I am starting to feel just a little bit panicked about running a marathon this year. The number one thing that I am stressing over is choosing the right training plan. I am certain that I could choose any basic training plan and get myself to the finish line. If only I could just let this be enough. While I don't expect to be exceptionally fast, I would really like to do the absolute best that I can based on my current training and fitness level.
I've been reading through a few running books and articles and have sought out the advice of experienced marathoners. I kept waiting for someone to hand me the "right" training plan, but there really isn't a right plan for everyone. I ended up asking the following questions and using the answers to craft a plan that would work best for me.
1. How many days/week should I be running?
I've looked at a number of training plans ranging from 3-6 days per week. I am currently running 5 days per week. That is also the amount that I use to train for my half marathon last September. Apart from a few disruptions (wedding, winter storms, etc) I have been running 5 days per week for close to a year. I don't see any reason to cut back at this point. I don't think I could handle the jump up to 6 days and the increased mileage without risking an injury.
2. Is a base of 20-25 mpw going to be enough?
Yes and no. For a first time marathoner this is enough to get started on any beginner plan. For a runner trying to improve speed, it may not be enough. Since my goal is to do as well as possible (without over training!) I need to start upping my mileage immediately. I've already tweaked the last 4 weeks of my advanced 5k training plan to be more in line with increasing mileage.
3. What should my peak mpw be?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Some people have found success running just 40 mpw while others are running double that (and beyond!). To increase my mileage without taking on too much too soon, I have devised my plan to increase by 10% for two weeks and then cut back slightly on the third week. It will repeat this pattern until my long run hits 20, then it will alternate high and low mileage weeks. My plan will allow me to reach a max of 50 mpw.
4. Should I keep doing speed work?
No. My focus needs to be on adding endurance not increasing speed/strength. My plan is to have only "hidden" speed work, such as hills, pushing for the last few miles of a run, a few strides, etc. Increasing my mileage/endurance is my number one priority.
5. What pace should my training runs be?
Apparently they should all be way slower than I have been running, especially my long runs. I've even been running my interval workouts too fast. This was covered in all of the books I read/flipped through, and this reddit thread succinctly explains why. My plan is to choose training paces based on Daniel's Running Formula. I will use the paces based on my most recent half marathon.
6. What can I do to avoid getting injured?
My stay healthy plan is to make sure I dedicate myself to proper stretching, foam rolling, and strength training. These are the things that I usually let slide, but not any more! My strength training routine will be pretty minimal, consisting primarily of core work, 4-5 leg strengthening exercises (enough to prevent muscle imbalances) and possibly a few pushups for upper body strength. Foam rolling will be regularly scheduled a few times a week, instead of waiting for an injury to pop up.
7. What is a good goal? Am I going to fail miserably?
My goal right now needs to be having a successful training period. The bottom line is that how well I do on race day is determined by how well I do during training. At this point it is much too early to know how well I am going to adapt to running higher mileage. Setting a goal now would just be asking for trouble.
I'll start thinking about an actual goal after my half marathon (5 weeks out from the full). The goal that I set is going to be used to determine what my starting pace should be. Going out too fast sounds like the biggest mistake a first time marathoner can make. It is one that I plan to avoid!
The plan I ended up choosing/creating is essentially Hal Higdon's Intermediate 2. I made a few small changes to the plan, but I'll cover that in another post. I've also started coming up with what changes I will make if this turns out to be too ambitious of a plan.
Remember, this is just what (I hope) works for me. I am in no way an expert.