Newbie Notes: Hunting the Elusive “Perfect Training Plan”

Want a non-stop stream of advice? Mention to your (marathoner) husband and (marathoner) brother that you need a training plan for your first marathon. Then sit back and listen to the contradictions roll in:

Run slow to go fast.

You need to up your pace if you’re going to finish in that time.

Your easy runs should be REALLY easy.

If I were coaching you, I would definitely push you more on your long runs.

Jennifer at the Keybank Marathon



Make sure you stretch before your runs.

Don’t overstretch – it’s good for runners to be a little tight.

You should see a PT about your hip.

Don’t bother with a PT, you can just look it up online.

There’s no reason for a training run over 3 hours.

You absolutely need a 20-mile long run.

Follow your plan.

Follow your instinct.

Do more cross-training.

Do more running.

Do less running.

Do more core-work.

Do more yoga.

What’s yoga?



You get the idea.

Hunting the Elusive “Perfect Training Plan”

I had no clue what to do with all of this, so my husband wrote a draft training plan. It was based entirely on time instead of mileage. It looked good. It had me increasing my time every week, incorporating cross-training, using heart-rate zones to establish what’s easy and what’s hard. It had hill-work and speedwork and my long runs maxed out at three hours.

I said, “Okay, I guess that looks good. I’ll use that.”

But then, of course, my brother had a look. He was worried I would never get up to an 18- or 20-mile long run if I never ran more than 3 hours. (At my pace, definitely true). He thought I needed to hit at least 18 miles and I should go by mileage instead of time to make sure I was progressing fast enough. (Makes sense). He said to forget about heart-rate if I could sustain a faster pace on my long runs. (Seems reasonable).

“So… I guess I’ll… uh…”

I was relieved when they they sat down together and hashed out a compromise plan. Finally, the perfect plan would mine!

Getting the poster board ready

While they were hashing, I started the essential task of readying my poster-board. (Jot something down on a piece of paper in this house and it is bound to be reincarnated as a grocery list or fodder for a cutting and glueing project by my five-year-old). It took me a solid hour just to draw out the frame. I can’t stand a messy plan. It will literally prevent my from going on my run. Yes, I know that is ridiculous. No, that doesn’t change the fact that it needed to be perfect. Perfect! I tell you! So, I got out my sharpies and a ruler and then enlisted my daughter’s help in decorating the title. Eventually, there it was, my beautiful, albeit blank, marathon training plan.

Soon enough the compromise plan was ready. I sat down with their plan and my beautiful poster. My marker was poised, ready to write it out. My thoughts went something like this: “Here we go! This is my plan! I’m totally ready! Let’s do this!”

And yet my poster remained blank.

Each time I tried to write it in, something stopped me. I just wasn’t confident that it was the right plan for me. There is too much conflicting advice about how many days to run, what kind of cross-training to do, and how long your long runs should really get. I don’t know enough to decide what kind of speed work I should do and in what order. I’ve trained for 5ks and even half-marathons, but a full-marathon is its own beast. I couldn’t afford to get it wrong.

Angie who?

Finally, I went back to my husband, draft plan held out. “Um… I think I’ll see what Angie has to say.” (Of course he didn’t say “Angie who?” because after years of MTA, Trevor and Angie are the closest people we’ve never met. You know what I mean.)

The next day, I downloaded the MTA beginner marathon plan and nothing held me back as I penned my required workouts on my training poster. I revelled in the confidence that I was following a plan that would get me to the start and to the finish. Now all that’s left is to do it!

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