Welp. It’s time. Marathon day is looming in just four short months, and there can be no more procrastinating: I’ve got to put sole to asphalt in a serious way. I’m thinking I’ll share a bit about marathon training every couple of weeks, not because I need the accountability – believe me, I’ll be going through these workouts; the last thing I want is to be undertrained at the start line – but just because I think it’ll be fun. And after all, this is a blog about the things that I’m doing, and now… gulp… I’m marathon training. (Of course, don’t consider this or any other training or running post to be expert advice. Hello, marathon virgin over here! Consult your doctor and make the decisions that are right for you, not me.)
Picking a Plan
I guess that once you’ve gone through enough marathons you sort of know what to do and you don’t feel like you need to strictly follow a training plan. I’m at that point with 5Ks – I just bang ’em out. Even for my last half, I pretty much made it up as I went along – but I had already run a ten-miler and a half, so I knew the basics of what I needed to do to get through 13.1 miles. But 26.2? Yeah, we’ll be consulting an expert on that one.
I was torn between two training plans. There was Hal Higdon, who I know and trust. I used Hal’s novice half marathon plan to train for both the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler and the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon and made it across both finish lines with a smile on my face – success! My first thought was, Hal is the guy to get me through 26.2 miles. Then I picked up Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea’s Train Like a Mother, which includes training plans for every distance from the 5K to the marathon. For awhile I flirted with the idea of using their “Marathon – Finish It” plan, but ultimately decided that it was too involved for me at this point. I was looking for something reeeeeeeally beginner-friendly. Hal it was: Marathon Novice 1.
Tailoring the Plan
One thing about training plans is this: they’re never exactly what you need. Even a really good one, like Hal’s, won’t be quite right for you personally. They’re written to appeal to the widest variety of a certain subset of runners. For me, there were a few things that jumped out as necessary changes:
- Hal suggests running a half marathon in week 8 (which makes sense… it’s halfway through the program, so you should be able to run half the distance, right?). I do plan to run 13.1 in week eight, but I also have one to do in week two; my final two weeks of half marathon training are going to overlap with the first two weeks of marathon training. I’m fine with that, since I’ll be conditioned for the extra mileage, and once I have that half out of the way I’m planning to sync up with Hal’s suggested mileage.
- Hal’s mileage doesn’t always coincide with my race schedule. There are some weekends that he calls for a sixteen-mile run, for example, and I have a 10K on the calendar. On those weekends, I plan to run the race and make up any extra mileage before or after. (Ideally before, so that I can really be done for the day when I cross the finish line. That’s a nice thing about training in Buffalo: you don’t have to start a race at the crack of dawn to avoid the heat, the way you do in Virginia, so I will actually have time to get some of those miles in before the gun goes off.)
- Hal suggests running long on Saturday and cross-training on Sunday. Monday’s a rest day. On my training calendar, I’ve flipped those days – just a personal preference for me. I’m more sore after a long run than after cross-training, so I like to run long on Sunday and then recover at my desk all day on Monday. And I have been going to Stroller Strides classes on Sunday, which makes for perfect cross-training – Hal doesn’t include any strength workouts on this particular plan, and I want to make sure I keep up with those. So I’m planning to cross-train with Stroller Strides on Saturdays, run long on Sunday, and stick with Hal’s schedule for midweek.
- Hal doesn’t include any speedwork, which I understand. It’s a very basic program, designed to get nervous novices across their first marathon finish line injury-free. In fact, speedwork is one thing that often scares me away from a training plan; I have a hard time deciphering the instructions and I usually decide it’s too complicated and pile on the junk miles instead. But I’d like to do a little bit of low pressure speedwork, since I think that helped me in the Turkey Trot. So I’m tentatively planning to do some very simple intervals on Thursday (sticking with Hal’s mileage).
I’ve heard it said that triathlon is actually four disciplines, not three: swimming, biking, running and nutrition. Well, this is a marathon, not a triathlon, but I still want to eat for the best possible performance. What I’ve found works best for me is to eat “close to nature” – by which I mean eating foods as close to their natural state as possible, and when foods are processed, I either do the processing myself or I can read and understand the ingredient lists. (I think that’s generally a good eating philosophy, probably, for anyone.) Periodically I like to hit my “nutritional reset button” with a Whole30, and I think July will probably be a good time for that – any later and we’re getting into longer and longer runs, and I’m going to want to have a less restricted pantry to fuel those. The rest of the time, I’m simply going to focus on making the best possible choices, picking fruits and vegetables over other foods whenever possible, and having a well-stocked healthy fridge at my fingertips.
At the end of the day, I’m doing this for fun. I want to do well, but let’s face it – marathon training takes a lot of time and effort, and I wouldn’t devote the energy if I wasn’t excited about the endeavor. My goal for the race is to finish (within the cutoff time of 5.5 hours) with a smile on my face – that’s it! I’ll be happy as long as I can say I did my best and I finished. I’ve had some not-great racing experiences and I’ve had some that were just a blast. I’m pumped and ready to go!
Have you ever trained for a marathon? Did you use a plan or did you wing it?