Marathon Training Plans

Just because there hasn’t been much actual running happening here (side note: there actually has been some running, but I started this post over a week ago and just finished writing it – oops), doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a lot of thinking about running. A few runs happened, one run was skipped because sleep > running, and a lot of time was spent thinking about the running I’ve done and what running I plan to do. I definitely need a goal race and training plan to follow, because otherwise sleep will always win out over running. During the week I don’t mind running a little later in the morning when my youngest naps, but on weekends if I don’t get up and out the door first thing I end up not going at all.

Back in the day, I went to the gym frequently and loved the spin and bootcamp classes I took. I liked the accomplishment of running, but didn’t really love the actual running. So when I trained for a half marathon, and then marathon, the Run Less, Run Faster plan was perfect for me. It focused on 3 intense days of running – 1 track workout, 1 tempo run, and 1 long run – with 2 days of cross-training. Since most of my mid-week runs took place on the treadmill, doing track workouts or tempo runs helped beat the monotony of treadmill running. I saw big improvements in my paces through the plan which was very motivating. So it may seem like the obvious choice to go back to for training for my next race, but I find myself hesitating to dive back in to RLRF training. One of the biggest things holding me back is that I don’t know that I”ll be able to fit in cross-training like I did before. Right now it’s very easy for me to hop on the treadmill while my youngest naps, so a training plan that doesn’t have cross-training as a necessary component may be a better option. My other hesitation with RLRF is that I think the paces are on the aggressive side. Because the program only has 3 runs per week, they really focus on running them hard and I worry about getting injured or totally burnt out.

This last training cycle I used Hal Higdon’s Novice marathon training plan. Starting from scratch fitness wise, I figured this would be a safe way to get my mileage up to marathon distance. The plan is low mileage, and the distances never seemed daunting. Part easier plan, part experience, but I never felt really nervous about being able to complete any runs this time around. It was a solid plan and got me through the marathon feeling strong and healthy. Next time around I want a more aggressive plan, and while Hal Higdon offers over a dozen(!) different training plans, I’m not sure if I’ll use one of his or explore other options.

Because I like numbers and data, I put together a little spreadsheet of how my training compared for each marathon.

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I was surprised to see that my mileage was pretty similar across the 2 plans. Looking ahead I think I would stick to 3 weeks for a taper instead of 2 weeks. Granted I was running about a minute/mile slower in Chicago, but my legs definitely felt fresher at Chicago than at Smuttynose. From the very start my pace felt pushed during Smuttynose, even though it was a pace I had comfortably run during training. Chicago my pace felt pretty effortless through at least mile 18 and I think a good part of that was from the extra rest.

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So now to pick a training plan. Do I go back to Run Less, Run Faster? Should I try for a higher mileage plan like Pfitzinger’s  18/55 plan? Pick a more aggressive Hal Higdon plan? Decisions, decisions. Deciding on a race may help narrow my focus too.

What marathon training plans have you tried? What do you like and not like in a plan? 

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4 thoughts on “Marathon Training Plans

  1. In the two marathons I’ve run I found that the key ingredient for me is high mileage. As much as I hate it sometimes, packing on the miles consistently always leads to better race times for me. I don’t think I could ever try a RLRF plan for the full marathon for that reason. I have no doubt it could increase my sheer speed but endurance-wise I’m not sure I would feel confident tackling a marathon on a plan that only includes 3x/week of hard running. It really does depend on the individual though.

    Another thing I’ve found to be a huge factor, regardless of what type of plan I do, is whether I am doing enough marathon-specific workouts (examples: mid-week long-ish runs practicing goal MP, fast-finish long runs, longer-interval speedwork like mile and 2 mile repeats, etc). I think too many people incorrectly assume that the speed they have at shorter distances will naturally translate to the marathon, but 26.2 miles is a whole other beast and doing endurance-based specific training can make all the difference in having a successful race, whether that means PRing or just not fading in the last 10K. My first marathon plan included none of this and I struggled a lot in the end; at my second marathon, after months of marathon-specific work, I PRd, negative-split, and sped up in the last 4 miles with mile 26 being my fastest. This stuff really works, and it can be incorporated into pretty much any style of training plan.

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    • I think that’s what surprised me a lot when I looked at my training numbers. I felt like I had so much more energy in the 2nd part of Chicago than Smuttynose, but my top weekly mileage and average mileage were very similar. I agree with what you said about higher milage translating into a better race time and feeling better late in the race. I’d be interested to see how I would do in a marathon running a plan with higher mileage.

      One thing I think lacking in RLRF was miles run at MGP. There were no fast-finish long runs and even tempo runs were faster than MGP. I think part of the reason I ran such consistent splits in Chicago was because I spent sooo much time running at that same pace during training. Even when I felt tired at the end and was telling myself to just back off the pace I stayed very close to it. I felt like that’s just the pace my legs were dialed into. Did you follow a specific plan in your 2nd marathon or did you come up with your own? Did you do a post on your training? I’d love to read it if you did.

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      • I actually sort of made up my own plan. It wasn’t from scratch or anything, I based it on the Hansons plans. I was interested in the methodology behind the Hansons method but didn’t feel comfortable fully committing to one of their plans (still don’t), so I just sort of made my own version of it – I only ran 5 days a week instead of 6, and I had long runs up to 20 miles instead of 16, and I chose my own weekly workouts and mileage instead of following theirs. I did all of my run days in a row to practice the effects of cumulative fatigue/running on tired legs, which is the lynch pin of the Hansons plan. I did at least one goal MP run during the week and a few of my long runs as FF long runs (not all of them though). I usually did mile repeats as my speed work…every other week, ish, depending on how I felt. The rest was easy running. I didn’t do any XT though, it was just all running. Something to do differently next time 🙂

        I did write a training evaluation after the marathon (http://themillennialnextdoor.com/2015/06/29/grandmas-marathon-training-evaluation/), but I also wrote weekly training recap posts the whole time I was training, from mid-February through mid-June, which contain a lot more detail about the workouts I was doing.

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  2. I’ve never looked at the RLRF in detail so not well qualified to comment though I don’t think I would feel confident run training just 3 times a week. I have used Higdon’s intermediate which seems about right for me in terms of total mileage but some of the mid-week runs seem to have no focus. I also tried the 18/55 – great plan but some tough tempo and distance runs that are tagged as ‘medium’ if I recall. For Chicago, I developed my own based on experience with Higdon, Pfitzinger, and an online program that I followed last year which had some good suggestions for interval workouts.

    Hanna makes some great points and one thing that helped me in my last training cycle was evaluating my long runs. Instead of just always running at long slow pace or falling into the trap of always pushing for target pace, I ran 2/1 or 3/1 LSR/target marathon pace splits, if that makes sense. I also ran at least one midweek run at target pace. This worked well for me on race day as for once I actually felt dialed in on my target pace. Figuring out these plans and training paces though is enough to drive you crazy!

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