Don’t Do What Emilie Don’t Does: Choosing a Training Plan

Two weeks from tomorrow, I’ll be running the Brooklyn half-marathon.  I’ve been training for it for the past ten weeks, and I’m really looking forward to it.  I haven’t run it and I don’t spend much time in Brooklyn so I’m really excited about getting out of Central Park and seeing some new things while on a run.

At this point I probably half enough experience with running and training to make up my own training plan, especially for a half-marathon.  But I get nervous about doing that, and I tend to trust the plans that others make more than my own, so I always end up picking a training plan to follow.  Here’s the one I chose for the Brooklyn half, from Cool Running:



At first glance, there is nothing wrong with it.  But as I have found over the time I’ve spent using it, I think most of its value lies in what it has taught me to look for in a training plan for future races.  I’m going to share with you the things I’ve learned, so that you don’t have to use the wrong training plan in order to learn them.  Learning shortcut, yay!

  1. First, it’s best to spend a bit more time than the amount I did looking at a training plan.  Think carefully about the things you want your plan to include, and make sure the plan you choose has them.  Also, be realistic in your choice.  If you don’t think running five times a week is something your schedule will allow, try to find a plan that has you run four times a week instead.
  2. Make sure you’ll have time for cross-training.  If your plan includes cross-training days, so much the better!  While training, I totally fell off the yoga wagon, and I really regret it.  I wish I had thought more about how I would work to keep yoga in my schedule when I was looking at plans.
  3. Consider total weekly mileage.  This plan starts you at 21 miles per week, then goes to 22, and stays in the 22-25 range for hill work, and then by week 6 has you potentially jump up to like 30 miles a week, depending on how long you warm up and cool down for your 3 mile repeats (I tend to do a 1-mile warm-up and cool-down).  If you were to do the tenth week’s speed workout with a 1-mile warm-up, a 1-mile cool-down, and a half-mile recovery job between repeats, you’d run 39 miles that week.  For a beginner’s program, 39 miles a week (for a half-marathon) is a LOT.  The marathon training plan I have followed for my three marathons peaks at 40 miles a week.  So.  If a plan you’re considering doesn’t give you a column with the total miles per week, it’s worth it to take the time to tally them up and save yourself the frustration of going from 25 to 30 to 39 mile weeks in a very short time span.
  4. If a plan rates itself based on weekly mileage and your expected finish time, maybe think of that as a warning sign.  This plan, for example, is described as being for beginners, who run 15-25 miles per week (in itself a pretty broad range), and plan to finish the marathon in about 2 hours.  The next category is for runners who do 25-50 miles a week (all of whom are considered intermediate, in spite of that vast difference in weekly mileage) and expect to finish around 1:45:00.  Not only does this suggest that endurance and speed are directly correlated (in my experience, they’re not), it also doesn’t leave much room for gray areas.  What if you run 30 miles a week but you still think you’ll finish in around two hours?  No training plan for you.  And if you run 20 miles a week but you expect to run a 1:50:00?  You’re also out of luck.

There you have it–I’ve made mistakes so you don’t have to.  Don’t worry, you can thank me later.

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  1. When I ran my first (and only) half, I never ran anything close to 30 miles per week. Well, one week I did, but mostly just because of the way the week worked- I wound up doing a long run on Sunday then doing another on Saturday because I couldn’t do a long run one Saturday so had to carry over to Sunday for some reason… anyway… I averaged 20-23 miles a week, but there weren’t any hills or anything like that, did tons of cross training too.

    I don’t like plans that have you running more than 4 times a week- but I guess with this one, you could sub out one of the 3-4 mile runs with elliptical or bike or something and probably get the same effect. Guess this is why I see so many runs you’re logging on Daily Mile lately, lol… but good luck with the half!


    1. 20-23 miles a week seems much more reasonable for a half, and especially good if you’re able to cross-train while doing it! Did you use a specific plan or did you make one up for yourself? I’m starting to wonder if that would be a good way for me to go on my next big race. I think this training cycle has also helped me to realize that running shouldn’t be all there is–I think I would be running much better if I were cross-training!

      1. It was the Hal Higdon beginner plan, but slightly modified. I ran a 10K, so I was already at that point where I could run for an hour comfortably. So instead of starting at the beginning, I started more in the middle and did a few of the weeks twice. I also ran an 11-miler because I had an extra week between the last 10miler of the plan and the actual half :).

  2. Tes remarques sont toutes très pertinentes, Emilie. Le kilométrage est en effet très élevé (et que dire des sauts!) pour un demi. Personnellement, je préfère courir 3 ou 4 séances de qualité par semaine et me laisser le temps de faire du yoga et de la musculation. Pour mon programme actuel, j’ai inclu le yoga et la musculation à l’horaire, alors en principe, je compte ces séances d’entraînement au même titre que les Km. Je crois que je suis pas une “pure”… 🙂

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