With my ‘A’ race for the year now more than a month past, I feel firmly entrenched in the off-season. I’ve taken some time off, recovered from the marathon and now returned to working out most days. I’ve set up the trainer in the basement, dusted off the treadmill and I’m making early morning trips to the pool. The long, slow process of building up an aerobic triathlon base for 2014 has begun, but before we jump ahead, I wanted to give a quick review of the plan I used to prep and run my first marathon.
Prior to this year’s success, my past two half marathons had ended badly. The overall times were okay, but the finishes were poor and the lingering memories were one of disappointment and frustration not accomplishment.
The first one I was caught up in the crowd energy and naivete and ran an extreme positive split. The last couple miles were over nine minutes. Way over. The next year, I was more careful about the pace, but my body betrayed me. The last three miles were a limping, hobbling, hot mess of hip pain. I prepped for both of those races with cookie-cutter plans off the internet. This year I resolved to change that approach. If I was going to invest the time in marathon training, I would invest some money and get a more customized plan and hopefully avoid past mistakes.
With a decent existing fitness level and some knowledge of running and training techniques, I didn’t think one-on-one coaching was necessary or within my budget. I also didn’t think I needed the high-touch motivation of a personal coach. I’m self-aware enough to know that if you give me a plan, I will follow it. It didn’t take much Googling to land at StrengthRunning.com and it didn’t take much reading after that to know I’d probably found the right place.
Jason Fitzgerald has built a great site, chock full of useful information, with a thriving community and testimonials to back it up. I opted to purchase the standard PR Race Plan.
Shortly after signing up, you receive an email with an attached form. The two page Q&A form gathers your running history, any PRs, existing or past injuries and goal race among a few other things. You fill it out and send it back. Within a week, typically sooner, you’ll receive back your custom plan in the form of a detailed spreadsheet. You can review it and ask, via email, Jason any questions or concerns about the layout or mechanics of the plan. He also offers a 30-day money back guarantee. After that, you are off and running.
Spend almost any time on Jason’s site and you’ll quickly get a sense of his core training beliefs. One, most runners aren’t putting in enough miles. Two, most runners are not varying their workouts enough. Three, most runners are not doing enough dynamic strength and stretching.
Each of those tenets is clearly reflected in the custom plan. Each week was anchored by a long run on the weekend. My 20 week plan started at 12 miles (I believe 12 was based on the questionnaire) and maxed out at 22. In between the long weekend runs, there were a series of interval workouts, tempo runs and recovery runs. Each workout has a time or pace goal based on the PR information you provided (No HR based training). Finally, each workout included a strength and stretching workout to be done as a warmup and cool down. Typically these pre and post workouts routines took 5-7 minutes to complete once you learned the exercises.
These routines are the glue of the plan. It’s very easy to be tempted to skip these, especially when you are squeezing a workout in before work or after completing a long, tiring run. Don’t do it. This is the secret sauce. While I did develop some mild plantar fasciitiss in one foot, but I blame this more on the roads I was running on (note to self, try to find more trails next time) than the mileage I was doing. Despite greatly increasing my mileage from anything else I’d previously done, I was never injured, never felt that searing hip pain on long runs and to be honest, was rarely that sore.
What I Liked
The price. Even the cheapest online coaching is going to top a hundred bucks a month, so I thought $99 bucks for a 20 week plan was more than fair.
The exercises. Despite the almost daily temptation to skip these, I’ve found them to be really effective and worth the time.
The service. The entire sign-up, questionnaire and clarifications were all handled very quickly and promptly.
What I Would Change
Honestly? Nothing. This plan was exactly what I was looking for in a customized training plan. I will say, like running the marathon itself, training for it is time consuming. As the daily miles increased toward the end, it sometimes became a challenge to fit a 10 mile run in on a Tuesday.
I also think now that I have one under my belt, that I would probably cut the training back from 20 weeks to 14-16. I felt a little burned out in the last month.
Given the foot issue that cropped up, I might also consider adding in some simple calf raises or other foot strengthening exercises to try to stave off more arch injuries.
It’s all about the results, right? While I had certainly felt better during a few long training runs, I had a good day logging a 3:27 in my first marathon. I can’t say it was totally pain-free, but I think over 26 miles, some level of discomfort is to be expected. Overall, the plan prepared me, kept my healthy, gave me confidence and helped me exceed my goal time for the race. Hard to beat that for the price.
image of smoothie by dylan t. moore used with CC license