Ryan Runs A Marathon: The Plan

I spent a fair deal of time deciding on what flavor of training plan I wanted to use for my first marathon. I considered everything from using custom plans that friends had success with, to plans from popular marathon training books, to writing my own. I needed a plan that was going to give me the results I was looking for, but also allowed some flexibility to account for life circumstances. I also wanted a plan that would give me strong confidence of a successful race day. I know there are a hundred things outside of my control that can go wrong on race day, but I wanted to make sure that if everything went mostly right, I was properly prepared for the day.

I ultimately decided on Pete Pfitzinger’s 18/55 plan, with some slight adjustments. The 18/55 plan comes from Pete Pfitzinger’s book, Advanced Marathoning. As designed, it’s an 18-week plan with peak running volume of 55 miles per week. Like many popular training plans, the mileage and intensity goes through periods of ramping up and cutting back throughout the cycle–allowing you to build endurance and speed, but also giving just enough time to recover to let those adaptations set in. Week one starts with just 33 miles, but ramps up quickly from there.

Each week of the plan is broken up into the following types of runs: recovery, general aerobic, medium long runs, long runs, marathon pace runs, tune-up races, and workouts (lactate threshold sessions and intervals). It might sound complicated if you’re not familiar with all of these types of runs, but once you plot it out on a calendar it’s pretty intuitive.¬†Advanced Marathoning¬†goes over each of these types of runs, explaining how you should approach them as well as their purpose.

I had already been running between 40 and 50 miles per week before I’d start the plan. I knew that some of the higher volume weeks would be a challenge, but some of the earlier weeks were a little too light compared to what I was already doing. I knew I could handle some additional volume, but could also admit to myself that I wasn’t ready to jump up to the 18/70 (18 weeks, peak weeks of 70 miles) plan. The 18/55 plan starts with a long run of only 12 miles, but I had already been consistently running a 13-16 mile long run every week. I decided, with some consultation from my online running club friends, that it would be better to add miles to the 18/55 plan rather than have to cut miles from the 18/70 plan.

I decided on adding about 10% additional mileage to some of the runs, while leaving other runs as-written. I’d add this extra mileage to the general aerobic, medium long run (MLR), long runs (LR) and recovery runs. I’d leave the speed workouts alone. For the long runs with marathon pace segments at the end, I’d pad the easy miles portion of the run while leaving the marathon-paced segments as-written. So if the plan called for 16 miles with 12 at marathon pace (4 easy and ending with 12 at goal marathon pace), I’d run about 5.5 miles before starting the marathon pace work. The thought is that this would add a small amount of additional volume, while staying mostly true to the plan.

Another reason I wanted to go a little above what the plan called for was for my own confidence. As written, the longest run in the plan is 20 miles. That leaves 6.2 miles of unknown territory come race day. Increasing my long runs to the 22-23 mile range should give me a little more confidence and familiarity with those longer distances.

So now I have a plan. It’s written down, it’s on the calendar, and I’ve figured out how to add it to my daily life. Honestly, I’m looking forward to structured training. Up until now, I’ve kind of plotted my runs with a rough outline each week. I’m excited about not having to think too much about what I’m going to do each day.

I just need to get up and do the thing.