MCM Runner’s World Challenge Program Review

I’ve owed you a review of my Runner’s World Challenge program for some time now, but I was waiting until I had shaken off some of my post-race/storm funk and I had some time.


I may never have “some time,” and it’s storming again in NYC…so…

Screen shot 2012-11-07 at 9.16.55 PM.png

In May, after the Fitness Meet + Tweet, Anne, Tina and I met with the Runner’s World communications director to discuss how we could work together.

I suggested paying me to travel the world and run races, but Bart Yasso already has that job, so they offered for me to try out their Challenge program to review. It seemed like a decent compromise, so I agreed.

Their challenge program provides you with: a training plan, access to Training Peaks training log software, access to private RW Challenge training forums moderated by their editors/experts, a Runner’s World book of your choice, emails from Bart Yasso and a t-shirt.

Race weekend, you get a shakeout run with your RW buddies and a strategy session the day before. The day of the race, you get access to their RW Challenge tent before the race and an after-party post-race.

Training Plan

(Note: you can also purchase their interactive training plans a la carte.)

I was going for #sub4orbust, so I went for their break-4:00 training plan.

I’d heard mixed reviews. I’d heard of someone who used the plan and broke 4, and someone who didn’t. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I went for it.


Here’s an example of the first week’s workouts.

The plan generally consisted of 5 days of running, and peaked at 48 miles per week.

The first half of the plan relied on hill workouts for the challenging workouts; the back half of the plan relied on Yassos (obviously), tempos and track workouts of death interval workouts.

I’d never run 5 days per week before, but then again, I’d never tried to break 4:00 before, either. I wanted to challenge myself with more days of running to get my body as used to running and pushing itself as possible.

Did I make every workout? Nope. I’d say I made somewhere between 80-85% of them. I don’t regret anything about my training. I got really busy, still got in most of my workouts and somehow managed to have a little bit of a social life. (I think? Those 16 weeks are kind of a blur.)

Training Peaks Training Log

There’s a lot you can do with the training log, but the user interface isn’t the most intuitive.


I liked the thorough workout instructions, and all of these data fields available to enter lots of data to analyze later…but to be honest, it almost ended up being too much.

I’ve used DailyMile for a few years now, and I’m just really used to their user interface, and I realistically wasn’t going to track my miles in two places, so I ended up abandoning TrainingPeaks fairly early on.

Screen shot 2012-11-07 at 9.52.50 PM.png

Although it does seem like there were some cool reports I could have accessed, I didn’t need them.

There was a PDF version of the plan that I ended up printing out and pinning up at my desk. Since I have plenty of time at my desk, I got constant reminders of the plan.


There’s some forums that are great…and some that are not so much. I’ve dabbled in the regular RW Forums, so I was really curious about these fancy private ones.

I learned all of the secrets to running, and I’m going to leave my job now to become an elite runner.

Well…not quite.

But the RW Challenge forums were the great parts of the regular forumsfeedback from other normal runnerswith the addition of advice from experts like Bart Yasso and all of these other people who get paid to talk and write about running all day. (Hey guys, why are your offices in Emmaus? NY is pretty cool, too…)

I let loose some of my taper crazies and other general paranoia…and the people in there got it. Luckily, I had no injuries to deal with, but I did ask a few questions about switching around some days on my training plan and hitting goal times and got good answers.

Race Weekend


The day before the race, we had a shakeout run with my BFF Bart and some more of the RW staff. It was a large group (there were 300 Challengeres!), so I didn’t get any one-on-one time to chat with any of them while running, so I chatted with my buddies and checked out those monuments I took for granted those seven years I lived in our nation’s capital.


Later that afternoon, there was a strategy session. It would have been nice to have this session right after the shakeout run (especially since I was staying in Arlington and therefore had to go back out to Arlington to come back to DC to go back out to Arlington), but I think Bart had another run to do after our run.

Bart; EIC David Willey; Senior Editor and our primary RW contact Jen Van Allen; Editor-at-Large Amby Burfoot; and Race Director Rick Nealis spoke at this session.

They gave lots of great running info, but I was fascinated by the random details Rick Nealis shared:

The security bill for the race is $1 million.

They use 26 bomb-sniffing dogs.

Coast Guard checks the bridges for explosives.

The Marines working the race are Second Lieutenants.

There were 23,000 runners, and they released 1,000 runners a minute across the finish line, for 23 minutes.


Bart (not pictured above) and Rick Nealis obviously have known each other for a long time, and listening to their banter was sort of hilarious.

They went over the best places for spectators (Lincoln Memorial, miles 11, 16 and 25) and reminded us to start out slow.

“Running slow the first few miles,” Amby said, “decreases carbs being burned, and increases fat being burned,” so that you don’t burn through all of your carbs right away and bonk.


Jen Van Allen, probably my new favorite person, is every bit as sarcastic as myself. She talked about mantras, and told us to have backup mantras for when you don’t believe what you’re telling yourself. Sometimes my mantras work for me, sometimes I just think I’m completely full of shit; it’s hard to tell what will work, but you better have back-up mantras for when you don’t buy what you’re selling yourself at mile 23.

Another cool fact: 500 Marines in Afghanistan did a “forward operating” marathon from their bases in Iraq and Afghanistan and from aircraft carriers.


