in mind throughout the training process. If you follow a training plan that is similar to those that athletes like you have used successfully in the past to successfully complete the same race distance, you have every reason to believe that it will do the same for you.

2. Don’t look up.

One of the big mistakes I see athletes make when they are training for a race distance that intimidates them is to base their assessments of their ability to complete the distance on race day on their current fitness. A triathlete training for an Ironman might, for example, struggle to complete a 75-mile bike  ride 12 weeks before the race and think, “There’s no way I can ride 112 miles and then run a marathon!”

Well, no shit. Even a professional Ironman racer cannot and should not expect to be ready to perform at peak level 12 weeks before an event. You aren’t supposed to be ready before it’s time to be ready! By looking too far ahead in the training process you will achieve nothing more than creating a lot of unnecessary anxiety.

Whether you’re a first-timer or a pro or anything in between, what matters is not where you are fitness-wise but which direction you’re going. How fit you are today is not important. What’s important is that you are getting fitter. So, instead of comparing yourself to the athlete you will need to be on race day to achieve your goal, compare yourself to the athlete you where when you started the training process. If you’re fitter now than you were, say, four weeks ago, then your training is working and you can expect to keep getting fitter in the weeks to come, so that when it’s actually time to be ready, you will be.

3. Accept uncertainty

At the root of stadephobia is anxiety about uncertainty. No race distance is inherently scary. Rather, a race distance is only scary to the degree that an athlete doubts his or her ability to complete it successfully. But some athletes are naturally more comfortable with uncertainty than others. Given two athletes training for a 100K ultramarathon, both of whom rate their chances of completing it successfully at 75 percent, one might be completely freaked out about those odds while the other is only mildly anxious.

If you tend toward being uncomfortable with uncertainty, work on it. Champions don’t mind risking failure. In fact, they deliberately set goals that carry a high risk of failure. The whole point of doing endurance sports is to challenge yourself, and you’re not challenging yourself if you know for sure you’re going to succeed. Obviously, you don’t want to take on tests that you know you’re going to fail, either. There’s a happy medium. But the point is to train your mind to be happy in that middle state, where it remains to be seen whether you’ll make it to the finish line until you actually do.

Unless you’ve been hermetically siloed within the endurance space for as long as you’ve been exercising, you’ve probably heard of muscle confusion. Popular in the vanity-oriented fitness realm, muscle confusion is the idea that muscles undergo the greatest adaptation to training when they are subjected to constantly changing stimuli, and the corresponding practice of mixing together highly varied workout types for the purpose of maximizing muscular development. Tony Horton’s blockbuster P90X program is the best-known example of a system based on this principle.

Does muscle confusion work? It depends on what you mean by “confusion” and also on what you mean by “work”? If “confusion” means varying workout types almost randomly, with no thought given to the direction they take collectively, and if “work” is defined as achieving a specific objective such as maximizing muscle strength or size, then no, muscle confusion does not work. Any serious bodybuilder or powerlifter will tell you that the best results come when workouts are varied, yes, but within fairly narrow limits, and when they are carefully sequenced so that each session (or week) builds on the preceding.

The same is true of endurance training. To develop maximum fitness for a specific race, you need to subject your body to a limited variety of stimuli repeatedly, giving the process direction by increasing the challenge level of the same stimuli as your body adapts and by giving greater and greater emphasis to the most race-specific stimuli. Injecting extra variety for variety’s sake into this process won’t help you get where you’re trying to go.

While there is something to be said for introducing little wrinkles into training for the sake of fine-tuning the race fitness of advanced and highly fit athletes, in most cases it is possible to prepare optimally for any race with a limited variety of bread-and-butter workout types. In the case of running these are easy runs, long runs, short intervals, long intervals, hill repetitions, tempo/threshold workouts, and also race-pace workouts if these aren’t already covered by the other categories (as would be the case for a runner preparing for a marathon). The rest is details: designing specific workouts and sequencing them in the best way to maximize race-specific fitness on a particular date.

I’ve never encountered a runner who includes too much variety in his or her training. A much more common problem is failure to vary one’s training stimuli enough. Just look around: In the environment where you train, are the other runners you see not all doing pretty much the same thing? How often do you pass by someone running hill repeats?

One way to add the requisite variety to your training is to follow a structured training plan. And, to be honest, that’s pretty much the only practical way for most runners who aren’t knowledgeable enough to be coaches themselves to avoid the pitfall of excessive workout monotony. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a convenient way for athletes to select well-designed workouts to follow on an a la carte basis, so that they could vary their training stimuli in sensible ways even outside the context of a formal training plan?

Well, now there is! (You knew this was coming, didn’t you?) 80/20 Endurance Coach David Warden recently completed a Herculean effort to convert every single individual swim, bike, and run workout included in our online training plans into a discrete .FIT file that can be downloaded onto your Garmin device and taken on the go. This complete library of 80/20 workouts allows you to select the perfect training stimulus for every circumstance and receive step-by-step guidance from warm-up to cool-down. And combined with a calculator, this unique resource allows you to easily create your own 80/20 training weeks or plans.

What’s the cost, you ask? They’re free! Learn more about our new 80/20 Workout Library here.

If you’re like many other endurance athletes, you have probably followed a readymade training plan at one time or another. Perhaps you found it in a book, or maybe you purchased it online from a website such as Final Surge or TrainingPeaks. If so, then you know that readymade plans are generally classified by race distance and level. For example, if you’re a relatively new runner interested in training for your first marathon, you will likely choose a beginner-level marathon plan.

