Eye towards Boston – An Updated Advanced Marathon Training Plan

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The Goal

Having reached the goal of qualifying for Boston at the Cleveland Marathon, the first step in moving forward is to set a new one. As a little background (and a lesson in the importance of looking forward), the last time I qualified for Boston in 2002, I treated qualifying as the ultimate goal, and clearly lost some intensity in my training afterwards. While I don’t remember the details on my training program, the result speaks for itself – a 3:56, the slowest marathon I’ve run by around 20 minutes.  Therefore, it’s time to start treating qualification as a step on the path, not the end-all and be-all.  After all, as the old journalistic adage goes, “yesterday’s news wraps today’s fish.”

To help erase memories of that performance, I’m going to set an aggressive goal– I want to break 3:00 at Boston.  This means carving 9 minutes (nearly 21 seconds per mile) from my Cleveland time, on a far more challenging course.  There really is no other logical goal; I like goals that are a bit of a stretch but achievable, and this fits that description perfectly (or, as Jaydub would call it, a B-HAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal).

This is not to say that Boston will be the next marathon.  For that, I’m going to return to my hometown of LA this fall.  And by LA I mean, of course, Lower Akron, for the Akron Marathon on September 25, 2010.  This is a relatively new race, having started in 2003, and is even smaller than Cleveland, with around 1400 finishers in 2009.  I debated between this race and the Towpath Marathon; the latter sounds like a great, small event, but I really liked the hills on the back half of Akron as a better preparation for Boston. Plus, it will be nice to return home; in spite of Akron being just 45 minutes from where I live, I really don’t spend much time there anymore. While I’m not aiming to break 3:00 at Akron, I’d like to see progress towards that goal by setting a new PR, hopefully sub-3:05.

Elevation Chart for the Akron Marathon
The back-end climb at Akron should provide good practice for Boston

Improvements Needed

Reflecting back on Cleveland, the pace was generally steady through mile 23, at which point the legs started to give out.  I don’t feel that it’s really additional miles that are needed but rather greater leg strength and overall speed to cut the ~15 seconds per mile needed in the middle portion of the race and hold up better at the finish.  The last training schedule was based on Hal Higdon’s Advanced-I program; and here are the additions I think I need to make:

  • Add an extra day per week – after an injury-free season, I feel that I am capable of adding a sixth day of running to the schedule with minimal risk.
  • Add hill intervals – Paul Sherman has me convinced of the merits of hill training; he cut 19 minutes off his marathon time over a year to nearly hit 3:00 at Boston, largely (he swears) through the addition of intense hill-work.
  • Strength training – I dabbled with this towards the end of my last training circuit, and it used to be a regular part of my routine; I think greater core strength will help me hold form better late in the race.

As I look to training plan ideas, it seems that Hal Higdon’s Advanced II Marathon Training Plan fits all these needs; the basic change from the Advanced I plan is that it splits the mid-week mid-length run into two shorter runs – one speedwork and one easy.  Therefore, with some minor modifications to better suit my schedule and preferences, increasing the hill-work a little bit beyond what is called for (to make it a weekly routine), and substituting some mile intervals for 800’s (more on why I believe in this approach later), I’ve come up with the plan below.

The plan is a bit odd at the front end as the 18 week cycle starts just one week after Cleveland, thus there is a blend of Hal’s Advanced Marathon Recovery plan in those first four weeks.  However, I’ve scaled this back based on the sage advice of Chaz Hinkle, and I agree that the speedwork Hal calls for (3 days / week???) is a bit much.  Thus, I’ve cut that back to one early in the recovery (and just 400’s at that, for which I should really watch the pace), and added additional rest days.

Note that I continue to alternate hard and easy runs.  Strength training will consist of one day per week at the gym and one day per week of core exercises (this is all I can really fit into the schedule).  I’m thrilled that the plan does not allow for any cross-training.  And I would like to up the last two 20 milers to a 2:35 and 2:45 timed run to get closer to full marathon length, more for a confidence boost than anything else.  The target paces for each run have been set using the McMillan Running Calculator. I’ve also thrown in a few races as tests and incentives to build speeds, both are 10 milers at 4 and 13 weeks.

