Marathon Training – Picking the Right Schedule

I’m 46 years old, training for my 12th marathon, the 2010 Boston Marathon, to be held on April 19,  following a 16-week training schedule. Since I spend a lot of time nursing my back, hip and foot aches and pains, I’m not sure how many more  of these races I have left in me. But, I’ll give it my best shot, and if I qualify for Boston again, I’m sure I’ll trudge through another cold winter. Follow me as I put one foot in front of the other.

Learning the Ropes The first time I ran a marathon – New York City in 1994 – I didn’t really have a marathon schedule. Those were the days before we consulted the Internet for everything from clothes to wear, gadgets to buy,  food we should eat. God forbid I buy a book and glean some useful information. My strategy was to run, and run a lot. And take Shelby with me even on the long 20-milers. Since NYC is in the fall, I ran through the hot summer with my poor pooch tagging along, getting quite parched as I never took fluids with me. Amazing I even finished the race.

Lessons Learned with Dana Farber My next marathon was Boston. Since I didn’t qualify, I raised money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to earn my race number. To date, this is the most phenomenal organization with which I have been associated. Not only did I raise money to help find a cure for cancer, but I met some amazing people in Boston and learned a better, more structured way to train. I will always remember those trips on the “T” out to Newton, where we would run back into the Back Bay for beers at the Eliot Lounge (now a hotel, I’m sad to say, but a nice one anyway). I always took Shelby with me, and the bartender was far more interested in getting her water than making sure my beer was full (he got a great tip, anyway, by the way). The Dana Farber Marathon Challenge is still going strong, I am happy to see. In fact, I am inspired to see Amanda running for a cure, Julie doing Beantown, Jen running with Optimists, and Jennie Beatdown Beantown. And many more…..

When the Schedule Gets Slack (or When I Do)

After I moved to Seattle, I fell into a to run a lot rut. By the time I’d completed three marathons, I thought I was such a pro that if I ran 3 20-milers over the course of my training schedule, I could finish any race. I typically ran 5 days/week, about 6 miles/day except for my long run. One time, when I trained for Portland, I sporadically added in some speed workouts (as much as I hated them). That may have explained why I ran my fastest ½ marathon to date (@7:45 miles) in the first half of Portland; unfortunately, I faded long before the finish line. I should also mention that some of these marathons included lots of beer drinking as part of the training. When I convinced Rob to run San Diego with me, we would finish out 20-mile training runs at the pub. It was the only way we motivated ourselves to go the distance. Anyway, this “run a lot/drink a lot” theory worked until I had a baby. Or maybe it had something to do with getting older, too. I’m not sure which took a greater toll on my body. Given that I had a baby at age 39, it was probably a mix of both. I ran three of my worst marathons after having Luke (Salt Lake, New York and Marine Corps), so I decided it was time to mix up the routine.

My New Routine

I started running with friends again, for starters. And Jodi and Karrie told me about the training schedule they followed. And since they ran really well, I decided to give it a try. It’s the Runner’s World Training: Smart Coach and can be found here. You have register with Runner’s World to access this custom training schedule. Essentially, you input the miles you are currently running each week, the time you are trying to achieve in your marathon, and the marathon date — and it spits out a custom 16 week schedule.

What’s Different?

The big difference between my old, rather disorganized schedule and the new one is the number of days I run each week. The Smart Coach personalized training schedule recommends only 3 runs each week, with cross training in the “off” days (or you can literally take the days off, if you wish). The schedule is designed to include the following: an easy run, a speed run and long run. The other 3 days of the week I typically lift weights at the gym, ski, ride my mountain bike or play tennis, among other activities selected in large part based on the weather/season. Given that my XT days are now prep for the half ironman in June, I am finding that the marathon training days are often easier in comparison. We’ll see how this impacts my running performance. Aside from running fewer days a week, another contrast in this schedule is that it incorporates more long runs than I had carried out in the past. For example, it will recommend an 18 miler one weekend and a 20 the next. (Then the third weekend it lets you off “easy” with a 12-miler). Doing two long runs in a row is really tough, I find, but it also helps adjust my body for 26. Lastly, Smart Coach is a stickler for speed workouts. I hate ‘em, but I believe they help. But more on that next week. I don’t get as bored with this schedule, and running fewer days seems to help my body parts hold up a bit better. Here’s a printout of my schedule, if you can read it. Other Ideas?

Everyone has a training regime that works best for them. Kristina Pinto (aka Marathon Mama) runs according to a schedule created by her coach, Jack Fultz. Specifically, she does a combination of running and cross-training on the Arc Trainer at the gym, which simulates running without the impact, so she can increase weekly mileage without the wear and tear on her joints. Dena Harris swears by the Furman Institute First Training Program and even shaved 31 minutes off her PR last summer to qualify for Boston. She’s fast, too, as she is currently training for Boston 2010 and attempting to run 3:44 or faster (she’ll be in front of me!). My friend Terri who is training for her first marathon is satisfied with the training program she found here: And she even does a hard core day of skiing after the long runs. And then there’s Jodi’s routine (my running partner and friend). She trains for marathons by running marathons. I don’t know how her body holds up to all the miles, but her ability to qualify for Boston at least six times/year continues to impress. Can you believe she just dusted me for my 16 mile training run to do the Huntington Beach Marathon? I don’t know about you, but this weather is a little too nice for my preference! And on that sunny note, I believe it’s time for happy hour! Cheers!

Melinda Hinson