Marathon Training: A Plan That Fits

As I sit here writing, there are 95 days until the Boston Marathon. This will be my fourth time tackling 26.2. In my earlier attempts, I met my goals of: breaking four hours (3:52:10 – Disney World), qualifying for Boston (3:38:41 – Tucson), and qualifying for Boston by enough to actually get in (3:31:32 – Phoenix). I used the Hanson’s plan for my third marathon, and while I was pleased with the results, I decided to try the FIRST plan this time. Despite very different philosophies, both have successfully guided runners to PRs.

The hallmark of the Hanson’s plan is that their long runs top out at 16 miles, while most prescribe 20 or beyond. The Hanson brothers believe that no one workout is that much more important than another, and that extra-long runs compromise the workouts that follow. They have you run six days per week, which includes an interval workout, a marathon goal pace run (up to 10 miles), and the long run. This leaves 3 easy runs of between 3 and 8 miles, wwpid-20150113_221348-1.jpghere the goal is volume and not speed. The plan may not seem too difficult at the outset, but it’s designed to build cumulative fatigue, and the long runs are meant to simulate the last 16 miles of the race, not the first.

Other than a period when I was injured and relegated to the Step Mill and elliptical, I was able to complete most of my workouts and hit the paces more often than not. My body felt good on race day, and while the last few miles weren’t easy, I wasn’t in agony like I had been with the previous marathon. The training, on the other hand, was a different story. I teach four fitness classes a week (three cycling and one strength), and I also like to get at least one additional strength session as well as an outdoor ride and swim in. I taught the whole time, but toward the end, the supplemental workouts fell by the wayside. It was also physically and mentally draining to work a full day, teach class, and then pound out 5 to 8 miles. I wasn’t enjoying my runs.

The FIRST program, named for the Furman (University) Institute of Running and Scientific Training, is built on 3 runs and 2 cross training sessions per week. Each running workout (speed, tempo, long) is to be run at very specific, challenging pace that adherents have called “tough but doable.” Intense cross training further develops the cardiorespiratory system while allowing the running muscles to recover. They recommend swimming, cycling, and/or rowing because of their dissimilarity to running. This allows the athlete to push the key runs faster than in many other plans. Even the long runs aren’t leisurely jogs. For their Boston-Qualifier version of the 3:30 marathon schedule (8 minute miles), the 20-milers start at 9 minute miles and go down to 8 minute miles by the end of the training cycle. Because I enjoy cross training and want to keep teaching my classes, I think the FIRST plan is a better fit for me.

It will be interesting to see how I improve during the next few months. When I started the Hanson’s plan, I had recently run a half marathon PR. These days, once I pass the 10-mile mark, my legs feel like they’ve been repeatedly flogged with a plastic bat and I fall off pace. Therefore, if this race is slower than my last, I can’t necessarily fault the plan. Still, based on my November 10K time and the charts in the book, I could be capable of a 3:30 marathon, which would be a PR. The target paces are nothing I haven’t hit before, but how quickly will I be able to get my endurance back? Two weeks in, the results have been mixed. I’ll keep you posted.

For more information on these plans, check out Hanson’s Marathon Method or Run Less, Run Faster

Of course it’s effin’ hard!

I am training for a marathon using the Hanson’s method, and am running more miles and more frequently than ever before. The program is designed to develop cumulative fatigue, and while the longest runs top off at 16 miles, they are meant to simulate the last 16 miles of the race, not the first. 

I was about five miles into a nine-mile goal pace run one morning when I really wanted to slow down. My mind whined, this is haaaard. All of a sudden, something I had read on a triathlon forum popped into my head: Of course it’s effin’ hard. It’s IRONMAN. While I have never trained for an Ironman (and probably never will), I had a “Well, duh!” moment right there.

Marathon training isn’t supposed to be easy. Running a marathon isn’t easy. Neither is any physical endeavor where you are pushing your body beyond where it wants to go. To a person trying to get in shape after years of sedentary life, running to the end of the street is effin’ hard. No matter how fit you are and how much you might love to exercise, there are days when it’s a struggle just to get out the door.

Anyone who decides to tackle a goal knows from the outset there will be a struggles, but the buoyancy of untested enthusiasm can obscure that fact. Once a person is down in the trenches dealing with the nitty-gritty tasks at hand, however, it’s easy to lose sight of why this crazy thing ever seemed like a good idea. A decision must be made whether or not to press on, sometimes multiple times a day. But while the prize is obtained at the end, the true treasure is often found during the journey.

So, I forged ahead with a bit of a smile on my face and finished the workout strong. I have a few more tough training weeks before taper time, and I plan to carry this mindset to the end. Every effin’ step.

Life is pain

Because the “Hard is what makes great.” quote from A League of Their Own would have been too obvious.

Songs That Go the Distance

It’s that time of the marathon training schedule when the long runs are starting to show up. Even though I am doing the Hanson’s Plan and my long runs top out at 16 miles, that’s still about two and a half hours of me and the pavement. For shorter and faster workouts, I like energetic music, but when I’m going long, my tastes change. It’s all about smoothness, and for lack of a better word, flow. Some of it is darnright mellow. Here are some of the songs that I lose myself in.

I have been getting into trance music lately and think it’s great for running. This song travels through a lot of different sounds and moods. The introduction makes me feel like something grand is about to happen.

Hypnotic instrumental opener that draws me into a mental place where everything is about the here and now. And that everything sounds better, looks brighter, and feels… better.

Trancy instrumental that makes me feel like the world is wide open and there for my taking.

One more trance selection. Nice, quick, light cadence, it sounds like running on the road. As the vocals and guitar work their way in and the song progresses, my feet may still be on the ground but my spirit soars through the air.

Throwback to my high school tastes. This song has smooth and flowing by the bucketload. I imagine I am gliding over the road without a care in the world.

Super mellow and introspective. And great for when I do my long runs in the dark.

Oh, now that I’m talking about the dark, I have to mention this song. More trance! Those synthy parts just make me want to move.

So smooth and no one does guitar like Pink Floyd. And aren’t all of us runners just a bunch of earth-bound misfits?

Sometimes you just have to get literal. Hey, it’s what we do every time we head out the door 🙂 I could only find the live version on Youtube. For the album version, go here.

Do you like to run with music? Do you tailor your playlist based on the type of workout? What are some of your favorites?