Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cookie-Cutter Training Plans

There are plenty of people who are:


more experienced
BUT that's life. Not just in running.
& that doesn't mean I can't help people (or myself).

My secret: I do what works for me


When I started training for my first half-marathon: I had no clue what to do, I just kind of ran a few times a week and tried to get some longer runs in, and that worked for my first.

When I started training for my first marathon: I knew I couldn't wing it, distance is not something that comes easy to me. So I looked on every site, and read about all different plans. I was frustrated, I didn't like anything I was seeing and wasn't sure how I was going to be able to pull it off. I ended up going with Runners World Smart Coach, you input race date, recent race time, how much and how hard you want to run and it comes up with a plan for you. It's a free plan (they also offer a paid version), and it worked pretty well for my first. [I am NOT bashing the RW smart coach, I think it's great as long as you know that you need to make it work for you]

 But the thing is, I found myself moving things around for my schedule, and changing things when I was tired or sore, and by the end it looked nothing like it did when it started.

Every training plan I have done, I have altered it...constantly

You need to find what works for you.

Some people hit 40 mile weeks and they are injured and over-training, 
while others feel most comfortable at 40 mile weeks. 

Some people can do only one 20+ run before the race, 
and others need more like 2-4 to feel comfortable at distance come race day.

First timers don't really need a lot of speed-work in their training, 
but training for improving your time you will need to put some in your plan.

One of my biggest pet peeves is:
"you run so fast all the time, don't you know you need easy miles too"
I really get annoyed when people tell me what my pace should be.
According to this Training Pace caclulator
I used my most recent marathon time, and these are the paces they gave me...
I agree with some of these, but my issue is that this forces you to be "numbers driven".
I run more by feel (yes I do get focused on numbers [more on mileage than pace], 
it's ingrained in me). 
When I go into a run, I know if I want Easy/tempo/interval etc. and I find a pace that feels comfortable for what it is supposed to be.

For example: I start an 'easy run' and 7:45 feels incredibly comfortable and easy and doesn't take much effort, I'll stick with that instead of forcing myself to slow down. As long as I am not pushing to get to that pace, and I am not over exerting myself, I don't see why I can't go with what feels easy. There are other days 9 minutes is the only thing that feels easy, so I go with it

Yes there is something to be said for slowing yourself down and making sure you are going super easy, but in reality no "easy pace" will be easy every day. We all have good days and bad days and sometimes we feel more comfortable a little faster or slower. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.

Our bodies are amazing things, they can do so much, and more importantly they can tell us so much. They're the best tool we have and we often shut it up and take it for granted. 
If you're feeling good, mentally and physically go with the pace that's comfortable, if something is bothering you or your feeling sluggish then take it easier.
No pace is perfect for all of your runs. 
You don't drive the same speed on the same road every time right?
You slow down or speed up based on the conditions...same with running.
If it's icy and crappy out, you'll slow down so you don't slip and fall. Or if your body isn't feeling great and you have a pain somewhere, you won't be doing that tempo run, or your easy pace may be 30 seconds/mile slower than normal. 

My other issue with training: NEVER changing the plan.
There's a lot to be said about making a plan and sticking to it.
There's also a lot to be said about taking it as it comes and going with the flow.
Life happens, injuries happen, off days happen, the fact is: 
For anyone who says they NEVER miss or change a workout, you are full of crap.
You might not admit it to people, you might write it up on Dailymile that the run went perfectly as planned, but who are you kidding? No one will fault you for saying you had to change something, or you didn't hit the paces you planned, none of us are perfect.

At the beginning of a training cycle I sit down and make a plan.
I break out the computer and the books and the snacks 
and spend HOURS piecing the training puzzle together.
I think about what my work schedule is, what personal things I will have going on. Also making sure to have a step-back week every few weeks to give the body a break.
If you look at the plan I am using now, that was made in January when this photo was wouldn't recognize it.
Life happens, sick happens, 
personal things happen. 
Plans change, and I go with it.
I change my plan WEEKLY.

