You are not a cookie cutter runner: so why are you training like one?
Let me ask you a question: have you ever found a training plan from a website or a book that promised to make you faster or get you to the finish line free of injury, followed the training plan down to the most minute of details, and then still missed your goal?
After my first marathon a few months ago, I was fatigued, slightly burn out, and disappointed. I had logged several 60 mile weeks, with each week including a hard speed workout covering 3-6 miles, a tempo run in the range of 8-10 miles, and a long run at a moderate pace. In return, the cumulative fatigue overwhelmed me, even up until race day.
I had given everything I had into following the Hansons Marathon Method, and I started race day with lingering fatigue in my legs. My stomach, which I realize in retrospect needed training as much as my legs and my lungs, rebelled against me at mile 16. While my stomach problems came from not taking in enough electrolytes, which can cause cramping, a small part of me began, right or wrong, to question if I had chosen the right training plan for me.
As I studied for my RRCA coaching certification exam, I realized the error I had made: I followed a cookie cutter training plan that wasn’t right for my individual physiology, training preferences, or level of experience.
Eager to test my new coaching skills on myself, I took my knowledge from RRCA and dove into as many training philosophies as I could get my hands on: Daniels, Pfitzinger, Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running, and Hudson. A good coach knows just how each training philosophy progresses and how to fit that to an individual athlete, so why not practice that on myself? I eventually selected Hudson’s nonlinear periodized plan with an effort-focused approach (there’s not a single pace chart in his book) to the half marathon.
I didn’t want to continue to attempt to mold myself to fit popular training philosophies, hoping they would work for me; that would be like buying a certain running shoe just because Runner’s World gave it good reviews, even though it feels awful on your feet. Instead, I wanted a training philosophy that worked for my preferences, physiology, schedule, and goals.
Because that’s the thing about race training: you shouldn’t change to fit a certain method of training. Instead, the training plan you select should fit you.
While very few of us are elite athletes, that doesn’t mean that any of us are a cookie cutter runner without individual strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Everything about running, from your recovery rate to your ratio of fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fibers, is unique. So stop training as if it isn’t!
Whether or not you want to hire a coach, you don’t have to settle for a plan that doesn’t work for you. These four guidelines will help you avoid the cookie cutter training plan trap and find a coach or training philosophy that will help you train free of injury and burnout, run your personal best, and—most of all—enjoy your running.
What else is going on in your life?
I sometimes read training plans that call for mid-week 15 mile runs and think, who actually has the time to do this? A cookie cutter training plan does not take into account your family, career, commute, and other hobbies.
Even if you can make time for a demanding training plan on top of everything else, doesn’t mean you should. Overtraining happens when you do not recover appropriately for your level of training. Non-running aspects of life such as a big project at work or a hectic semester at school add stress to your life. That additional mental, emotional, and physical stress makes it even harder for your body to recover from the physical stress of running.
Ditch the comparison trap
Why did I try Hansons in the first place? In part, because I had read that it worked for other runners. The other reason? I was in that tricky place of being new to the marathon but at an intermediate level of running and was unsure of what plan to choose.
Hansons is fantastic for some runners, while it leads to burnout and injury for other runners. The same can go for the Hudson plan I’m currently adapting; the time-based and effort-based tempo runs are fartleks may stress out some runners who need data feedback, while I’m enjoying the more intuitive feel of this style of training.
Just because a certain style of training helped your friend or favorite running blogger run a 5 minute PR in the marathon doesn’t mean it will have the same effect on you. Even if you run the same race times as someone else, you likely still need a different training method because of any variable from different recovery rates to different limits on weekly mileage.
Be honest about your personal preferences
In retrospect, the repeated workouts of the Hansons method left me feeling as if I was in a Groundhog’s Day version of marathon training. While I like routine, I also need a bit of variety, both mentally and physically. I found that variety in Hudson’s workouts. I now rarely run the same workout, and if I do, it’s a progression from a previous workout.
Training plans vary on several factors: how many days per week you run, whether you repeat workouts or have variety, how often you do hard workouts, and whether those hard workouts are focused on perceived effort or specified pace.
When you examine training plans or search for the right running coach, be honest about how many days a week you actually want to run, how you want to pace your workouts, and what types of workouts you want to do. There are benefits to pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, but there’s also something to be said in training in a way that works for you.
Hire a coach
A coach removes the guesswork from training and finds a style of training that will fit your personal goals, schedule, preferences, and abilities. You don’t need to contemplate whether to run hill repeats or fartlek workouts or what progression of long runs works best for your abilities; your coach will give your a training survey, talk to you on the phone, and do all of the hard planning work for you.
Best of all, unlike a cookie cutter training plan, if a plan from a coach doesn’t work, they will alter your training plan to find ensure your training is the best it can be for you.
You can learn more about my coaching philosophy and services on my running coach page!
All of this post arises from my personal philosophy of how I coach my athletes and why I write this blog. I don’t just see runners as only runners; I see them as individual people, with goals, fears, strengths, and weaknesses, as people who are athletes but are also accomplishing so much more in everyday life than just running. I want to work with runners to help them run a personal best in a manner that doesn’t sacrifice any other area of life, because I don’t believe that you can run your best when your life as a whole is unbalanced.
This is not a post to bash pre-made training plans; they do have value for runners, especially new runners. Rather, whether you hire a coach, create your own plan, or follow a pre-made plan, you should be sure you pick a plan that is the best for you.
Linking up with Jill for Fitness, Health, and Happiness!
P.S. Be sure to check out the second part of Meredith’s Q&A with me about fueling for your runs!
Did you ever train using a plan that didn’t work for you?
How did you find the style of race training that worked for you?
Do you prefer variety or repetition in your training?