Weight vest training and the 2 hour marathon

Unusually, weight vest training has been in the news recently, following claims made by American Spartan/Adventure racer, Hobie Call, on the Runners World website, that he could break 2 hours for the marathon by training with a 40lb/18.2kg weight vest.  Only problem is, that he needs someone to sponsor him for 18-24 months in order to do the special training required!

He’s 34 and his marathon best of 2hrs 16mins 38secs, was run 5 years ago on a downhill course in Utah.

The first news item appears here and the second, a more detailed interview can be found here.

On the face of it he appears to be making a bold pitch to attract a sponsor.  He does, however, provide some detail about his proposed training methods which involve four steps, with the fifth being a sub-2 hour marathon, without the weight vest!

Step 1: 1 mile, 40lb/18.2kg, 4:34
Step 2: 5K, 22lb/10kg, 4:34 mile pace
Step 3: 10K, 14lb/6.4kg, 4:34 mile pace
Step 4: Half marathon, 6lb/2.7kg, 4:34 mile pace

The second article provides a lot more detail about his weight vest methods, but because he hasn’t actually done this theoretical training and put his ideas to the test, it all comes across as rather lame.

If you have some radical new training ideas, for goodness sake put them to the test and let’s see what happens! Nevertheless, he does raise some interesting and alternative training theories which are worthy of more thought.

The significance of the 40lb (18.2kg) isn’t made clear.   I’m not sure if that figure is a particular percentage of his body weight or maybe just happens to be the weight of the vest he has.

I’m not going to conduct a detailed analysis of his theoretical methods, which may or may not be a great idea.  I will however, write a little more about weight vest training in general and my own weight vest training in particular, which I have been doing quietly since 1995 – a year after I did my first ultras!

For me, weight vest training or ‘extra load training (XL)’ as I tend to call it, has been a potent training method and has allowed me to make continued, successful progress in ultra distance running, without injury (my last running injury was in 2001) over a long period of time.  Use of a range of XL weights continues to be a cornerstone of my training along with a wide range of cross training too.


I am still innovating and learning new ways to use weight vest training in my overall training plan.

My own training programme currently includes, amongst a wide range of other things, 15 minute walks with 56kg XL (Almost 100% of body weight); 3 hour walks with 25kg (43%); short runs with 14kg (24%); long runs (4 hours), intense hill sessions (up and down) and long intervals with 4.5-7.5kg (7.8-13%).

I started with very light loads (2%) in 1995 and have gradually built-up over the years.  No XL training, of any kind, is performed for a period of 14 days prior to important races.

This type of XL training has only been possible because I have a long history of intensive weight training which has developed my ability to build up the weight vest loads with which I can safely and effectively run.

 I suggest that nobody should consider going over 10% in a weights vest, without considerable weight training experience behind them.

I have done regular weight training since 1994 and have followed a highly intensive and demanding programme since 2008.

It will be noticed that I have developed, in conjunction with ULTRAFitnessTraining.com expert Shaun Brassfield-Thorpe, a ‘Cascade Training Effect’ whereby the ability to carry very heavy loads, for short durations, is transferred to carrying relatively lighter loads for very extensive periods and then, obviously, competing with no load.  It really is a case of ‘train hard – race easy’.

Quads pain was a limiting factor for me in my early 100km (62 miles) road races.  XL training fixed that and I got my best for 100km down to 7hrs 7mins (averaging 6:53/mile for 62 miles).  After starting to use XL training I noticed that I very rarely got stiff and sore muscles, even after hard training and long races and that continues today.

XL training can fatigue-proof the legs, develop highly specific running strength, produce jumps in performance (even after many years of training) and be a versatile training aid if used sensibly. It toughens and strengthens the body from the shoulders to the toes and provides a level of robustness not achieved by normal running alone.  But for best effect it must be prepared for and supported by an extensive weight training programme as discussed above.

Every training programme and training method is an act of faith, as one never knows what would have happened if one had trained differently, over the same period of time.

Weight vest training, however, remains an innovative and exciting training method which deserves more serious attention by anyone wanting to improve, maintain progression and reduce their injury rate.

Many runners nowadays will have inadvertently done a crude form of XL training when training and racing long trails carrying water bladders and/or rucksacks.  This will have given them a feel for this type of training.  This is really just tickling the surface of what is possible.  For it to work to best effect, a more controlled and varied application is required.

Ever since I came into running in 1992 I have felt that endurance runners and coaches were a very conservative bunch, reluctant to try anything different.  This is slowly changing, but I feel it will be a long time yet before more innovative training methods work their way into endurance running.

It has been interesting to read about the influence on Bradley Wiggins’ training and fitness of Team Sky’s Head of Performance Science, Tim Kerrison, whose background is in swimming and rowing!

Whether Hoby Call can break 2 hours for the marathon, by training with a 40lb/18.2kg vest, no one knows, least of all him.  He does, however, believe it will work, so maybe it will and perhaps it is worth a try!

More information on weight vest training can be found HERE 

To get the most from weight vest training why not consider signing up for professional, on-line coaching from www.ULTRAFitnessTraining.com