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.
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