Choosing a training plan

Ever since I found out I’d got a place in the London Marathon 2012 I’ve been researching training plans. If you Google ‘Marathon training plans’ you get close to 5 million results for plans which last from anywhere from 12 to 24 weeks and that involve running from 3 to 6 days a week. Very confusing!

So how on earth is a first time marathon runner supposed to choose the right plan? I spoke to a few friends who have run marathons and their advice was that you have to pick one that you think will work for you. No good picking one that has you our running 6 days a week for example, if you know you can’t fit that into your schedule. You’ll just end up missing runs and not completing the plan properly. Similarly the length of the plan needs to fit with your current levels of ability. So a 12 week plan that starts you off with a 10 mile run on the first weekend is no good if you’ve only ever run 5 miles maximum. Common sense.

So I went onto Amazon and had a look at the top selling and best reviewed marathon training books and bought myself 3 of them. I figured that even if I didn’t use the plans, they’d have good advice and tips in them which as a complete marathon novice would all come in handy.

The first book I bought is called ‘The Marathon and Half Marathon A Training Guide’ by Graeme Hilditch. Now I’ll admit that I haven’t read every single page of each of these books – I’ve dipped in and out of the various sections paying particular attention to the training plans and advice around these. This book has got a great section on the physiology of running and explains the changes that take place in your body as you train for the marathon. Really interesting stuff and helped me to understand why the training plan in the book is set out as it is. This book had a 16 week beginners training plan that has you out running 4 days a week with a mixture of intervals/hill training as well as the long slow run at the weekend. The plan is based on completing a set distance for each run.

The second book I bought is called “Marathon Running for Mortals” by John Bingham. This booked is aimed at people like me, just starting out in their running who aren’t aiming for the fastest time in the world but want to complete the marathon safely and enjoy it. There are loads of real life stories of people who have completed marathons successfully following the plans set out in the book. What I really liked about this book is that it sets out plans for walking, walk/running, run/walking and running the marathon. It gives you a questionnaire to complete about yourself and then advises you which of the plans you should follow. The plan that it advised for me was the run/walk plan which is 20 weeks long and has you out running 4 times a week for time based training.

The third book I bought is simply called “Marathon” and it’s by Hal Higdon. From the moment I started reading the book something in my mind clicked. I liked the way it was written, the stories that the author told resonated with me. The novice marathon plan lasts for 18 weeks and involves 4 runs a week based on distance. There are no specific hill, interval or speed sessions as the author does not think these are necessary for first time runners who just want to complete the race. His view is that these can lead to unnecessary strain and potentially injury in novices for whom the distance is a challenge enough in itself. He advocates taking walking breaks when necessary but does not stipulate when these should be.

So this is the plan that I will be following – Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 marathon training plan. The long runs start at 6 miles in week 1 and progress to 20 miles in week 15. The 18 week plan starts next Monday 19th December and will see me training through to Sunday April 22nd 2012 when I will run the London Marathon!

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