Grab a stout or extra large coffee, this one is a long one!
Since leaving high school I have been a self-coached runner, minus the training Laura provided to me during the Chicago Marathon. My first half marathon, I went with a cookie cutter training plan I found online. I don’t even remember where I found it or what it entailed other than I capped my long runs somewhere between 10-12 miles. My second half marathon I looked at a variety of plans and took bits and pieces from each of them to create my own. I didn’t have reasoning behind workouts other than do a little interval work, a little tempo work, and some easy and long runs, too. My training plan was so sporadic that sometimes my Runners World Magazine would come in and I’d see a workout that sounded pretty great and I’d do it. (Side note: I still remember doing that workout to this day and it was a ton of fun and total confidence booster.)
I finally decided what I’m doing with my training plan this year. I nixed jumping all in on the CrossFit Endurance approach because my budget cannot handle the cost of CrossFit that frequently and I’m not totally ready to say good-bye to my mileage. I think I’ve decided to go with heart rate training over pace-based training, but I need to replace my heart rate monitor. Plus if I train with by heart rate, I also want to track my heart rate variability (more on that in the future as I continue my research). All that aside, I did
create rightfully tweak a training plan! (Side note – affiliate links ahead; not a sponsored post.)
While I was training for Chicago, I picked up a few books: You (Only Faster), Daniels’ Running Formula, and a Triathlon for Beginners book (just in case I had to prepare for a half Ironman next summer!) After revisiting these books, I settled on using Greg McMillan’s approach. I first reviewed the 4-5 days a week half marathon plan but thought it looked too intimidating as far as mileage, so I went with the 2-3 day plan knowing I could add in an extra day and started tweaking. As I was tweaking (based on McMillan’s recommendations) I realized there wasn’t enough speed and tempo work to get me to my goals. Finally, I settled back on the 4-5 day training plan.
I spent a good couple of hours typing the 8 week plan into Excel and color coding the various workouts. The actual plan is 12 weeks, but I removed the first four of “base” because I would be adding more to it to ease me into training. Then I added those various different “blocks” instead of the base, specific to my goal race to get me to race preparation phase, going all the way back to December. Finally, I input my estimated weekly mileage on the side, which I’m sure will be easily classified as “over” once the snow melts and my pace drops. Unfortunately I finished my 5+ hours of training plan revision and Dunkin started to have his full-blow separation anxiety fits. I realized I had to redo almost everything to factor in the runs he’ll need before work every day. I must really love my dog because I spent most of Football Sunday (yes, in this house that’s a proper noun!) reviewing, revising, and re-doing most of my plan. I still don’t feel sold on it, but I think it’s as good as it’s going to get until I start running.
Let me tell you, this training plan is scary. Finishing Chicago meant that I could handle 30+ mile weeks without falling apart and my goal is to get back to that spot for the half marathon, but feel more “in control” of my running. Running about 25 miles per week was a sweet spot for me, but maintaining that and more made me feel like I was always behind the 8-ball. It was comparable to that feeling of being on a treadmill and pushing the pace up, up, up until you were certain your legs were going to fly off the back of the belt. Or playing an instrument (or singing) and reaching for a high note you weren’t comfortable playing yet and you barely squeaked up to it, rather than hitting it right on. Okay, that last analogy was solely because I’m missing being a music teacher this week, guys.
This training plan pushes me to my marathon mileage and beyond. It starts the first week of December (technically November 30th) so I’ve got some time to get my you-know-what together
omgthatislessthanthreeweeksaway. [Deep breath.]
Each week, the mileage can be anywhere within a 10 mile range, or at least that is what I anticipate, depending on what I do. It’s fool-proof for me because I’m notorious for cutting a run short and sometimes feeling like I’m invincible. The big change here is that the plan is based in minutes, not miles.
So, how exactly does my plan look?
Step One: The Beginning [11/30/15 – 1/24/16]
Just as you would expect, at the beginning I’m building up my base. I need to get used to consistency early in my training, particularly because Dunkin is going to be a huge part of my morning runs. He and his happiness relies on me. I cannot slack.
The first week starts off relatively easy with five days of running and no double workout days. I am aiming for three morning runs before work during the week which can span anywhere from 20 minutes to 90 minutes. We’ll see how Dunkin does with that; the 90 minutes might be a big stretch for both of us. My mileage will start in the 15-25 miles per week range increasing to 30-36 per week.
Step Two: Workout Base with Hills [1/25/16 – 3/6/16]
This is a pseudo-base building phase. Instead of all easy runs (which I’m sure I’ll be sick of at this point!) I add in harder workouts which alternate weeks between hills and speed. This is where I have to start adding in afternoon workouts. My mornings are reserved for some easy miles with Dunkin in the 20-40 minute range, but on a couple afternoons each week I have penciled in hill repeats, a speed session, or CrossFit. Here I started changing a couple workouts each week to vary from the plan just a little. I took some of the easier workouts in the 2-3 day per week plan to use so I could toss in easy morning runs for my pup. Overall my mileage stays in the 30 miles per week range throughout this time, which I love. I should feel comfortable with this spot by the time I dive into hard training.
Next Step: Race Prep and Peak [3/7/16 – 5/1/16]
Here we go! We are full steam ahead towards the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. I have 8 weeks of race preparation before I have a two week peak; McMillan’s plans don’t use the words “taper”. In fact, there were still some really hard workouts the week before the race. Though I did my best to stick to the plan, I toned it down a smidgen 10-14 days leading into the race. In this preparation phase, I continue my morning Dunkin runs of 20-60 minutes, but instead of just one speed session in the afternoon per week, we typically have two each week. Occasionally I have written in three morning and afternoon workouts (one afternoon being cross-training). Remember how I said this plan was scary? I expect my mileage to peak around 45-50 miles per week, a full 15-20 miles above my marathon peak.
I truly enjoyed pushing my body each week during marathon training, despite some whining during the process. Seeing new weekly mileage highs was really motivating for me, so I’m excited to see what I can do over the next 6 months. I expect that I’ll struggle and redo my plan come February, but if I can come close to maintaining 30-35 miles for a race half the distance, I think I’ll be happy. One thing marathon training did help me with was determining what workouts need longer recovery and which I spring back from quickly. For me, my long runs (anywhere after 16 miles) tend to take a good 4-5 days before I feel good, sometimes even longer. Give me a tempo or interval workout? I’ll come back two days later ready to do it all again. This helped me immensely in figuring out how to arrange the workouts each week.
Even though this training plan, happy colors and all scares the shit out of me… it’s a beautiful, fresh new start. I’m enjoying my fall downtime, but it’s time to get back to the daily grind of running. When I have the choice of running in the cold, dark elements versus staying on my couch with a beer or cup of coffee, snuggled under a blanket catching up on ShondaLand, what do you think I’m going to choose? You must not know me well enough if you pick the former!