Knowing When to Alter Your Training Plan

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I’m almost halfway through training for the Big Sur International Marathon and I am thankful to say (knock on wood) I haven’t had any issues with my training, my long runs, my paces or anything else for that matter. However, I’ve been following the RW Challenge First-Timers marathon training plan and while my long runs have been really great, there was one thing about the plan that scared me to death- three 20-mile long runs.

I know a lot of marathoners and have followed their training on their blogs, on twitter and on Daily Mile, and I never knew one who did three 20-milers for their first marathon. Many of them did two 20-milers and some did only one, but I never saw three. When I looked down at my training plan last week and talked about the impending first 20-miler on group lunch runs, I kept hearing the same advice- don’t do it.

I’ve only been running for a year (not even- my runniversary is March 8!) and while I’ve done two half-marathons, with a PR of 2:02, and countless shorter distance races, I’m not the most experienced runner. I’ve also had some overtraining-related injuries in the past while training for half-marathons and this is the first training cycle I haven’t experienced an IT band flare-up or Runner’s Knee resurgence (again, knock on wood).

While on the whole I think I’m getting a lot stronger, I’ve been handling the mileage well, and I’ve been eating healthy, I didn’t think doing three 20-milers would be the right idea for me. I honestly think I could have handled three 20-milers but the stress of seeing those three long, slow distance runs on my schedule, was more than enough to push me over the edge. Also, I want to make it to the starting line in Carmel healthy and energized, not burnt out and weak.

So, after consulting with some of my co-workers here at Runner’s World, Meghan offered me the best plan. The plan really only change two of my weekend long runs- last weekend went from 20 miles to 15, and a weekend in April changes from 18 to 14. Our Chief Running Officer, Bart Yasso, made the plan for her when she was training for a marathon (she’s done 10!) and I thought it looked like it would work for me.

Looking at my training schedule now, it still resembles the First-Timers plan but with two minor modifications, so now it’s the Hannah McGoldrick plan. Whether your training for a marathon, a half-marathon or your first 5-K, it’s easy to become highly dependent on a plan- I’m 100 percent guilty of this. While I fully support following training plans, it’s more important to listen to what your body is telling you. It doesn’t mean you’re doubting yourself, it means you’re training smart. Plans are never a one-size-fits all so make the changes you need to make to get to the starting line healthy and ready to race.

9 thoughts on “Knowing When to Alter Your Training Plan

  1. This is great advice. sometimes I get the feeling that amateur athletes would just as soon follow their plans “over the cliff” without taking the time to question the “why” or the mechanics of that plan. It’s a huge advantage that you have some of the best local resources right there in your office to bounce ideas off of!

    • I completely agree with you! I’m usually one to follow a training plan to the T but I’m learning it’s more advantageous to be flexible. Plus, you’re right, I do have some of the best resources available right in my office :)

  2. Definitely agree that training plans are not one size fits all. For my first marathon I had 3 20 milers scheduled, but I ended up adjusting down to doing just two. I didn’t want to over train and I just didn’t feel ready for the first crack at 20 miles. After adjusting my plan, I felt a lot better and tackled that first 20 miler with confidence.

    • This makes me so happy! I have the exact same plan and my first 20 is in two weeks. I think I’ll be much more prepared by then.

  3. “it’s more important to listen to what your body is telling you”

    Great point but this often takes years for runners to understand the signs and what to look for. Good to see you are seeing signs this early and extremely rare. Keep working hard!

    • Thank you Mark! I’m definitely becoming more familiar with signs of over training and it helps to be surrounded by so many experienced runners at work.

  4. I definitely agree with you on ‘training smart’. Training plans should be treated more as a guide to follow. Of course, this comes with experience. As a runner becomes more of a seasoned, they’ll be better able to identify their own specific training needs and will be able to confidently tailor their plans to fit these needs.

    And those 20-miler runs… I have one tomorrow morning! Even though I’ve done many of them, I still find them to be the most intimidating, yet rewarding, run of my training.

    • Thank you for your comments! I still have a lot to learn, especially in terms of training for a marathon, but being out there on the road is the only way to really learn what works and what doesn’t. I hope your 20-miler went well and it’s good to hear those never get easy! That’s why we fall in love with this distance, right? :)

  5. Hannah,
    I don’t know if I mentioned it before but this is the final day for an experiment I was doing. I am a USATF certified coach and am looking for some feedback on my services and have literally one more slot open for coaching athletes and would be willing to do a free month’s worth of individualized training for you if interested. Please shoot me an email.

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