For the first time in my running career, I am following a set training plan. Previously, I avoided following a schedule, created by someone else, for a number of reasons. Most importantly, I worried that running would feel too much like work, and not in a good way. I run for fun, not a paycheck. I also told myself that training plans are too rigid, lacking needed flexibility that is required for whatever life might throw my way.
Running by feel, without a schedule, allowed me to get started and build up a base. It got me through 5ks, 10ks, half marathons and even a full marathon. My running, including endurance and speed, has also continued to improve without following training plans. Yet, after running my first full marathon, I decided I wanted to run another and I felt that I could make a substantial improvement. A runner gets better by training, and though I trained enough to finish my first full marathon, my training mileage was on the low end for the distance. My long run peaked at 20 miles on one ocassion, and my weekly mileage maxed out at 39 miles.
If I was going to add more miles to training, I wanted to ensure that I do it intelligently. Though I enjoy running, I do not want to feel obliged to run x amount of miles for training, unless they serve a purpose. Perhaps most importantly, I do not want to put myself at risk for an oh-so-common running injury, particularly due to overuse. At this point, I decided to find a training plan, created by somone with more experience and knowledge.
After doing some research, I debated between plans by Pete Pfitzinger and Hal Higdon. Eventually, I opted for Higdon's Intermediate 2 Marathon Training plan, but will perhaps try Pfitzinger's in the future. Higdon's plans, especially his beginner plans, are quite popular, and have assisted in getting hundreds of thousands of runners to the finsih line. His intermediate 2 plan should provide me with more structure and include just enough increase in miles, peaking at 50 a week, to build upon my previous training.
Similar to the logic that I previously followed, his plan is built around a rotation of days that are easy-hard-easy, with a gradual increase in weekly and long run mileage. What I didn't do before, but this plan prescribes, is incorporate step-back weeks, reduced mileage every few weeks, to allow time for rest. Conveniently, much of the mileage is also concentrated on the weekends, with medium-long marathon pace runs on Saturdays and long slow runs on Sundays. The plan lacks speedwork, which is included in Higdon's advanced marathon plans, but at the moment I believe I can improve by simply continuing training and increasing mileage.
Hal Higdon's training plans can be found in his book Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide and his website at www.halhigdon.com.