Marathon Training Plans

>> Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I know I keep talking about this marathon like it's happening, well, TOMORROW. Fall feels so far away. Thing is, the training for this beast will start before I know it (likely the beginning of June). I don't need specifics yet, but I am going crazy trying to figure out the best plan to follow this time around.

For my first marathon, I followed Hal Higdon's Novice II plan blended with the Intermediate I plan, with 5 days of running versus 4. With the exception of getting sick for a full week of training during the taper period, I didn't miss many workouts.

// I felt pretty good lacing up to the start and finished the race. Not at the time I wanted, but finished. Good enough the first time around.

For my second and third training cycles, I used the Intermediate I blended with Intermediate II. The honeymoon phase with the distance was over. I felt exhausted. I missed many more workouts and felt like I was constantly lagging behind.

// I'm not blaming the training plans, but for whatever reason, I experienced major burnout. I DNFed Wineglass and didn't make it to the start of Philly 2010 due to a nagging IT-band injury.

So, yeah. I'm sort of extremely phobic about choosing the wrong plan, getting injured, DNFing, and having to take another 11 weeks off from running.

If you ask 10 marathoners the "right" plan to follow to do a decent job in a marathon, you will likely get 10 different answers. "High mileage, building a strong base, is the only way to prepare," says one. "Psssh! You can do it in just 3 runs a week and PR," says another. "16 miles is the longest you'll need to run -- no joke," says yet another.

And what it all boils down to is personal experience (iffy and there's baggage there), goals (sub-4:00 WITHOUT injury, please), and individual ability (steady + strong, but not necessarily at high mileage).

How to Choose the Right Marathon Plan? I don't have the answer to this difficult question, but here are the plans I'm considering . . . and why.

// Hal Higdon's Novice II:

It worked for me once, it could work again. I default to Hal's plans because they have gotten me over the finish line more times than not and with continual PRs. Versus what I did my first time around, I might even heed the 4-days running "rule" with a fifth of cross-training and play it on the safe side. I would likely bump up one of the long runs to 20 so I could complete two of that distance before race day.

The plan is 18 weeks in all, topping off at only 35 miles, though. Compared to the 55 I did in my last training cycle, I am both extremely relieved and majorly skeptical. I could play around and make some of the mid-week runs longer, possibly blending it -- like I did in my first marathon -- with the Intermediate I plan.

// F-I-R-S-T:

A couple of you have shared this 3-day/week "less is more" plan with me that I actually remember first reading about way back in 2005. There's a book, Run Less, Run Faster, too. Honestly, this schedule is looking more and more appealing, as it emphasizes "hard" cross-training (think spinning classes, ashtanga yoga, and mile-long swims in the pool) to keep up cardiovascular endurance and keep bones/joints/etc. happy.

This 16-Week Plan that includes targeted, "quality" workouts (speed, tempo, long run) in, again, just 3 -- t.h.r.e.e -- days a week.  Some people have noted that, despite the name, FIRST isn't a beginning marathon program at all; the workouts are all focused effort. And others have told me that the only way to do well in a marathon is running, even if it's those junk miles. Could just three days a week cut it?

// Train Like a Mother:

My friend Nicki let me glance at her copy of this book last weekend at this plan that promises you'll "Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity." I like the idea of flexibility. There are "finish it" plans and "own it" plans for beginning to expert runners. Though with a race of this nature, I don't know how much flexibility would be good before I'd start that slippery slope into skipping too many workouts.

I'll write more about choosing the right plan soon. It's a big deal in my head these days, and for good reason. It will basically be my bible for 16 to 20 weeks, dictating much of what I do, eat, and experience (pain-wise, that is!). I actually got some excellent advice yesterday after I wrote this post, so I'll share that, too.

What I will say is this:

In my searches far and wide on the internets, it seems like everybody and his/her brother has written up "the best ever" plan. Heck -- I know people who have run sub 4-hour times with even the more nonexistent of buildups! Please respect the distance and be careful when choosing your own plan, modifying multiples, etc. I usually stick with the big name people with credentials. But that's just me.

How do you choose your training plans? For any distance, really, but especially for the marathon? Any plans to share with me?

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