Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Training Plans

Well, it’s been a little while again, and I did say that I was going to keep talking about my obsessing over marathon training plans.  I think I’ve done more research on this particular topic than any project or paper I ever did in school.  Maybe it’s because it’s something I’m passionately interested in.  Maybe I’m just a dork and I love to waste time and money.  Does it really matter?

Here is probably my biggest problem coming into choosing a training plan for what I hope will finally be my first (and not last!)  26.2 finish:  most everything you read tells you that if you’re a first timer that you should have no goal other than “to finish”.  You shouldn’t worry about times and all that other jazz until subsequent races.  Unfortunately I can’t do that.  I simply can’t.  I never have been a “just finish” person.  If I ever say those words I’m lying.  Heck, this is the lady who trained for around 7 months before entering my first 5K because I wanted to be certain that I could do it in under 30 minutes, and not just by a few seconds (I did it in 26:05).  Even my most recent half marathon – my first race post injury -- I had goals.  I had to be able to come in under 2 hours and I hoped to get as close to 1:50 as I could.  I set goals and I work toward those.  I don’t know any other way to be, really… this is simply me.

My goals have obviously evolved over the past couple of years…  My goals from when I was a fresh beginner were different than my goals at the end of last year and those ones are now different post injury.  They will more than likely change again.  Even during training.  I’m prepared for that.  But I need to have something to work toward as motivation and I’ve had to take many factors into consideration.  And not just the injury, either – I’ll be training over the summer and need to factor in summer vacation with the kids, training in the heat and humidity, other time commitments, where I’m going to run my long runs and when, etc.

The first plan to get scratched off my training plan finalist list was FIRST, ironically enough.  Sure, you only run 3 times per week.  But again, that would drive me freaking nuts over the course of 16-18 weeks.  And those 3 runs per week?  All some type of intense speedwork - even the long runs.  Also, you're doing 20 milers at like week 4 and you do them every couple of weeks!  Again, pre-injury Nichole might say "well, this could be tolerable if I added an easy run day to the schedule", but this isn't that girl.

Daniels and Pfitz have both been on the top of my list for a marathon since...well, before I even signed up for the Pittsburgh Marathon back in September.  Both plans are very methodical, work in cycles with purpose (something I do personally as well as with my clients as a trainer), and are fairly similar.  I've honestly been using Daniels' Vdot system for a while as a guide.  I really believe that aside from hiring a personal running coach these two plans are probably the best out there.  But again, I am no expert on the matter.   Unfortunately, given where I stand right now I think they each are right on the cusp of what I'm capable of doing.  Could I do them?  Probably.  But I'm not a big fan of probably...

And then there's good ol' Higdon.  His plans have never failed me.  But, they are boring - especially the low mileage weekday runs.  And, in the intermediate 1 plan, there's no speedwork.  Which is good because I certainly don't need a lot of that!  But I want something... even if it is strides when I'm feeling good or a couple of mile repeats in the middle of an easy run.  I don't want to spend 16 weeks prepping for the most awesome event ever running 4-5 times per week at the same pace and barely varying distance (3 mile easy runs for-ev-er) except for the ever increasing long run.

Here's what I think I'm going to do.  I wrote this all up in a spreadsheet over the past week and I'm pretty satisfied with it... I'm going to do a hybrid of Higdon and Pfitz.  I know that sounds strange, but it works on paper, at least.  I'm going to use Hal's general mileage buildup, since it is gradual and starts off right where I need it to be.  I also appreciate his cutback weeks for recovery.  But - I'm going to add Pfitz strides and some workouts, but on a smaller scale.  Example:  During week 3, Pfitz plan: 8 miles, with 4 at Half marathon pace.  I'm going to do 3 miles - 1 easy, 1 at HM pace, and 1 easy.  This way, I’ll get the benefit of a small amount speed training, but with a more gradual mileage buildup.  I’ll also have my “comfy blanket” of being familiar with Hal, but still try something a little different.  And I’ll have 2 20 mile runs as well as short distance MP runs.  I’m really happy with how it looks, so I guess we’ll see how it actually translates once the time comes.

Don’t worry – if I ever feel like I’m getting too fatigued (although I do realize that fatigue is a typical part of marathon training – I know there is a limit) or I feel like I’m not recovering between workouts or starting to get more twinges and things I WILL back off.  First thing to go is any and all speedwork.  I’m also free to skip maintenance runs and take extra rest if I need to.  Injury free is KEY!  I have learned my lesson!

Training starts the week of June 23rd.  The next few weeks I’ll be taking it super easy, using my heart rate monitor on and off, maybe doing some run/walk intervals just to get the time on my feet and doing some just for fun runs with my kids.  I’m also doing a cycle of Jim Stoppani’s Shortcut to Shred, slightly modified to suit my tastes and goals.  I just started phase 2 today and boy I’m feeling it.

It’s going to be a great summer and I’m excited to start a new chapter in my running journey.


  1. Yay! My best piece of advice, make sure you run your easy runs easy and your long runs SUPER easy!

    1. Thanks! That is my biggest issue - defining easy. I always want to feel like I "did something" when I'm finished so I tend to really push that barrier. The heart rate monitor helps me be honest about it. I've ran more in the past 3 consecutive days than I've ran in 3 days time in ages and I feel as if I did nothing. I keep telling myself that's a GOOD thing!

  2. I understand what you're describing regarding time goals for a first marathon. Here's my two cents:

    I am very competitive with myself, and it is impossible for me to completely disconnect from the clock during a race. During the 18 weeks training for my first marathon, I had a target time in mind based upon a recent half marathon and gut feel. To avoid possible disappointment during the marathon, I used those 18 training weeks to mentally separate a time goal from a time target. For me, a goal is something I pour my heart and dreams into, hitting a goal will make or break my day. A target is a loose guide line that I am aiming for, helps me know where to line up in a corral, which pace runner to follow, BUT it is simply a target, separated from my passion.

    Ultimately on race day, I tried to hit my target, finished 21 minutes slower, and still had the epic experience of a lifetime. If I had allowed my target to become a goal, then I might have been disappointed which could ruin an otherwise amazing day and lifetime memory.

    1. I can't thank you enough for posting this. Brilliant thought and I'll be happy to steal it. :)