Yesterday I spent some time picking out my training plan for my next marathon cycle. Well, I guess not just today. Today I finally SETTLED on a plan.
If you’re a runner like me, you crave some form of structure and finding that structure can be a struggle.
So I thought writing about my process would (maybe) be helpful to someone (somewhere.)
BEFORE WE GET STARTED:
ALWAYS REMEMBER that the training schedule IS NOT GOSPEL. It’s okay to take a day off if you need to. Do a cross training day if you’re feeling beat up. It’s better to err on the side of caution rather than overdoing it.
Furthermore, do your own research and pick a plan that works best with your fitness level and goals. You know your body, you probably have a pretty good idea of what you can handle (but still be cautious… we’ll cover that in a bit.)
Let’s start with some exposition. If you’ve ever read my blog before, you probably know the story. But here’s the short version:
About a year ago, in an effort to get back into shape/running, I signed up for the Eau Claire Marathon.
It was my first marathon ever. I trained using 3 runs a week. The goal was just to finish. I ran 3:29:54.
The next day I started looking for my next race. I caught the marathon bug and had no intention of slowing down. I ran under 3:30 on 3 runs and barely breaking 30 miles a week. What happens if I do 6 runs and 60 miles a week?
I signed up for the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, motivated as hell with a pocket full of Boston dreams.
I knew I needed to get my mileage up around 35-40/ week consistently, so using a modified version of Hanson-Brooks Beginner Marathon (I didn’t like the aggressive change from 24 to 40 miles a week) I started my gradual build.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan, and then an 8 mile run on some single track trail knocked my weak hips out of alignment, forcing me to take a whole month off from running.
My fall marathon dreams dashed, I focused on some shorter races to finish out the year and officially decided I’d come back to the Eau Claire Marathon in 2019.
So here we are, it’s almost January, and it’s time to decide how to train for the next big show.
Let’s explain how we got here.
When searching for a plan I knew I wanted a few things:
- One day off a week, minimum.
- Long run on SUNDAY (I’m a creature of habit.)
- Long run to reach 20 or more miles at least twice.
- Two workouts a week outside of the long run.
- Three week taper.
Initially, I thought I why not build my own plan EXACTLY to my specifications and intensity requirements? Seems like a good idea!
Right before I decided to start planning, I listened to an episode of the No Meat Athlete podcast, specifically the 12/14 episode on New Years Resolutions.
In the episode, Matt mentions that humans tend to assume they can handle a whole lot more than they actually can, which leads inevitably leads to burnout.
Although he was speaking in relation to New Years Resolutions, that statement definitely rings true in my (and probably most people’s) fitness life. I actually had a conversation with my fiancée, Jess, about this over one of our holiday drives, and she said she noticed the same.
This fall, for example: I was feeling good so I pushed my mileage up pretty quickly, ran a 5k in cruise control and felt great, last minute signed up for a 10 mile race three weeks before a half marathon I’d been training for. I crushed the 10 miler, but my body never fully recovered, then I had a few weeks of rough training leading to an underwhelming half marathon performance (still a PR so it wasn’t completely botched) at my “goal race” for the fall. The next week I ran ANOTHER 5k (again, cruise control) and then now I’m FINALLY starting to feel a better.
I ran four races in six weeks. Probably not the best idea, but before I chose to over-race things were feeling good. I just assumed they were going to stay that way, even with a whole bunch of added stress.
So we nixed the “write my own plan” idea.
Back to square one. I considered going back to the Hanson-Brooks plan, but the aggressive mileage jump from weeks 5-6 keeps me away.
Plus, the long run peaks at 16 miles, and weekly quick interval workouts are NOT ideal during Wisconsin winter without access to an indoor track.
I didn’t want to risk heavy modification in case I cause burnout, so that one was out.
Runners World? I did their “Less is More” plan to get me through marathon one, but now I wanted to DO more. With most of their plans being behind a paywall, and me being broke I didn’t want to pay to see what they propose, and then have it not be what I’m looking for.
So then we started exploring Hal Higdon’s arsenal.
I know some in the running community roll their eyes at Hal Higdon plans. I remember looking to Reddit for suggestions, specifically people who have used this plan, when I was trying to decide a training plan for the fall and it was met with criticism. Mainly, many believe the midweek mileage (or lack thereof) to be an issue and looking at the novice/intermediate plans, I have to agree. That’s why I opted for the “advanced” plan.
After doing my own research, I think a lot of the hate is misguided. The people criticizing the Hal Higdon plans are the people who wouldn’t need to use a Hal Higdon plan to begin with. These are meant to be easy to follow plans to help people get across the finish line, not the 70 mile a week runner going for a PR in their 13th marathon.
As I previously stated, I made a few slight modifications, nothing I would consider major. I was a little concerned when I saw the “recovery” days at only three miles for the first 10 weeks, so I added a mile to my Monday and Wednesday runs, just to get put a bit more mileage in the bank, and swapped the Thursday workout to Tuesday so I’m still able to go to Blue Ox Group Run on Thursday nights.
If you want to see what the plan actually looks like, here’s a PDF.
After doing the math, it looks like I should be getting up around 60 miles in on my peak week, which also happens to be the week my daughter is due! So I’m excited for two reasons.
This fall I was hitting 30 miles/week pretty consistently, and peaked just shy of 50. I’m confident my body can take this on, and that with the super gradual build and emphasis on “the little things,” I’ll be able to stay healthy throughout this cycle!
So that’s the story.
It isn’t a great one, as this is one of the less “sexy” parts of race training. I thought maybe sharing my process could shed some light on the subject, and maybe help someone else? I don’t know.
I have a couple more posts up my sleeve leading into the new year, including one project that I’m very excited about. Stay tuned for that!
Thank you to anyone who made it this far, I appreciate the support.
I’m just an Average Joe who likes to run and write, so combing the two is fun for me.
Do you have a spring race in mind? Tell me about it. Write a comment or use the “contact” section of my page to shoot me an email. I’d love to hear from you!
Keep ‘er movin’.