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!

Ode to My Headlamp

Training week: 2 of 18
Money raised: $0 of $8000
Today’s run: Rest day
Cumulative training miles: 33

Earlier this fall, I invested in a product that has changed the course of my athletic career: a runner’s headlamp. I’ve never been able to make a habit out of after-work exercising, so I’m a morning runner. But with the limited train schedule for my commute into Boston, I have a narrow window of time to squeeze in my typical three-mile run, and I have to hit the pavement between 6:15 – 6:45am. From November to February, it’s pitch black at that time.

In years past, I’ve mostly given up running during the dark winter months. I’d head out for an occasional Saturday afternoon jog, or try to vary the routine with pricey spin classes, but mostly I enjoyed the excuse to spend more time under my heated blanket every morning. Yet, for some reason, I was not ready to quit this November, and one morning I found myself attempting a run where I couldn’t see the sidewalk ahead of me. So, although I was skeptical, I decided to see if I could make pre-dawn running possible with the right illumination.

After a ton of research, I purchased the Black Diamond Sprinter Headlamp, a $60 risk that I assumed I would use once and give up on. After all, it is DARK on the streets of Sudbury. (But it is not, I assured my mother, crime-riddled and unsafe. If you have ever been to Sudbury, you understand why that is a ridiculous notion.) Plus, I trip a lot. So there was no way this was going to work.

To my great surprise, the product worked exactly as advertised. It is comfortable, lightweight, and 100% secure. The front-facing lamp is plenty bright even on half power, and the angle is adjustable. Thanks to the Sprinter, running in the pitch black ain’t no thang, even when I’m dodging patches of black ice. And, as it turns out, I LOVE headlamp running. Sure, the cold, dark mornings may turn away most casual joggers. But NOT ME. Headlamp runner Julie is dedicated to her sport. Headlamp runner Julie is undeterred by the changing seasons. Headlamp runner Julie is badass.

Look at this thing turn darkness into daylight:

As an added bonus, the headlamp is a handy tool to have around the house when I need hands-free lighting. I wear it every morning when I crawl under the Christmas tree and check if it needs watering. I wear it to pick herbs from our garden before dinner. My husband does not allow me to wear it around just for fun, though, because he says I look like a dork. (Which is okay because I only wear it in the dark!)

Unfortunately, I quickly learned that there is one major shortcoming of my new favorite product. Although this one is waterproof, headlamps are useless for running in the rain. The bright beam of light reflects off of every single raindrop and obscures my vision. Couple that with the fact that I wear glasses, which become a magnet for water droplets, and I’m blind as a bat in any sort of precipitation. Obviously, I learned all this the hard way.

Despite that setback, I can honestly say that I would not be training for a marathon if I hadn’t found a headlamp I loved. I can only tolerate the treadmill in small doses, and Patrick hogs ours every weekday anyway. During the winter, I spend all of my daylight hours either at work or en route to work. So, thank you, trusty Black Diamond! I couldn’t do it without you!

Now, I can only hope that there is a crossing-guard-style reflective vest waiting for me under the Christmas tree, to complete the look and usher me into total runner dorkdom. A girl can hope.

Ready to roll.

My First Snowy Run That Wasn’t

Training week: 1 of 18
Money raised: $0 of $8000
Today’s run: 6 miles on the treadmill

Although I’ve been a runner for over 15 years, this is the first time I’ll be doing distance running through the winter. Living in the Boston suburbs, that’s a big deal. I’ve been collecting all the right gear, reading about why cold-weather running is better for you, and getting pumped for the bragging rights that come along with training in the snow.

Plus, look at all these happy people running in the beautiful snow.

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I want to be those happy, beautiful runners. Winter running is fun! And with 3-6 inches of snow predicted for today, my Week 1 “long run” was going to be set against a winter wonderland.

Unfortunately, where I live, in order to run in the snow, first you have drive in the snow. There are no sidewalks around us, and the roads are too narrow for pedestrians, especially in poor conditions. So, at the very start of the storm, I set out for one of my favorite running spots in Lincoln, MA, about 4 miles from our house.

I thought I could get out early, complete my run and my errands in one sweep, and be back before we topped three inches. Unfortunately I hit the roads before any of the town plows did. I barely topped 20 mph the whole drive, and it was only going to be worse in an hour. So I parked, bought some groceries, and turned right around. Whomp, whomp.

I’m sure that snow running is in my future. I can hardly avoid it in a Boston winter. But for today… I’ll be hitting the treadmill. Maybe I’ll watch Frozen.

Week 1, Day 1: Why did I sign up for this?!

Training week: 1 of 18
Money raised: $0 of $8000
Today’s run: 3 miles, 30 degrees and icy

Today, I accepted the opportunity to run the 2017 Boston Marathon as a charity runner for the Trinity Boston Foundation.  I’ll be one of 30,000 runners covering 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Back Bay on April 17, and I’ll spend the next 4 months raising $8,000 to support a great cause.

I was so excited to apply for a chance to run this race, but as soon as I found I’d gotten a spot, I thought — What the hell am I signing up for?

I’m pretty sure I’ve just volunteered to torture myself, my friends, and most definitely my husband for the next 18 weeks, so I thought I’d capture a few of the reasons why I’m attempting this, and why I think I can do this.

  1. I’ve trained for 6 half marathons, so basically I’ve already run 3 marathons. (Right?) I really love running, and I especially love racing. Training for 26 miles is basically the same as training for 13 — just waaaaaaay harder, longer, and more time consuming. Which is why I know that…
  2. Having a team to train with will make all the difference. I’m highly motivated by measurable results and by sharing my progress. I know I need the accountability of reporting back to 9 other runners who are busting their butts just like me.
  3. Supporting an amazing cause is half the reward. I was really thrilled that the Trinity Boston Foundation picked me as their final team member. Frankly I’m terrified about how I’m going to come up with $8k to reach my fundraising goal, but it’s a lot easier knowing that I’m passionate about the great work that they do for the city of Boston.

I’ve toyed with the idea of running a marathon for several years, but I’ve always turned away from the risk, thinking it would be too hard. I’m honestly not sure which will be more challenging: completing the training and the race, or reaching my donations goal.

But there were two things that ultimately motivated my decision to run. First, I’m turning 30 two days before the race (and remember how happy Phoebe is to go one mile on a hippity hop in The One Where They All Turn Thirty?). Second, and more meaningfully, I’m inspired by the dozens and dozens of students I’ve worked with at General Assembly and at Posse who’ve taken huge risks in their careers and their lives in order to do something great. They’ve set a great example for me and made me very proud. Now, it’s my turn to do the same.