I whined about it. I moaned about it. I came to despise to looking at it. At times, I hated the 12-week training plan with every muscle fiber in my being.
Why? It made me work.
After completing Fort4Fitness on Saturday, I thought it would be good to look back on the plan that brought me so much anxiety and talk about whether it was successful.
Spoiler alert: It was.
I have been gunning for a half marathon PR for the past two years but it seemed elusive. I had followed myriad training plans, including the "Train Like A Mother" own it plan and Hal Higdon Intermediate schedule. The plans offered challenging but doable speedwork but despite putting in good efforts - or what I thought were good efforts - my times stagnated, if not got worse.
2013 half marathons
March: Run the Bluegrass, 2:02:42
May: Wisconsin, 2:01:10
September: Oak Brook, 2:01:05; Fort4Fitness, 1:58:56
2014 half marathons
April: Athens, 2:03:18
June: ZOOMA Napa Valley, 2:03 flat
During this time, I felt like I was getting better during training but it never translated on race day. Never. Of course, race days hand us things out of our control - heat, stomach issues, hills - but a good runner can overcome those. Or at least with every run feeling like bad conditions, the times in bad conditions should improve.
Though I didn't come away with a PR on Saturday, I bested my times this year by 7.5 minutes and my time at last year's race by more than 3 minutes.
Twice weekly quality workouts. I did steady states and tempos, threshhold intervals and goal pace miles.
Longer workouts. My short runs were never really short, with midweek minimums at 6 miles and going close to 9. My base mileage was much higher than year's past where a midweek long run was 6 miles.
Step back? I think not. I had gone over the half distance in training with other plans but I always had the luxury of stepback weeks. I would get an 8-mile run on a weekend here and a weekend there, and it was glorious. This plan did not give me that. After week 2, the long run never dipped below 10 and I think the number of double digit runs also improved that base.
Less cross training. I am not sure if it's coincidence or overtraining but the decline and later improvement with my race times corresponded with my teaching schedule. The more classes I taught - and led - the slower I got. I continued to strength train during this cycle but I was down to two or three sessions a week rather than four plus.
Pace training. In previous plans, there were rough guidelines for the times to hit during certain intervals. The TLAM plan wants you in certain zones but I don't usually wear a heart rate monitor to run, and the zone system can be confusing. Using accurate race times for the 5K and 10K, both of which I PR'd during this cycle, helped me to have a number to hit and thus led me to make the gains. Sure, I sometimes didn't hit those, usually going faster, but having a range helped me complete the workouts where as I often felt defeated before.
For all of its advantages, though, this plan is not for everyone and even for the right runner, it's not an all the time plan.
It's time consuming. The longer runs during the week can be close to an hour and a half if you are a middle-packer. It's difficult to find the time to run sometimes much less that much time.
High mileage. I was around 35 miles a week for most of this plan. It's not a lot by many standards but it was more than I had done. It can be difficult to make that jump and lead to injuries. Prior to this plan, I would have said that higher mileage plus five days a week running contributed to injuries/niggles during both of my marathon training cycles.
Fun times? Running for pace and mileage can be all consuming, and it can take the fun out of running. You have to be ready. To be dedicated. To be able to say no - to running dates and casual jaunts around the park.
Rest. If you are going to do this plan, you will need to be coming off an easy cycle or some downtime so you can complete it physically and mentally. Otherwise, you will face some serious burnout.
As I look forward to some downtime (hello, pregnancy), I am happy that I was able to find that break through and learn what works for me. After all, it's about finding what works for you as a person.
What kind of training plan have you used to bust through a plateau?