One Simple Trick to Running a Marathon: Training Plans Explained

Training week: 3 of 18
Money raised: $1,049 of $8,000
Today’s run: 3 miles, 34 degrees
Cumulative training miles: 56

Before I launch into this post, I have to give a HUGE THANK YOU to the friends, family, and strangers who have donated to the Trinity Boston Foundation in the last two weeks and helped me reach my first goal: raising $1,000 by the end of 2016! I actually surpassed that goal by $49 and counting. Amazing!! Now, I just need to do that 7 more times…

Most days, the idea of running continuously for almost 5 hours, and traveling more than 26 miles by foot, seems like a gargantuan feat. That’s the stuff of superhumans, right?

As it turns out, LOTS of non-elite runners have successfully completed marathons. Plenty of really smart people have figured out how to carefully train the modern human body to go the full distance without injury. So, I’ve been reading up on those smart people and considering the different options for marathon training plans.

Here’s why I’m following Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 Marathon Training Plan. (It’s kind of a long story.)

Learning to Half Marathon
I completed my first half marathon in 2012 because my friend Meghan goaded me into it. I told her I could only run 3 miles. She said, “If you can run 3 miles, you can run 13, I promise.” I laughed at that logic, and I knew I would prove her wrong. She explained: “It’s simple. You just run 3 miles, and then instead of stopping, you keep running.” Ha! Good one, Meghan.

Amazingly, that simple trick worked. I couldn’t believe it when I ran 4 full miles. And I remember distinctly the first time that I ran for 60 minutes without stopping. It certainly helped that our office was in the middle of a healthy living challenge, and I was literally earning gold stars for each mile. But Meghan’s comment about my supposed ability to run a half marathon kept ringing in my head. That’s when I started learning about training for distance runs.

When you Google “half marathon training,” your first few results will include the name Hal Higdon. I guess this guy is the authority on long distance running, or something. Anyway, Hal told me the same thing Meghan did: if you can run 3 miles, you can run 13. I found him more convincing, though, because he wrote about it on the internet. And he even had this lengthy explanation about how to do it, including a 12-week step-by-step training plan.

According to Hal, running a half marathon is quite simple. For three days per week, you complete a short run of 3-5 miles. (I was already doing that!) Then, on Saturdays, you complete a “long run,” which slowly builds mileage as you get closer to the race. You start out at 3 miles. The next weekend you run 4. Then 5. Then 6, 7, 8, and so on. It’s really not so hard to say “I’m just running one more mile than I did last week.” So three months later, Meghan and I both crossed the finish line after a 13.1 mile race in Gloucester, Mass. I honestly thought that would be impossible. I had no idea I was capable of such an accomplishment. Suddenly, I was hooked.

Meghan and me after the Gloucester Twin Lights Half in 2012. I see through that cheery thumbs up. “Look what I made her do!”

Marathon Training Plans
When you start running half marathons regularly, everyone starts asking, “So do you think you’ll ever run a full one?” My quick response always was, “No.” That’s too much. I don’t have that sort of time. It really takes a toll on your body. Half marathons are hard enough. I had plenty of excuses.

Then, of course, Meghan went ahead and ran the Boston marathon in 2014. Good for her and everything, but I hadn’t agreed to this ante-upping. She shrugged and said, “If you can run a half marathon, you can run a full one. If you really, really want to.” Ha! Nice try. “Good luck convincing me to fall for that nonsense,” said Julie in 2014.

Once again, it wasn’t until I heard it from trusty Hal Higdon that I believed it to be true. Before I applied to race with Team Trinity, I looked through Hal’s plans for first-time marathon runners. “Is this your first marathon? Have you only begun to run? This training plan was designed with you in mind.” The Novice 1 plan is shockingly similar to the half marathon training regimen I’d grown so used to. It just takes about two months longer, with the long runs getting looooooooong, and a tricky “sorta-long-run” snuck in on Wednesdays starting in week 7. But even after I cross the half-marathon mark, I only have 4 practice runs beyond that distance (15 miles, 16 miles, 18 miles, and 20 miles, spaced out every two weeks). Beyond that, it’s just a matter of making time during the week to log enough “maintenance miles” to keep yourself in shape for long runs.

Here’s is Hal Higdon’s “gentle way of preparing you to run 26 miles, 385 yards.”

Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 Marathon Training Plan

Doesn’t that look possible??

In total, I’ll be logging over 500 training miles before April 17, 2017. That’s actually only 83 hours of running, give or take. Spread that out across 4 months, and it’s a piece of cake. Speaking of which — 500 miles earns you a lot of pieces of cake. In all honesty, that’s really why I’m running this race. Just think about all that junk food!!

If you’re considering running a marathon, I recommend you look beyond just Hal Higdon’s plans and find the one that makes the most sense for you. (Look at me, sounding like a marathon-running authority! Watch out, Hal.) My running coach recommended I review the plans by Runner’s World, Cool Running, and the Boston Athletic Association. I rejected those because they were too complicated, too long, or because they required me to run the full 26 miles more than once before the race. Ha! Good one. I’m sticking with you, Hal. You’ve never let me down!

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