We also got basically all of their books at this session, which was awesome. I’m currently reading Bart’s book. The dude has done some cool stuff in his life!

Race Day

Race morning, I got to their tent near the start line. I didn’t have much time, but I grabbed a bagel, banana and water.


Thank you, running, for supporting my bagel habit.

I hit the private Port-a-Potty and thanked my lucky stars for it, and the lack of line.

I talked to a first-time marathoner in the tent, and attempted to assuage some of his fears. I met quite a few first-time marathoners that weekend, and knowing I’d already been down that road relaxed me a bit more.

Then, I went and ran a marathon.

Post-marathon, they had a party set up for the Challengers.

It was great to have a set, indoor meeting place to reunite with my parents and not have to try to find each other amidst the 23,000 other marathoners trying to do the same thing. It was held at the Artisphere in Rosslyn, across the street from one of my old offices.

The Disney post-race party was AMAZING, and I was expecting similar from this post-race partydrinks and hot food. I couldn’t walk another 100 feet to the food table, so I sent my mom (the best mom ever) to the table to suss out the situation. I think it was just a continental buffet, but I was pretty nauseous at the time, so I didn’t really care that there wasn’t much more food. My Gatorade Endurance (ew) was good enough at the time.

What was pretty awesome about this party: getting to chat with some of the editors and the post-race massage. It hurt like all hell, but it was pretty awesome to have someone working on my muscles that quickly after the race.

Would I do this again?

This program is not cheap. (I was provided it free of charge for reviewing purposes.) For MCM, it costs $349, which includes the $92 race entry. Taking out the race entry, let’s call the cost $257. (Thank you Siri.) For all that you get, I think that is a pretty fair price. Last year, I paid my running coach around $40/month for 4 months, and I know most online running coaches cost at least that. The Disney pre/post-race tent costs $110. When you break it down like this, the cost is fair and competitive with each of the individual components.

I think a program like this would be great for a first-time marathoner or someone who doesn’t race often and is making an experience out of their weekend/training.

Their in-person Challenge programs in Big Sur and Disney are currently sold out, but you can train for any half or full through their Challenge program.

Have you ever done/would you ever do something like this? Have you ever done a pre/post-race Race Retreat?

Oh, um, and this is happening.

Screen shot 2012-11-06 at 10.05.31 PM.png

19 comments on “MCM Runner’s World Challenge Program Review

  1. Ash Bear

    The closest I’ve come is doing Reach the Beach with New Balance. I think I would definitely consider this for large races as it is a great perk, especially after a marathon. I think I prefer the human coach better than a computer program though for sure!

  2. Charlie (The Runner Beans)

    Thanks for the review, it does seem like quite a lot of money! I used Hal Higdon’s free programs in the past and really liked them. Maybe when aiming for a specific goal time I would invest in a program but at the moment I think that’s quite a lot to spend!! Good luck for the Rehoboth marathon- SUB 4!!!

    1. Theodora Post author

      They do also sell the training schedules separately. I think they’re around $20-30 and they have ones for different time goals.

  3. Emily @

    Great post! Super informative and you were DEFINITELY ready for your race since you rocked it out! : )
    I have only done Hal Higdon and am not an amazing runner like yourself so I haven’t had to do intense training to prepare for the races I have run. Maybe in the future!!!

  4. John Ranville

    Great review! I also did the Challenge at MCM. Sorry that we did not get a chance to meet. But with 300 people, it makes it a little challenging. This was my fourth Runner’s World Challenge, and I agree with a lot of what you said. Sometimes the price feels a little high, but then I remember all of the perks that you get. Plus I love the community that you get to be a part of before and during the race weekend. You don’t get that same sense of community when you run a marathon otherwise. Plus no lines for the Port-a-Potty is a wonderful thing (especially at a big race like this). I also used the Hal Higdon training program for my first few marathons. I like the Runner’s World training programs better because I feel that they offer more variety in the training. Thanks again for the post.

  5. NYC Fit GIrl

    ahh another Marathon!! sooo fun! I have never done any post-race events. I usually am so tired I just want to get home and take a shower or yeah and stuff my face with food!

  6. Katie @ Peace Love & Oats

    I probably wouldn’t do something like that because of the cost, and I wouldn’t use many of the features. I did the CARA training program here in chicago, which is normally $200 but I got in for free by raising money for a charity. That I would pay for again because you get a group to run with every Saturday and Wednesday and race-day perks. The group runs were very helpful to me as a first-time marathoner!

  7. Laura

    I do not understand why Rehoboth is hidden at the bottom of this post. I think it should be its own post. Maybe even it’s own series of announcement posts.


  8. katrina

    I was so psyched to read your review! I just signed up for MCM RW Challenge and then was afraid I did the wrong thing! The cost is high- my husband will have a fit when he finds out….but…it sounds like a fun time. I ran MCM last year (my first marathon!) with a Hal Higdon program and was very prepared, but I thought I’d try the challenge this time. Thanks for the great info. I feel better now!

  9. ishouldrun

    Thanks for the great review! I just signed up for the MCM Runner’s World Challenge for their 40th Anniversary. What you posted about their mantra “You run. We sweat the details.” is what pulled me in this year. I didn’t want to deal with the lottery and I thought it was a fair price for all the help and support too. Good luck to everyone running it this year!


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.