It’s that time of year again! While some runners are training for a fall marathon and are well into their training plans, others of us plan for a winter race and start training later in the summer. We endure our sweat fests with thoughts of cooler days for longer runs and “thank goodness I’m not marathon training yet.” Okay, maybe that’s just me. But I do use summer to plan my fall training. Which training plan will I use? What days will I run? What finish goal will I train for?
I get excited as I think about the possibilities I can achieve after slogging through summer heat. I look for a plan that will challenge me, but not break me. I want to push my fitness to new levels so each year I can say what I said the year before: I’m in the best shape of my life.
As you prepare for a half or full marathon, how do you decide on a training plan? For some of you this is your first long race (yay you!) and your goal is to finish. For others, you seek beating a previous time, or trying a new course. No matter what your ultimate goal is, try to look at what’s right for you, your family, and your season of life.
The few tips I follow to choose a training plan have kept me healthy, happy, and brought me to race day with confidence.
1. When I increase mileage each week, I try to keep at no more than a 10% increase. I’ve seen this on other running sites, and it’s what I adhere to even when I’m not on a plan. I believe it’s what helps keep me injury free. If I run 31 miles one week, I run no more than 34 the next week.
2. Cutback weeks. Generally the mileage on a training plan follows this pattern: increase, increase, increase, step back. About the time I start feeling pretty sore and tired, a cut back week comes along and saves me. These are the weeks I also remember to drop off overdue library books, catch up on laundry, and balance our checking account.
3. Look at the number of running days per week. If you currently run three days a week, don’t choose a plan with six. Last year I made a change from running five days a week and cross-training one to running six days with no cross-training. It took me several weeks to adjust, but it paid off. Also, decide what cross-training you’ll do.
3. Rest and recovery. This is not a scheduled part of a training plan but I’ve learned it’s pretty darn important. My recovery has gotten a lot better in the past year, although the rest part is still a struggle. Why does marathon training have to coincide with marching band season? But, I’ve learned that if I don’t rehydrate and refuel ASAP after a long run, the rest of my day is shot. I need to replace electrolytes (Nuun), and begin rebuilding my muscles. Low fat chocolate milk is my go to with its ratio of carbs and protein. While I may think I earned an apple fritter, it’s not what my body needs. It took me a while to realize that long run days can be emotional. If I don’t refuel my muscles correctly, my mood heads south. I want my family to continue to support my running. They won’t if I’m a bear. The recovery process is an often overlooked part of training for beginning runners. Take it from me and prioritize this step.
Most of all, as you choose your training plan remember to cut yourself some slack. Life happens and every run won’t go as planned. Some training runs won’t get done. Just remember to enjoy the process along the way.
Meanwhile, I’ll try to settle on a training plan myself. I have some pretty big goals to accomplish this winter.