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Train Smart, Account For Outside Factors

A little planning will help you become a more confident, patient, disciplined, and well-rounded runner.

A little planning will help you become a more confident, patient, disciplined, and well-rounded runner.

Before you begin laying out your training program, list the things that make up and affect your training, as many as you can think of: practical limitations such as job and family, the types of workouts you’ll include (e.g., long runs, marathon-pace [MP] runs, tempo runs, intervals, hills), and the basic plan you’ll be using, which will likely be an adaptation of something you’ve used already (e.g., a 16-week plan from a book or website, or a four-month buildup created by a private coach). You’ll refer to these often as you produce your training schedule.

An Example

So far this may look like more psychobabble or gobbledygook than substance, so an example of how this works is in order.

John is a 36-year-old attorney with a marathon goal of 3:10. He played guard on his small-college basketball team and is competitive by nature. His personal best, attained after two years of serious running, is 3:18. He trained for this race using an 18-week plan borrowed from a friend that involved three week microcycles, or “chunks.” In training for this, he maxed out at 45 miles a week and was injury-free. He has two young children and is pushing to make partner in his law firm, both of which leave him plenty tired at the end of his busy days. He’s a morning runner by obligation and virtually always trains by himself, although on weekends he enjoys a little more flexibility.

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John is willing to do anything within reason with the time he has to run under 3:10, but admits to sometimes cutting long runs short by several miles and skimping on MP sessions, as these give him mental fits. His basketball background make short intervals a snap in comparison, and if anything John tends to do these too fast, leaving him more tired the next day than he’d like. He doesn’t mind tempo runs, but his pace is all over the map most of the time. Most conventional charts suggest that he goes a little too fast on his easy days. He likes doing build-up races, but sometimes has difficulty penciling them in owing to time constraints. How can John reverse-engineer his way to a 3:09:59 or faster?

His General Life Parameters And Issues
— 60-plus hours a week at the office
— Married with young kids
— Relatively consistent week-to-week schedule, little travel
— Usually trains alone

His ‘Training Challenges,’ Most To Least Imposing
— MP/long runs
— Tempo runs (poor pacing)
— Easy-run pace
— Interval intensity

John’s Genuine Assets
— Motivated
— Durable
— Solid athletic background
— Enjoys competing

Now we’re ready to take John’s basic training plan and tailor it in such a way as to “guarantee” the visualized result.

Training Plan

Week 1
Tuesday: 11/4 T
Friday: 10 x 400m
Sunday: 20

Week 2
Tuesday: 10/3.5 T
Friday: 6 x 800m
Sunday: 18/6 MP

Week 3
Tuesday: 9/3 T
Friday: 3 x mile
Sunday: Tune-up 8K

Week 4
Tuesday: 12/4.5 T
Friday: 12 x 200m
Sunday: 22

Week 5
Tuesday: 11/4 T
Friday: 5 x 1000m
Sunday: 20/8 MP

Week 6
Tuesday: 9/3 T
Friday: 2 x 2 mile
Sunday: Tune-up 5K

First, since John’s plan calls for long runs two out of every three weeks (see chart above), with one of these including anywhere from 4 to 10 miles at marathon pace, we give special attention to these “rough spots” to ensure that John has time to do them and, if possible, that he can recruit reliable pacing help, and also accounting for the conditions he’s likely to face and the route he’ll use, the fluids he’ll drink along the way, and so on. That is, John should immediately begin imagining how these runs will play out: when, where, with whom, and in what likely weather conditions.

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Next, we add in lactate-threshold workouts, which are done every Tuesday at the tail end of medium-long runs. Again, John would be well-served to hit the track in the company of people who can keep him on his target pace of 7:00 per mile, in contrast to his habit of bouncing from 7:20s to 6:40s and back again.

Lastly, we place his interval workouts, done each Friday. John’s challenge here is to keep the pace modest in the early going so that he can keep to the required rest interval and complete the scheduled number of repetitions. Also, we give a nod to John’s durability and have him top out at 50 miles a week this time, which won’t rob him of more time than he can afford to give.

With the schedule thus completed, John is able to see how everything “fell” into place even as he heads into the very beginning of his 18-week march. He sees himself having overcome his trepidation and impatience with regards to longer runs by putting measures in place to ensure their successful completion, and by playing mental movies of these efforts going well throughout the program. He sees himself absorbing maximum benefits from his tempo runs by running them at a consistent pace, erring on the side of conservatism; this in turn allows him to recover more quickly for subsequent runs. He looks upon interval workouts in which his reps fall on the shiny side of gung-ho, and understands he enjoys them all the more as a result.

On the whole, this plan has transformed John into a more confident, patient, disciplined, and well-rounded marathoner—and of course a faster one. And he hasn’t even taken a step toward the finish line yet; all of these changes are the result of new and careful planning. This is how John sees things today, at least, and all that remains is for him to give it his best shot, melding his reinforcing vision of things well done with the calculated reality of his training quest. And although life carries few guarantees, by taking a close, honest look at the path back home from the end of the tunnel ahead, John can be certain that this path will be well-lit, pleasant, and littered with rewards.

Who wouldn’t want to build all that from scratch?

RELATED: The Art Of Pacing Yourself