Finding the Right Plan

The process of finding the best marathon training plan or schedule is a subject I’ve touched on a bit, but it’s an important issue and one that deserves a blog entry all its own. Admittedly, this particular blog is just a modified version of one I already posted on my old blog, but since I decided to shift all running-related matters from that blog over to this one, it just seems more practical as opposed to writing a whole new one. Anyway, enjoy.

For many people, it seems their main goal is simply to finish a marathon. The time is a more or less irrelevant concern. All that matters is crossing that finish line in one piece. However, having already spent over a decade running, my body is accustomed to the rigors and hardships of high mileage and intense workouts. In light of that, the training that someone like me will do for a marathon will go beyond a relative beginner. I hate that that tends to come off as elitist, since I don’t mean it that way at all, but the simple truth is that there is a huge variance in marathon training plans, and what I hope to do would probably be a terrible idea for a neophyte.

Most of the marathon plans that fall under the “just finish it” banner seem to advocate only about four or five days of running a week, with a total weekly mileage somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 miles a week. Even when I searched online for some “advanced” plans, they topped out at around 60 miles per week. For my last track season, I was doing about 80 miles a week, and that was just for a 5K. Now, again, I’m not saying that to brag. I just did that because I wanted to be a better runner. The high mileage paid dividends and I ended up shaving off over a minute from my best 5K time. Since I’ve already gone over 80 with few ill effects, I figure I could handle 90, or perhaps even 100 for a week or two, in training for the marathon.

Hitting a 100 miles, or any kind of mileage in that range, is a daunting task, and it’s one that should absolutely be taken seriously. You can’t just jump from 40 miles a week to a 100. And if your lone goal is to just to finish, or maybe break 4 hours, I’m sure that those 40 mile a week plans will do just fine. But for more serious runners, who can run the high mileage, and have been at it for yeas, 40 miles a week, to be blunt, just isn’t very much. I’ve revised my goal from breaking three hours to going under 2:45, and at this point, I think it’s doable. Certainly not even close to easy, but doable.

Once you’ve decided what your goal for the marathon is, what you really want to go after, then you can start researching and developing a personal plan. Now, I’ve never been a big fan of following plans or schedules to the letter. I like to do things on the fly or mix up runs now and then to keep things fresh. It’s critical, especially when training for a marathon, to make sure that you don’t get bored. Two months away from a marathon, the last thing you want to be thinking is “ugh, why did I sign up for this? I can’t take doing the same thing every day.”

An easy way to cut down on the boredom is inserting speed workouts into your training. It helps break up the monotony of slow running every day and can really help come race day. For beginners, some tempo runs should be fine. Personally, I’ll definitely be doing some long tempos, probably like seven miles worth. And I’ll also do some shorter intervals as well, though I doubt anything less than 1000 meter repeats. Also, I’ve been doing some reading, and I find I really like the idea of inserting some faster miles within long runs to help simulate the fatigue that race day will surely bring.

Above all, I think it’s important to just play around with scheduling a little plan. Don’t follow anything absolutely rigidly. It’s not the end of the world if you miss one run or you forget to do one workout, or accidentally do the wrong distance for your intervals. Keep things as fresh as possible and mix it up when you can. I’m kind of making up my own plan on the fly as it is now. After all, this is only my first marathon, so I need to see how my body responds to certain things. Running is a constant learning experience. You never stop learning about your body and about different training methods or techniques. So I say just go out and run, and find whatever works for you personally. One plan that works great for another person might be horrible for you. It’s all about experimentation. And, of course, having fun.

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