So you want to improve your marathon time and are wondering which training plan to use? McMillan, FIRST, Nike, Running World, something your friend Marathon Molly suggested?
I made up my own plans for my first 3 marathons, basically just 3 runs a week with the long run on Sunday increasing in distance every week to reach 36km two weeks before race day. Total mileage every week – about 50km.
This approach gave me two 3:56 marathons and one 4:10 marathon (4 weeks after my 2nd).
For my fourth marathon I used the Run Less, Run Faster program that is based on the FIRST principles. This approach involves just 3 runs a week as well but they’re all fairly fast. Outcome for me – a very pleasant 3:46 marathon (Tallinn Marathon).
For London Marathon a few weeks ago I went totally to the other extreme from FIRST and used the Hansons Marathon Method beginners running plan.
The basic principles of Hansons are:
- 6 days of running each week.
- 3 easy runs in between an intervals session, a tempo/marathon pace run and a long run.
- The long run is never longer than 27km.
- You’ll learn to run with tired legs due to ‘cumulative fatigue’ – this simulates the last 16 miles of a marathon.
What I loved:
- Running every day quickly became my routine and there weren’t many days I really did not want to head out.
- ‘Short’ long runs are amazing.
- Easy runs were too easy some days (fun to just run for fun).
- My body coped with running 70-90km a week fairly well and other than it being very time consuming, I enjoyed the running volume.
- Doing Crossfit twice a week instead of the strength program prescribed in the plan (some plans prescribe very little strength work).
What I struggled with:
- It’s very time consuming and I felt like I abandoned my children and my husband for 18 weeks.
- It’s very time consuming and I had to give up rock climbing and swimming.
- Tempo runs were hard with tired legs.
- Easy runs were too easy some days (constantly fought against getting paranoid that I was actually becoming a slow runner).
- Taking 5-10 minutes before every run to go through the prescribed warm up exercises.
- Stretching daily – something that the high mileage requires.
To get an idea of my weekly mileage, here are my stats going backwards from marathon week to the beginning:
The mistakes I made:
- There are 3 training plans in the book: “just finish”, “beginners” and “advanced”. I started with the advanced plan but by week 3 could not deal with the distances and switched to the beginners plan.
- I didn’t stretch enough. I relied on a weekly hot yoga class and a few minutes of stretching in the evenings now and again but I suspect my legs would have felt better had I stretched every day.
BUT HOW DID THE MARATHON GO??
- My quads felt heavy from the start but I kept telling myself that this is exactly what my training plan has prepared me for – running with tired legs.
- I was able to keep pretty even split times for all kilometres.
- My legs never felt substantially more heavy/tired than in the first 10km.
- I got to 30km and thought “Oh wow. Just 12km to go. I must keep looking around and smiling because I’m FINALLY RUNNING THE LONDON MARATHON!”
- Kms 33 – 36 were when I felt like my legs were slowing down but then I picked up the speed again and because the crowds were amazing, I flew to the finish line through the city feeling like a superstar.
- It felt like the shortest distance marathon I’ve ever done.
- I never worried about the distance even though my longest training runs had been just 27km.
- I trusted the plan, I trusted my legs, I trusted my pacing (I’m so freaking good at pacing myself).
- I crossed the finish line happy, proud & not in pain.
- Time: 3:37:21 – London Good for Age / Boston Qualifying
Do I think I would have achieved a similar time on another training plan?
The thing with training plans is that there are no universally right or wrong ones. You have to find one that fits into YOUR life, the one that you enjoy and that you stick with consistently. I think that’s the key to PBs.
Hansons worked for me this time and I’ll probably do it again.
For my very next marathon though I’m going to experiment with a plan that’s in between the 2 that I’ve done – something that’s 4 runs a week with maybe a bit less mileage and more time for my family and other activities that I enjoy.