Every Sunday night I sit down and see what I have planned for the week.
Then I look at my work schedule, and appointments and then I think about how I am feeling.
Usually the mileage stays roughly the same, but divided up between runs differently. 
Sometimes I will throw in some extra cross training; sometimes it happens sometimes it doesn't. 
Maybe I haven't been feeling well and I need a few days rest,
 or need to take out the tempo run and make it easy run.
There are times I won't change a thing and will force myself to stick to original plan.
There is a lot to be said about forcing yourself to do something you don't feel like,
 but you have to remember that this is also usually when injuries happen. 
If you are physically tired or feeling some pain somewhere, 
pushing through is not always the best option. 

You have to learn to tell the difference.
*Am I just being a baby and over-tired and whining? GO RUN
*Am I overtired from training so much and not sleeping enough? You might need some rest.
*Is that pain in my leg an injury or just a problem? Maybe cut back the mileage or slow down.
*Wow, did someone go Tonya Harding on my legs? REST.
Learning to listen to your body and adjusting your plan accordingly can mean the difference between running a race (maybe your fastest, maybe not) or not getting to the starting line at all (injury, or something else).

Like I said before, I am no expert.
There is nothing that makes me more qualified than a baboon to be telling you this information.
But here is what I can tell you:

I have run 4 marathons: each was a PR. ( I know this will not be the case all the time)
I have run 10+ half marathons: not all were PR's, but I can pinpoint exactly where I wen't wrong each time it wasn't (fueling, ill-preparedness, etc.)
I have a Boston Qualifying Marathon over 14 minutes: It took me 4 tries (#3 would have been a BQ had they not changed the standards).
My last marathon was a 16 minute PR & I ran the second half of the race 7 minutes faster than the first (progression training works well for me)
I started out just like everyone else: yes I ran in high school and college, but NOT distance. I had to  face the fear of  my first 5k, and the fear of my first double digit run, and struggle through my first 20 miler. I have bonked races, I have fallen down, I have been injured, I have struggled.

I am not superhuman, I have worked hard to get where I am.
I've had lots of help along the way, and still ask for it all the time.
I didn't get where I am, 
by using what works for someone else.
My success is by my own standards, and on my own terms.

My running became better when:
*I started running for myself
*running based on how I feel
*I stopped "running by the numbers" all the time
*letting others tell me what is right for me

Cookie-cutter training plans are general guidelines 
and remind me of control freaks.
They tell you when to run
how fast to run
how far to run
when to rest.
Having a guide to follow is good, especially when you're just getting into it. 
But you need to make sure that guide has YOUR best interest at heart.
You need to make sure you are taken care of and you are comfortable. 
You need to be honest with yourself and figure out what works for you.
No one can tell you how to run your life.
People like that are toxic, and so are cookie-cutter training plans.
Remember you are in control, ask for help when you need it,
make sure your sources of help are true to you.

Some things about cookie cutter plans:
~If everyone followed that same plan out of the back of the book: you would all still run different times(doesn't that tell you something?)
~They don't take into account your age, weight, gender, past injuries, etc. (these are important)
~Every person is built differently, some need more long runs and some react better to more runs with lower average miles/run.
~Just because you have run one, doesn't mean you're ready for a higher level plan
~Just because you have never run one, doesn't mean you need the lowest/easiest plan out there.

When making a training plan, some things to consider:
~Your work schedule
~Things going on in personal life
~Family schedule/life
~Amount of sleep you need?
~How much time you can truly commit to training?
~What paces are most comfortable for you?
~Past injuries/ current health issues
~How many rest days you might need?
~What is your goal race?
~What is your goal time for the race (and pace)?
~Is your goal to finish? or to better your time?
~Who is your go-to person for help/support?
~What is your current fitness level and endurance level?

What are things you consider when making a training plan?

How do you feel about cookie-cutter training plans?


  1. This is a really great post and I got a lot of out it personally. (I just plugged in for the training calculator). Anyways-I do agree though, every single person is different and there is no way for anyone to tell you a pace that works well for you. There are days (like today) that a 7 minute pace felt easy for me...then many of days that 9 minutes is all that is happening whether I like it or not. Easy isn't a number, it's what feels best for your body.

