How To Write Your Own Training Plan

My first road race ever was April 21, 2007, the Wrigley Start Early 10k in Chicago. As best as I remember there have only been 14 races since then, probably a small number as compared to other runners. My favorite race is the marathon, but I haven’t gotten the bug yet to run one every weekend, or one in every state (my husband is saying thank goodness). The longer the race, the longer the training, and the longer the recovery. I haven’t figured out yet how to compress all of that in my schedule, although obviously alot of people do with great success.

I read the book “My first 100 marathons” by Jefferey Horowitz and was fascinated by the journey that took him through 100 marathons. Still I had no burning desire to do the same. What does fascinate me, however, is the training that will get you to one marathon and possibly a personal best.

This quest of the perfect training plan has led to many errors over the years. As a new runner, I was over-zealous to put it mildly. Since my first marathon was the LaSalle Bank marathon in Chicago (THE Chicago marathon), I guess it was natural that I gravitated to Hal Higdon’s Marathon Guide for direction, he being a well known writer and coach from the area. His book told me everything I needed to know about running my first marathon. It was an easy read and covered all the bases.

Me being me, I came home and immediately “improved” on Hal’s training program. If the schedule said 3 miles, I went for 3.5 or maybe 4. I mapped out my 6 mile run in a route that was 6.7 miles and even wrote it in my calendar as 6 miles. He says no speed work in the beginner’s program. I did lots of speedwork. These were probably minor errors, but over the months and years these little stretches of truth took their toll.

My goal of running two marathons a year fell by the wayside and for a couple of years I got injured while training for my one and only marathon. With stress fractures, it’s impossible to come back quick enough to get that one marathon in before the end of the year. It was a viscious cycle.

My last marathon had been in March 2008. By early 2011, I decided this had to end. We were moving to Ecuador at the end of that year, for what I thought to be the rest of our lives (another blog entirely) and I was determined to run one more marathon before I left the States. Nothing like a little extra motivation.

Even then I was only 4 weeks into my latest stress fracture and it was 16 weeks out to the last, best marathon I could run. There was a small marathon in the Chicago suburbs where I could visit with my son one more time before I left for Ecuador and run one last marathon at the same time. The answer was to write my own training plan.

The only time I had trained injury-free, was when I remained true to Hal’s training plans so I turned to him once again as a guide to writing my own plan. There had to be a ramp-up from 0 total weekly miles to something that could at least include a 20 mile run. During those first few weeks I scheduled runs every other day and filled in with cycling in between. Slowly I inched my way up on the long runs and week by week began replacing cycling days with short runs.

The test came around the time of my 16-18 mile long run. I had to skip two weeks in the traditional 18-week marathon training schedule to meet the race date. And, I still had a stress fracture, so too much mileage early could derail the whole schedule.  Consequently, I eliminated the 15 and 17-mile long run weeks and did a 14, 16 and 18-mile long run week with one step back week in between the 16 and 18-mile long runs. There were other modifications to these weeks as well to reduce the total weekly mileage so there was never too big an increase from week to week. It was a toss up but I decided to ramp up the mileage slowly early on in the program and take a chance on compressing or skipping some of the longer runs.

By the time I got to the 20 mile run after only 13 weeks of running post-injury, I was beginning to feel some pressure in my feet. It’s easy to say there is no warning of a stress fracture, but truth is if you learn to listen to your body – and be honest with yourself, you can usually sense the early warning signs. To be on the safe side, I rode my bike for 4 hours instead of doing the 20 mile run. This could have caused other serious problems had I not still been doing serious cycling throughout my schedule. It’s not uncommon to experience some of the same running injuries on a bike – like IT Band syndrome, especially in mountainous terrain such as western North Carolina.

I survived the 20 mile substitute ride and went into the taper feeling good. Of course, the taper is by nature a time to start second guessing your training. According to articles on the subject, this must be when some runners go back and try to “make up” for lost miles. For once in my life, I played it safe.

I achieved my personal best marathon time in that race: 3:57:34 at 52 years old.

My husband had left for a quick trip to Ecuador in July when I was just beginning this journey (still another story) but then was not allowed to leave the country to come home — we didn’t see each other again until October when I joined him in Ecuador. But he called me right after the race and told me how proud he was of me. I didn’t place in the top 3 for my age group and had missed 4th place by seconds not minutes. It was all ok.

There’s a book by Bob Glover and Shelly-Lynn Florence Glover called “The Competitive Runner’s Handbook” where they devote an entire chapter to writing your own training plan. They offer 10 steps to getting it right. No doubt lots of helpful guides can be produced through a simple Internet search as well. The best advice I can give is to listen to your body and adjust as needed.

I could have never written my own training plan in the early years because I was unwilling to adjust my training when my body was saying enough already. I thought I would somehow be less of a runner if I missed a day or that I’d lose fitness if I didn’t strictly adhere to the schedule in my calendar. Both of these are wrong.

My Sifu tells a story in Kung Fu class about the Peking duck being prepared. The chef stuffs the duck until it seems that it will overflow and then let’s it rest for awhile, absorbing the stuffing. Then when there’s room, he stuffs a little more in…and let’s it rest. In Kung Fu, we are the ducks and Sifu is the chef. The same is true in running. You can read books and talk to other runners but only absorb so much. When the time is right, you can read and talk to others and absorb a little more. Through this process you get smarter and smarter and begin making better and smarter decisions on your own.  And the cycle continues indefinitely.

At least for me, I hope so.

6 thoughts on “How To Write Your Own Training Plan

  1. Ms. Fartlek (I guess it’s OK to call you Marcia now?), this message is from one of you martial arts training partners. As I have mentioned to you, I love your blog. I feel the need to respond to each paragraph as if we were having a conversation (but I won’t). The relaxed nature of your writing reminds me of my favorite running writer Dr. George Sheehan. My first and only marathon was for my 50th birthday and it was an hour longer than yours at 52. I kiddingly (but actual truth) would tell folks that I took the Joey Galloway reduced mileage probram (but not run-walk), cut the miles in half and then ran half of those miles. I was doing a lot of international travel at the time and struggled getting in the mileage. I had done a couple of 15’s and one 18 and then panicked less than two weeks out when I should have been tappering and ran an easy 20 miler at a special lake trail more than an hour from where I lived (can relate to your Map my Run blog entry). Ended up that my last 5k in my marathon (NYCM) was my fatest pace, so I survived the poor plan execution.


    1. It could never be considered poor execution when you finish a marathon, especially if you’re fastest at the end! Thank you for your kind words and for reading my blog. see you in class!


  2. I think so many of us try to do more than we should and end up hurting ourselves in the end rather than getting better and faster. I’m impressed that you could write a plan for yourself, stick to it, and listen to what your body was telling you!


    1. Maybe it was only out of desperation to make it to the starting line of that race, but I certainly learned alot about “undertraining” in the process. On to the next lesson, right?!


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