Marathon Training: Making a Plan
This past week I’ve been dealing with marathon-induced exhaustion, indecision and stress. No, I’m not talking about the effects of the race itself or even from training, I’m referring to my search for the perfect plan to fit my goals, which is to set a PR and go sub-four hours in the Philadelphia Marathon. My head has been swimming with information as I scoured books and the internet to draft the perfect one. I finally put together a plan I think suits me well, and I hope that reading about my process can save you some time as you craft your own.
There are an overwhelming number of plans out there, with sometimes conflicting information. Take some time to explore several of them, rather than choosing the first one you read. I went through a ton. I reviewed Runner’s World’s Big Book of Marathon and Half-Marathon Training, the Runner’s World Challenge Intermediate Plan (which you can find in the July 2012 issue of the magazine), Runner’s World Smart Coach, Hal Higdon’s Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, Bill Pierce’s Run Less, Run Faster, Danny Dreyer’s Chi Marathon, and Jeff Galloway’s Marathon: You Can Do It, as well as a few running blogs. (Runner’s World is one of Fitbie’s sister publications, which is why I have access to some of these great resources.)
I wanted to find a plan of attack that was aligned with my goal and doable. I compared the weekly and long run mileage of each plan, as well as the number of running days required. True to my prior stint as a high school math teacher (yes, really), I felt a strong need to crunch the numbers. I even went as far as to plug each aforementioned plan’s long run and total mileage into a spreadsheet and compared them in a graph, which helped me get a better idea of the ebb and flow of the whole process. I don’t think everyone needs to go to this geeky extreme, but it can’t hurt to evaluate several plans—after all, you’re quite literally dedicating the next 16 weeks of your life to this race.
After I did my homework, I answered the big questions first: How many weeks will you devote to training? Most plans require 16 to 18—with more recommended for beginning runners. How many days a week will you run? Plans typically range from three to five—or six days for more advanced runners. What will your top mileage be? This runs the gamut depending on how advanced you are. How about your longest long run? How many 20-milers will you do? Do I want to do any speedwork? For me, the answer was yes, because I had a somewhat aggressive time goal. However, I should add that I had already built up to doing speedwork in preparation for a previous half marathon--I don’t think speedwork is necessarily recommended for total newbies.
Once you tackle those questions, a plan starts coming into focus. I ended up opting for a modified version of the Runner’s World Challenge plan, with a few workouts borrowed from other plans. The plan calls for five days of running, but I’m substituting cross-training for one of the running days. I find that four days of running works with my schedule, and also won’t tax my body too much. Plus, I had to make room for weekly spin class dates with my best friend. Given that I was starting out at about 25 miles—which I’ve built up to and maintained over the past several months—I figured my mileage would probably top out around 40 miles.
But I know life happens and I’d need to personalize the plan even more. Before I wrote any runs or workouts on my calendar, I added other upcoming races, vacation, and life events (mostly revolving around Notre Dame football games) that I knew would probably affect my running. For example, I decided that it was probably not realistic to put in an 18-mile run while I was out of town for a friend’s wedding, so I adjusted the schedule accordingly.
Then I began mapping out my runs, making sure that my total mileage didn’t increase by more than 10 percent and my long run mileage didn’t increase by more than two miles (a rule of thumb I picked up during some of my research). I’m trying a mix of easy and quality runs (which are sometimes speed workouts on the track, tempo runs or runs at marathon pace), a day of cross-training mid-week, and a long run on the weekends. I also made sure that I inserted rest days after every two to three days of running and planned a “step-back week”—where my mileage and workout intensity decreases—every three weeks or so.
For the most part the plan looks like this:
Monday: Easy run (plus yoga)
Tuesday: Quality run
Wednesday: Cross training
Thursday: Quality or easy run
Saturday: Long run
Now that I’m no longer sweating over my plan, I’m ready to sweat for real--which reminds me, it’s time to run. Until next week!
--Mary Squillace is an associate editor at Fitbie. You can read the latest on her training by using the hashtag #Marython.
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