  2. I love that pace calculator! I am going to use it for my 5K this weekend on the track. There really isn't a cookie cutter plan for anyone. Everyone trains differently. I know on my team alone we are all so different. Some of us prefer pavement, others prefer trails, and others like a combination of both. Some run slow on long runs, others run faster. It all depends and every day is different for every person. Love this post :)

  3. Laura, you're spot on. I've used the cookie-cutter training plans and a training plan that was specifically made for me. Guess what? I tweaked them all, made adjustments when I got sick, rearranged workouts when life got in the way, etc. I've had people ask me this question a lot: is it okay to change my training plan? I always say, yes! These days I usually build my own training plan based off of a cookie-cutter plan and then tweak it to fit my needs. After 6 marathons (like you they've all been PRs except the one I did just for fun at Disney and my last one was a 17-min PR) I know what works for me. Great post!

    1. Great! Cookie-cutter plans are WONDERFUL for guideline/base to start a plan, but then you need to change and alter for your schedule and what works for you. And you need to assess your plan frequently to how you are feeling! Congrats on 6 marathons! And huge congrats on that 17 minute PR, I know how amazing that feels!!!

  4. Great post! So important to remember that we are all an experiment of one and the cookie cutter plans aren't going to work for everyone or in their written state. And kudos for running by feel...more people need to learn this. It's what our bodies need.

    1. It took me a LONG time to learn to run by feel, and I mean LONG time....but I feel much stronger and train smarter now that I am able to.

  5. Great post-Laura!
    I have never stuck perfectly to a training plan. The 'training' I'm doing for my may 5th half (I say training VERY loosely..) has been sparce. and makeshift. And I will more than likely PR either way.

    I run by feel. By when I want to. And it seems to be working!

    1. Running by feel is a great way to make improvements and avoid injury!

  6. Yes! I agree you must always listen to your body and set realistic goals. I have always tweeted every plan I've had as well!

  7. Nice post Laura! The only thing that I would add is that in some plans the slower paced long run aren't necessarily meant to do anything other than get you used to being on your feet for the length of time that you will hopefully run your marathon - the idea being that at the sometimes painfully slow pace, you are mentally forced to deal with the time over 20 miles as opposed to the distance - that way when you are closing in on the finish line at the marathon distance, you will have already experienced being out there that long - does that make sense? Personally, I don't think it's as important for the more experienced marathoner (simply because they have been there before), but for those running their first, second or even third marathon, it can be a huge mental boost come marathon day.

    All that being said, I completely agree that the plans out there should form a basis for one's training plan...some will stray far from the plan, others will stick very close to it...I'm usually pretty close to whatever plan I'm following, but inevitably there are changes that have to be made. My training plan right now for the TARC100 is more of a guideline than a bible to me.

    1. I totally understand what you are saying, it's actually another post I have in drafts right now. Time vs distance training. You make great points, like really great! Thanks for the input!

      Having a guideline and not a 'bible'( I like the way you worded that) is a good way to go I feel like. Your training for the 100m has been good so far and I have loved reading about your run streak for a great cause!

  8. LOVE this post!!!! You are so right! You MUST change your plan according to the needs of your body. And I love running by feel!!! That's when I have the best runs!

  9. Great post! I like to cut and paste my training plans to fit me better. No plan is one size fits all that's for sure.

    1. Thanks Angela! Glad you are able to make plans work you you :) always great when you have something tailor made to fit your preferences and your training style

  10. Hi Laura!!
    This is the first post of yours that I ever had the pleasure of reading, and I have to say -- you have me hooked and loving your words. Following vs. not following a training plan has been on my mind a TONNE lately and you just solved my conundrum for me entirely. Thank you for letting me be comfortable with the training freedom that I've been creating for myself lately. I've been happy with what I've been doing, but worried that I'll somehow need "more". Well, this has put all of those worries to rest. Your arguments are so logical and speak right to my heart. Can't wait to keep reading more. :)

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Chelsie! Following vs not following training plans is pretty much always on my mind (as I am pretty much always training for something), but I always come back to the fact that I need to make training work for me and not what works for others.

      What are you training for right now??

    2. I qualified for Boston 2014 with my first marathon back in February, so that's the big long term goal. In the short term, half in May, half in August and full in October. I'm still pretty new to running (only started last summer) so mostly I'm just trying to figure out where my body is most happy. It has been a huge learning process, but I'm loving every step of it (pun somewhat intended).

      Ps. I saw that you're training for Boston 2014 as well. Super exciting!! But even more so, huge kudos to taking the step into tri's. That takes real commitment!!


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