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.


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?