Choosing the right level is not always easy, though, especially when there are a lot of levels. I have online running and triathlon plans that come in as many as 10 levels at each major race distance. Not a week goes by without my receiving at leas one email from an athlete asking, “Which level should I choose?” These athletes always tell me a little about themselves so that I have something on which to base my recommendation. More often than not, the information these athletes choose to share with me is either their time goal for the distance at which they intend to race or their best or most recent time for the same distance. This has always seemed odd to me, because time goals are almost completely irrelevant to training plan selection.

To understand why, consider the hypothetical example of a runner who wants to run a marathon in 3:45. If this runner should come to me and ask which level of marathon plan I recommend for a runner who has this goal, and his name is Wilson Kipsang, I will tell him he does not need to train at all, because I know that Wilson Kipsang has run 2:03 for the marathon on four separate occasions, and a man who is capable of running a 2:03 marathon can run a 3:45 marathon on no formal training whatsoever.

Now suppose instead that the runner targeting a 3:45 marathon who comes to me for help with training plan selection is not Wilson Kipsang but a 44-year-old woman who has run six past marathons and has a current PR of 4:22. I would need a little more information to be sure, but it is likely that I would tell this athlete that no training plan could possibly deliver her to a 3:45 marathon. She could quit her job, send her children to live with their grandparents, and devote her life to pursuing this goal and never achieve it.

What this rather extreme hypothetical example demonstrates is that there is no single training plan that fits all athletes pursuing any given race performance goal. So if time goals are not the appropriate basis for training plan selection, what is? Simple: training history.

Numbers aside, the goal that every athlete shares is improvement, which tends to occur in modest increments and is made possible by modest increases in training load. Your next training plan should therefore be one that administers a training load that is slightly greater than the highest training load you handled successfully in preparing for a prior race of the same distance you’re targeting this time around. For example, if you built up to 45 miles per week in preparing for your last marathon, build up to 50 miles next time.

Note that increasing the training load is not the only way to improve, so you shouldn’t feel compelled to keep training more and more each time you set your sights on a PR. You can also improve by making better use of the volume of training you’re already doing, for example by doing less training at moderate intensity and more at low and high intensities.

Indeed, if your current training formula is already a good fit for you, you can improve without changing it at all. That’s because you are not the same athlete at the end of a training cycle as you were at the beginning. For example, if you complete an 18-week marathon build-up, then take it easy for three weeks, and then repeat the same 18-week cycle, you will start the second cycle fitter than you did the previous one, so the same training will develop your running ability even further.

I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent so I’ll just stop here.

Hi Guys,

I am planning buying 80/20 program (not sure in 1/2 marathon or marathon) but I want to prepare myself for it, as I am out of shape to start it now. On my first run after long break I noticed that pace to HR ratio decreased over the course of 5k, where in the end I had to almost walk to have it in aerobic zone. I have read that such ratio dropping is sign of lack of aerobic base. And my question is while building base do I always keep myself in aerobic space? And secondly is there a benefit to push longer and slowing the pace, or rather stop once HR starts spiking despite constant or even decreasing pace.


BTW: are all 80/20 plans the structured workout version on training peaks? (so I can download automatically on Fenix 5?)


Dear M,

Great question!

In our 80/20 plans, you’ll find that 80% of the workouts are done in Zone 1 and Zone 2. This is the “easy” 80 percent. The other 20 percent is moderate to high intensity. It is possible that at the beginning of your training you will have trouble staying in Zone 1 when Zone 1 is called for. That is OK. As long as you stay in Zone 1 or 2 when the workout calls for Zone 1 or 2, you’ll improve faster. If the workouts calls for Zone 2 but you are tired that day and stay in Zone 1, that is ok. If the workout calls for Zone 1 but your slowest run pace puts you at Zone 2, that is ok. As long as the combination of Zone 1-2 is 80%.

It is of course better to spend the time in Zone 1 and 2 exactly as the plan is prescribed, but you’ll be able to do that after a month of training.

When using HR, I would only walk in between hard intervals. If you are running a long Zone 2 session (and there are many of these) and your HR spikes above Zone 2, don’t walk, just run as slow as you can.

However, this HR problem does not exist if you use Pace or Power are an intensity guide. If your Zone 2 workout calls for a pace of 6 minutes per kilometer, you can your HR. If the plans calls for Zone run of 200 watts, then just hold 200 watts and ignore HR. Our plans support both Pace and Power and translate Zones to pace, power, and HR. In fact, when you purchase our plans, you choose HR, Pace, or Power as your measure of intensity.

Please see our Zone Calculator to see the different ways to measure intensity. Also please see to read about the three different types of intensity plans for the marathon.

All of our 80/20 plans come in either structured workouts or original plans. The two types are identical, but you really want the structured workouts as they will indeed export and sync automatically to supported devices, including the Fenix 5.

Finally, we offer a Level Guarantee for our plans. If you buy the Level 0 plan and find it is too easy after a month, come back to me and I’ll get you the Level 1 plan for free, and if Level 1 becomes too easy, I’ll get you the Level 2.


Matt and I periodically publish anonymously your inquiries to us, particularly when the answer may benefit the community. Have a question about 80/20 training or training in general? Feel free to e-mail me. David W.

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