So with this post, I basically cover 5 of the seven elements of successful marathon training (besides the running that is), as I did review these goals and plans with my wife and have her support.  This is an aggressive training plan, more so than any attempted in the past; I won’t hesitate to take an extra rest day here or there if needed, especially during the recovery sequence.  Also, this plan may well get adjusted again after Akron; I’m pleased to have in essence a trial marathon to see the effects of the program before locking it in for Boston.  I hope everyone has a productive and injury-free summer of training; feel free to share your own plans in the comments.

Addendum #1

I am happy to report that I met my initial goal of coming in with a new PR under 3:05 at the Road Runner Akron Marathon, finishing third in my age group with a time of 3:03:26.  While I had later stretched myself to go after a 3:00 goal late in my marathon training, the course and a poorly executed strategy prevented this.  Nonetheless, I am happy with the progress towards the original 3:00 goal for Boston, and so that will stay in place heading into the winter training season.

Addendum #2

By moving up to a Pfitzinger 18/70 marathon training plan in 2011, I was able to successfully break the 3:00 barrier, delivering a 2:55:41 at the Towpath Marathon.

Coaching

If you like what you read here and would like to see what kind of a plan I can put together for you (including strength training, mobility work, and a race strategy), please check out my coaching packages.  I’d be happy to address any questions you might have.

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  • http://chinabizgov.blogspot.com @RunrGreg

    Thanks for sharing the details of your plan, Greg. I figure I’m at least a year (maybe more) behind where you are now, so everything you do will be great learning for me. I look forward to reading more!

  • http://chinabizgov.blogspot.com @RunrGreg

    Thanks for sharing the details of your plan, Greg. I figure I’m at least a year (maybe more) behind where you are now, so everything you do will be great learning for me. I look forward to reading more!

  • Greg

    Thanks for your comment Greg – remember every runner is different, of course, so I view this as a sharing of ideas that may provide some benefit, but certainly any training plan should be adjusted to your own capabilities, goals, and schedule.

  • Greg

    Thanks for your comment Greg – remember every runner is different, of course, so I view this as a sharing of ideas that may provide some benefit, but certainly any training plan should be adjusted to your own capabilities, goals, and schedule.

  • http://runluaurun.com Luau

    Thanks for putting this up. Gives me food for thought as I get ready to start my summer training…looking to run a 3:20 or better this October and am trying to figure out what works best for me. Good luck going sub-3. I’ll be rooting for ya!

  • http://runluaurun.com Luau

    Thanks for putting this up. Gives me food for thought as I get ready to start my summer training…looking to run a 3:20 or better this October and am trying to figure out what works best for me. Good luck going sub-3. I’ll be rooting for ya!

  • Greg

    Thanks Matt for the visit and the comments. As you know, what works for one runner may not work for someone else (I, for example, cannot picture running with the barefoot/minimalist approach); however, it is always my hope that an element or two of a program like this may provide ideas for others to experiment with in their own training. Good luck in your own effort at getting to 3:20, I know you have the dedication to do so.

  • Greg

    Thanks Matt for the visit and the comments. As you know, what works for one runner may not work for someone else (I, for example, cannot picture running with the barefoot/minimalist approach); however, it is always my hope that an element or two of a program like this may provide ideas for others to experiment with in their own training. Good luck in your own effort at getting to 3:20, I know you have the dedication to do so.

  • Scott Spatny

    G, we’ll be watching. I have a lot of faith in your determination and you’re a rock star for lots of local runners to look up to. I’m currently figuring out my goals for this summer/ fall season. Definitely want a 5k full of sub 6 min miles and 6:15’s or better for the Turkey Trot. I’ll be hitting the Towpath half in October, not sure where to aim on that distance. I hope your training goes better than planned, just be smart about little injuries and listen to your body.

