How to decide on the suitable coaching plan and persist with it!
19 weeks until my marathon. Lots of time, right? I spent a year building my base to prepare my mind for the challenge. Every time I go running, no matter how briefly, I remind myself that this is part of marathon training. Everything is based on this great goal.
But the pressure is great. It is decision time. I have to choose a training plan. Jack Daniels? (No, unfortunately not the whiskey!) McMillan? 80/20 endurance? Hanson? Higdon? Galloway? They all make their plans sound like the scientific holy grail of marathon training. They are the experts and they disagree. I'm just starting out with endurance training. How on earth am I supposed to find out what's right?
Maybe you've been there too – overwhelmed by the possibilities, tired of endless research and wishing someone would just tell you, "Do this, it's for the best!" Well, I won't do that for you. As I said, I'm not sure about myself!
But here are the keys I've found that can guide your decision, not just when choosing a plan, but throughout your training cycle.
1. There is no “right” answer
They are a sample size of one. Your training experiment cannot be repeated – the next time you prepare for a race, even if you use a different plan, the comparison to that time is apples and oranges.
Rather than trying to find the "best" plan, which is an unanswerable question, focus on finding a "good" plan. There are many options that work.
2. You are an individual
All of the major plans on the market have a solid scientific foundation and have been field-tested by thousands of athletes before you. Everyone can work. Not all of them are great for all runners.
Each of us has different strengths and weaknesses, and we respond differently to different types of exercise based on genetics, athletic history, diet, stress, hormones, and a host of other factors.
What worked for your training partner or brother-in-law, or even your last race, may not work for you this time. Don't be afraid to choose something else if it seems right to you.
3. Think about where to start
Aside from entry-level start-up programs like Couch 2 5K, training plans usually assume that you are already running on a regular basis. Look for a plan that starts where you are – similar weekly mileage, number of runs, and length of the long run. If you're new to speed training, look for a plan that emphasizes tempo runs and fartlek workouts rather than one that throws you in the deep end with track reps.
If you already have a higher weekly mileage than the training plans begin, you can move on at a later week. This is true even if you've just trained for another race – you may already be in half marathon form, but marathon plans start with a long run of 5-6 miles.
You don't have to go backwards unless you want to relax for a couple of weeks. You can find the week that suits your current level, maybe repeat it once or twice to make sure it feels comfortable, and move on from there.
4. Make it your own
Believe it or now, training plans are not legal contracts! You can make changes to suit your style and schedule. This can range from simple changes like changing your long day of running to more sophisticated changes like changing your running day.
Make sure you understand the purpose of the training you are changing so that you can serve the same purpose in modified ways. Online runners groups and forums can be a great resource to get help with.
5. Stay flexible
Remember, your choice is not set in stone! If a plan really doesn't work, you can always change it later. You might enjoy the track sessions, but you will feel awful for days afterward. You might like the idea of higher mileage, but work or family commitments don't allow you to spend the time doing this type of workout.
In general, it is recommended that you choose one method and stick to it during the training block, but it is always an option to change it in between.
6. Prepare yourself mentally
To be honest, I sometimes think that if I just choose the right training plan and follow it perfectly, the race will be easy. Well, guess what – it won't! Marathons are tough so that's why I do it in the first place.
A good training plan will guide me, but I'll have to do the hard work. Some training runs will feel great, others will be a struggle. The best preparation for race day is not to expect everything to go according to plan. I have to train well, but also know that it will probably hurt and I'll keep going anyway.
7. Enjoy the ride
Training for this race won't be easy, but I'm determined to enjoy myself. I don't have to do this. Nobody pays me – in fact, I'm the one paying for the privilege! So I'll choose a plan that sounds (more or less) comfortable – don't do workouts that I hate and don't go to my absolute limit.
More than any time goal, I want to finish the race with a smile on my face – and I want to practice this attitude in as many training runs as possible. I plan for this to be the first of many marathon and I have my sights set on ultras so fun and health are high priorities.
If you follow these seven tips, you can choose a training plan with confidence and start preparing for a race with one jump at a time!