Thursday, January 22, 2015

10 Elements of a Kick Ass Marathon (or 1/2) Training Plan

There are tons of cookie-cutter marathon and half marathon plans out there. They can be found in books, magazines and online. And, they come for the affordable price of *free*. Keep in mind that those plans are free and available because they are a one size fit all scenario, much like your favorite hat, scarf or tampon. 

If there is any thing we know about runners, it’s that we come in all shapes and sizes. We have varying experience/skill levels. So, if you want to use one of those plans, go ahead. But don’t be afraid to tailor it a bit to fit YOU.

Here’s how:

1. Start at Your Current Level of Fitness: Some plans may have you starting your long run at 5 miles and have you running four days per week. That’s great if that’s your foundation and what you’ve been doing. But, if you have been running far less than that (or far more), you might need to tweak those numbers.

2. Incorporate Rest days: A good, sound plan will not run you into the ground (literally). It will give you time to recuperate so that your body can adjust to the stress you are putting on it.


3. Build In Recovery weeks: Maybe this is more for those of us approaching the AARP age, but I like a plan that builds for three weeks, then drops back for a week. This usually means that mileage (especially for the long run) is decreased by about 15 percent. This gives your body a chance to adjust and to recover. It also gives your mental state a break. If you keep increasing mileage every week with no hiatus, you might become a tired and grumpy bitch.

4. Add In Variety: A good plan will keep you on your toes. It can be zone training, speed work, hill repeats or my favorite farting! (I mean fartleking).  A plan needs to be more than just straight and unvaried running (i.e., same pace every run everyday).


5. Stick to the Ten Percent Rule: Any plan worth its weight in race medals will increase weekly mileage cautiously. A generally accepted practice is that total weekly mileage does not increase more than ten percent per week. For you math wizards, this means that if you ran 20 miles per week in week #1, you should run no more than a total of 22 miles per week in week #2. You are welcome.

6. Make Sure Your Taper Is Long Enough: For a marathon, a taper (the last weeks before your race) should be at least three weeks long. For a half, it should be two weeks. This means you run less, rest more and go out of your mind as you get ready for the big day.

7. Have a Key for Determining Long Run/Easy Run/Tempo Run Paces: This is a tricky one because in order to know what your long run/easy/tempo paces should be, you need to have a marathon goal pace or know your heart rate zones. How do you even know this pace if you haven’t done the race distance before? You don't. A good way to set your pace levels is to use the McMillan running calculator.

8. Make Room for Strength and Cross Training: I am being a hypocrite with this one because right now I am doing NONE of either of these things. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t think they are important and should be part of any good training plan. Do as I say, not as I do.


9. Make It Fit: Listen closely, because this one is a doozy and is uber important. You will only be successful with a training plan if it fits your lifestyle and allows you to keep your priorities in order (i.e., you don’t want to cross the finish line divorced, friendless, and with children who have no clue who you are).

10. Be Consistent: Most running coaches will tell you that the key to improving performance and becoming an all around stronger runner is that you are a consistent runner. This means you do everything in your power (see #s 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8)) to remain healthy so that you can run consistently. Even a semi-okay training plan will probably get you near the result you want if you are consistent in following that plan.

Don’t want to deal with all of this? Then hire a coach and sit back and pick your nose. A good coach should be able to incorporate all of these things (for a price of course).

Any other things you need to be part of a good plan? Wine. And Cheetos. SUAR


  1. My biggest challenge right now is training for my next race in Florida. I did one last year and the heat and humidity did me in. So this year, I've incorporated some indoor runs, wearing lots of clothing, to help simulate running in the heat. I can't simulate the humidity. I wish I had a sauna that I could move my treadmill to.

  2. Consistency is HUGE...and staying healthy through the (germ filled) brutal winter!!
    Love the yoga pic! I don't think I've seen a picture of you ever doing yoga :-)

  3. Do you have suggestions for training programs that you liked?

    1. For first timers, Marathon Rookie and Hal Higdon are good (but Marathon Rookie's plan doesn't have recovery weeks that I can tell). I have used Competitor's plans and Smart Coach from Runner's World. I often make my own plans. I've done the plans found in the book Run Less, Run Faster too.

  4. I think #9 is the most important of all. Plans with 14 milers before work? Just not happening!

  5. You are so cute on that trail, Bethie!
    We need to get together soon....

  6. Maybe you could develop an AARP marathon training plan. I trained for my last marathon like I did when I was in my thirties and over did it. At 52, I was following a plan that literally ran me into the ground. In the weeks leading up to the race I was nauseated at every run and I ended up adding 10 minutes to my PR. Lesson learned. Rest is my best friend and I'm going to taper like you next time.

  7. Ahh, making it fit is my problem area right now! It's so difficult! Especially when work schedules are different and your significant other is not a runner too. Believe me, I have tried to convince him to become one so we can hang out more.

  8. Loved this. I am currently on the hunt for a coach cause I want someone else to do all this for me....I can provide the wine. I would say finding a training buddy is helpful even for just one run a week. Keeps it interesting and running with other people makes you a better runner.

  9. I suspect tailoring a plan is hard for runners, unless they have a personal trainer. You follow a plan to follow a plan. But I would emphasize your hint to customize any of your specific points to the individual. If you feel you could benefit from incorporating a rest day, you need the confidence to deviate from plan and take it.

  10. It's always nice to have friends to run all or part of the REALLY long runs!

    Also... POD CASTS!

    These are great tips!

    1. Yes on the podcasts for sure. They get me through my daily drives AND my daily runs.

  11. I tried really hard to focus on the message of this post but my mind just kept going back to "damn! I love her arms!" That's my ADHD kicking in.

  12. Cross training..that's the biggest thing I have learned. Yoga, strength training, elliptical, hiking, it all works together to keep the rest of my body healthy for the running.

    And yes...crazy arms. Nice. :)

  13. NICE Warrior Stance! I can't get over how much stretching has helped my running. Great advice in this post. :)

  14. I'll just add getting a sports massage in addition to the wine and Cheetos.

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  16. I really adore you, your body, being healthy! wow! I hope I can do that too..Good luck! byw thanks for the tips :)

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