  • Scott Spatny

    G, we’ll be watching. I have a lot of faith in your determination and you’re a rock star for lots of local runners to look up to. I’m currently figuring out my goals for this summer/ fall season. Definitely want a 5k full of sub 6 min miles and 6:15’s or better for the Turkey Trot. I’ll be hitting the Towpath half in October, not sure where to aim on that distance. I hope your training goes better than planned, just be smart about little injuries and listen to your body.

  • Greg

    Thanks Scott, not sure about the “rock star” status but I do like to help out where I can and share the little things I’ve learned along the way. You definitely have some strong performances under the belt as well; which Turkey Trot are you planning this year? I did Aurora last year, is that the one you are referring too? I’d like to do a sub-18 5K as well (Solon local in the fall). I imagine you’ll be looking somewhere 1:27ish for your half-marathon with the right training.

  • Greg

    Thanks Scott, not sure about the “rock star” status but I do like to help out where I can and share the little things I’ve learned along the way. You definitely have some strong performances under the belt as well; which Turkey Trot are you planning this year? I did Aurora last year, is that the one you are referring too? I’d like to do a sub-18 5K as well (Solon local in the fall). I imagine you’ll be looking somewhere 1:27ish for your half-marathon with the right training.

  • http://www.bqordie.blogspot.com Chris Korn

    Hi Greg, I just found your site through Colin’s Resurrected Runner site. My new blog is about a middle aged average athlete, that would be me, trying to BQ for the first time. I love your site and will link it to mine.

  • http://www.bqordie.blogspot.com Chris Korn

    Hi Greg, I just found your site through Colin’s Resurrected Runner site. My new blog is about a middle aged average athlete, that would be me, trying to BQ for the first time. I love your site and will link it to mine.

  • Greg

    Thanks Chris, I just checked out your site as well, looks like you are getting ever closer to your BQ and good luck at Long Beach this fall. I’ll add you to my blogroll as well. Your idea for the Garmin heads-up display is sound; I am trying to go the other direction and run with it less (at least once per week without it).

  • Greg

    Thanks Chris, I just checked out your site as well, looks like you are getting ever closer to your BQ and good luck at Long Beach this fall. I’ll add you to my blogroll as well. Your idea for the Garmin heads-up display is sound; I am trying to go the other direction and run with it less (at least once per week without it).

  • Pingback: Meet a dailymiler: Greg S. | dailymile community blog()

  • fortius

    Greg.

    Less mileage, more quality miles. Listen to your body and instead of doing junk miles (anything over 6:45-7:00 pace) on days where you feel awful, stretch and do your core work. Pool running, biking, just hang out and run better tomorrow and stop putting your legs in debt. If you’re going to run slow, do it on very hilly trails.

    I ran 2:41, my debut and only marathon, and never did more than 42 miles a week in a Hal Higdon modified Advanced 2 program. I tried to keep my pace at 6:30 and lower, and did all my tempos under 6 minute pace. Lots of hill running.

    Just pay more attention to your body and less to your log book. If you do an easy day on tired legs and your pulse is over 140, you wasted the day.

    Quality. Speed over incline. Rest. Rest. Rest

  • http://gregstrosaker.com Greg Strosaker

    Directionally, I agree with a lot of what you are saying. As my training progressed, I found myself doing “easy” runs in the 7:00 – 7:10 range. I’ve read a bit on the type of approach you mention, and it definitely has merits. I like to run 5 to 6 times a week not so much because I believe each run will be helpful, but more because I enjoy it as a way to start my day; my “easy” runs are generally commutes to and from the gym for strength and core training. I’ve also found that I never really get too sore where I doubt my ability to run on a given day – maybe I’m not pushing hard enough on tempos and the like (I can’t get them under 6:00, for example), but honestly the workouts do feel as if I’m giving them my all.

    Thanks for stopping by, impressive accomplishment, your 2:41, clearly you are a gifted runner.

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