On Monday I start training for the NCR (North Central Trail) Marathon, a rails-to-trails race near Baltimore on November 25 organized by the Baltimore Road Runners Club. This will be my second marathon. My first was a local rails-to-trails race–the Veterans’ Marathon last November. The race courses are very similar–a flat limestone trail with a very slight upgrade in the first half and downgrade in the second half. After using the Hansons’ method for half marathon training a few times, I worked with a Hansons’ coach for my first marathon, who created a personal training plan for me using the Hansons’ method. It was awesome. It was the best training I’d ever done, and I felt more physically and mentally fit than ever before.
While I’d love to work with Coach Melissa again, the personal coaching is pretty expensive. To save money, I joined the Hansons’ online group coaching, which is much more affordable. While I won’t have a personalized training plan, I’ll have access to Hansons’ coaches to answer any questions I have plus a bunch of other resources, including articles, blog posts, and live chats. I’ll also have access to all the Hansons’ training plans, including the strength training plan I used last year in marathon training. Their strength training plan was designed to be done in conjunction with their marathon training plan. I really liked it last year and, as a result, did great with keeping up with strength training while marathon training, so I plan to use it this year too.
My last training plan was based on the beginner marathon plan from the Hansons Marathon Method book and had three something-of-substance (SOS) workouts (a harder workout) and three easy runs a week. Two of the SOS workouts were during the workweek, and the third was the long run on the weekend. The mid-week SOS are long workouts that go up to 13 miles (or so, depending on how much warm-up and cool-down you do). With my new work schedule requiring me to be at work earlier, leaving me less time to run in the mornings, I didn’t think I would be able to do two SOS workouts during the week.
So for this cycle, I chose a different Hansons’ training plan that has only two SOS workouts a week, called the alternator plan. There is one workout during the work week, a speed workout that starts with short intervals at 10K pace and then changes to long intervals at slightly faster than goal marathon pace. I got approval to work from home one day a week so that I’ll have time for that workout. The second workout is on the weekend and alternates between a traditional long run and a tempo run at marathon pace. The tempo run at marathon pace is done during the workweek in the beginner plan.
There are benefits with the alternator plan. First, I’ll have more recovery from the workouts and will do more easy running. Ever since winter when I tried to do the advanced Hansons’ half marathon plan, which immediately jumps into three workouts without a base buildup, I’ve felt like I needed more recovery and easy running. That’s why I liked the 80/20 method so much. Also, I’m getting old! I’ll be 44 in just a few months, and my body seems to do better with more recovery these days.
The other benefit to this plan is that I’ll get to do race-pace runs on the weekend, where conditions will mimic race day more than my typical early-morning runs during the work week. I’ll be able to drive to a trail that is similar to the race course and will get experience in running in warmer temps and sun. Last time I did these on Thursdays in the very early morning, so I was usually running in the dark before the sun came up at the coolest part of the day–neither of which will happen on race day.
While I think this plan fits my schedule and need for more recovery better, I’m a little worried because it’s a more advanced plan than the beginner one I previously did. The Hansons’ beginner plan eases you into training, starting with three runs a week with weekly mileage in the teens and gradually building you to six runs a week. That gradual buildup is one of my favorite aspects of the Hansons’ method, because before you know it you’re running six days a week with double-digit weekday runs without it seeming like a big deal. I’ll lose that with the alternator plan. I’ll start with five runs a week with weekly mileage in the 20s, quickly building to six runs a week.
With the plan I previously did, I didn’t have a double-digit long run until week 8. The alternator plan calls for a double-digit long run in week 3. The plan I previously did took me to a max weekly mileage of 51.5, which was really difficult for me. In the alternator plan, I’ll have three weeks above 50 miles.
Because I was worried about how I’d handle this plan that has much less buildup and more overall mileage than the other plan I did, I asked the coaches on the online coaching site and got a response from Coach Luke Humphrey. He said I could either reduce the mileage in the alternator plan or use the plan Coach Melissa created for me last year but modify it to do only two SOS workouts a week. He said to experiment to find out how my body reacts and what works for me.
I already have the alternator plan loaded into my calendar on Final Surge, so I think I’m going to continually compare it to Melissa’s plan and adjust as needed. To start, I’m planning to reduce mileage in the early weeks to give myself more of a gradual buildup.
I had also thought I might adjust the plan to get an 80/20 ratio since I liked that method so much. I have a while to think about that since the first weeks are all easy running.
Overall, I think my approach for this training cycle will be much more relaxed. My goal is to train like I’ve been running–to do it because I enjoy running, not because it’s a chore. That doesn’t mean that I’m intending to slack off. I’m looking forward to the challenge of it and want to enjoy the journey, just like I did last time. As part of that, I’m planning to my run on trails for one of my easy runs (technical trails, not the flat rails-to-trail like the race course, though I will do some of my long runs on trails like the race course). So, my weeks should look mostly like this:
- Monday: Easy run
- Tuesday: Rest + strength training
- Wednesday: SOS workout 1: intervals
- Thursday: Easy run + strength training
- Friday: Easy run
- Saturday: SOS workout 2: traditional long run or race-pace tempo run
- Sunday: Easy run on trails + strength training
As for a time goal, the Hansons’ method forces you to have one because all your training paces are based on your goal marathon pace. I chose a goal pace that’s pretty close to what my goal pace was last year in training, so nothing crazy. I’ve run that pace recently and am comfortable with it, but I imagine it will feel tough in the worst of summer’s weather. My ultimate race-day goal is to have a good experience. At the same time, if this training goes anything like my first and I feel very prepared to run at my goal pace, then I certainly won’t phone it in and give up on my time goal. I just don’t want a time goal to be constantly looming over me during training and putting pressure on me. I’m just going to focus on the training and enjoying the journey.
I’m really excited about my plan and approach to this training cycle, and I’m excited and ready to start next week!