As I ease my way back into training, I thought it might be useful to give a brief review of the different training plans I’ve tried over the past couple of years.
When I first started running and subsequently entering events, I pretty much did my own thing in terms of training. This basically consisted of 3 or 4 runs a week, including a longer one at the weekend, but no specific speed work or tempo style runs. Even when it came to my first marathon in Paris, I decided against following a specific plan, instead taking ideas from a couple of published ones on the internet, to determine distance progression for the weekend long runs.
Since then however I’ve used 3 different plans, for different races. I’ll run through each in turn, highlighting my thoughts on each.
Following the Royal Parks Half in 2014 and the Surrey Half in 2015, when I finished just outside the 90 min mark, I decided to look around at training plans to target a sub-90 at the Richmond Half. I was looking for something flexible, which included some speed work, and for ease of use preferably had an app I could use on my phone.
I settled on MapMyRun runtrainer. The app itself is pretty straightforward. It includes the ability to track your runs, if you don’t already use another app or GPS watch. You then pick your distance, training type (ie beginner, intermediate etc.), the day you want your long run to be, the no runs per week you plan to complete, then the date of the event your training for.
A plan is created based on your choices, with specific run days and structures of run (i.e. 20min easy, 1 min at race pace etc.). One of the main advantages I found of the plan, was that runs were based on time rather than distance. Most plans will say for example ‘run 4 miles at a comfortable pace’, whereas this would say run for ’30 mins at a comfortable pace’.
If you are unable to run on a specific day for various reasons, the app allows you to easily adapt the plan, and move the activities around.
As my first foray into a structured training plan, it worked perfectly, and ticked all the boxes I was looking for. I’d recommend to other runners, both for its ease of use and flexibility. I sneaked under the 90 min mark at the Richmond Half, so in that terms it did its job.
After signing up for the Dopey challenge at the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend, I’d realised I was going to need a more specific tailored training plan to cope with the 4 days of consecutive racing. Disney recommend a plan designed by Jeff Galloway, however he recommends a walk-run structure, and this was something that didn’t appeal to me. A quick Google search later and I discovered the Hal Higdon plan.
For those who don’t know who Hal Higdon is, he ran eight times in the Olympic trials, and has won four World Masters Championships. He’s also run 111 marathons , written numerous running books and is a regular writer for Runners World (seriously Google him, it’s quite impressive).
The Dopey challenge plan roughly follows his Novice 2 marathon plan, making sure not to pile on too many miles, but instead introducing consecutive run days, particularly long runs at the weekend. Its an 18 week program, with every other week being a ‘cut back’ week to allow your body to adjust to the increased mileage. Things ramp up from week 9, when 3 day consecutive runs for the weekend are introduced, culminating with a practice Dopey challenge in week 15.
I loved the plan, it was hard work, but at no point did I feel overwhelmed. I arrived at the start line fit, strong and injury free, with no doubts about what I could achieve. Despite struggling from the early mornings and humidity by the time of the marathon, my training took over and I even managed a PB (not bad considering I’d run a 5k, 10k and half marathon in the previous 3 days).
I’d highly recommend any of Hal’s plans, and will certainly look to them again for my next race.
For the Brighton marathon I had a specific time goal in mind for the race, so I looked for a plan that had specific pace goals for each run. This lead me to MyAsics.
Both a website and accompanying app, you enter a previous race time, select your distance, and the plan calculates a predicted race time and creates a schedule based on different paced runs. These range from easy runs, to set paces, to long runs including speed work. You can either use the app to track your runs or the website links to existing services such as Runkeeper (but unfortunately not Strava). As you progress through the various sections (Getting Faster, Going Further, Race Simulation etc), the site recalculates your predicted race time and training pace based on your performance (all clever stuff).
I’m going to be honest, I didn’t really get along with it. It may have been a combination of factors; burn out after the Dopey Challenge; injury, illness etc; but I never settled into the plan. I never felt I was running enough miles to build up the strength and endurance needed to complete a marathon. Some of the pace targets also seemed ridiculous (I’m pretty sure that you shouldn’t be running your 20 miles long run at race pace as part of the training).
However, in terms of performance, I did complete the marathon, and despite missing out on my target, I did manage a PB by 15 mins. So in that respect the plan was successful. I’m sure other runners have had a different experience, but it won’t be one I’d look to again.
Out of the three I’ve tried Hal Higdon’s plans come out on top, but I would also recommend the MayMyRun trainer.
Bear in mind that there are lots of plans out there for runners, for every distance imaginable. No one plan suits every runner. Look around for a plan that suits you, your race and what you want to achieve, but remember to remain flexible and listen to your body, sometimes its ok to swap runs round or even take an extra rest day if needed. But having a structure to your training can help you achieve race day goals.