McMillan and Me: Marathon Training 2.0

When I planned for the Newport Marathon last year, I did so in a manner that I imagine is pretty common among first timers. I found a pre-written training plan online (I went with one of Hal Higdon’s), shifted one or two things around in order to fit my particular schedule and lifestyle, wrote it up on a calendar, placed it on my refrigerator, and went to work. I followed it nearly to a T. It worked. I completed my first marathon and even recovered from it pretty quickly (Thanks, Hal!).

Newport 2014

But the truth of the matter is, even though pre-written training plans are infinitely helpful (especially to newbies), each runner is unique and to get the most out of it, training needs to be personalized. There isn’t really any such thing as a one-size-fits-all training plan.

Which is why I knew going into this round of training for my second marathon (which is, by the way, once again the Newport Marathon), that I wanted to do things a bit differently. But . . . do what differently? And then . . . how differently? Anyone who has ever trained for a race likely knows the options for putting together a plan are bountiful. I’ve toyed with the idea of seeking the help of a professional – a paid professional – like a coach or a site that will personalize a plan for you, based on your input. Those are certainly still options on the table for future events, but for this one I decided to put my trust in myself and Greg McMillan.

You McMillanGreg McMillan, a distance running coach and exercise scientist, is the author of You (Only Faster), which is the book that ended up being my primary guide for developing my next marathon training plan. The book provides training plan templates, however, it also guides you through several steps of self-assessment, allowing you to adapt the plans through each phase of the process to best suit your individual body, running style, goals, and needs. For me, this was an ideal approach. It struck a great balance between having a plan developed from scratch just for me (which was kind of an intimidating prospect) and working straight from a pre-existing plan that didn’t take my specific self into account (which is not as effective as I would like).

Plus, I learned a lot – I repeat A LOT – about myself as a runner as I moved through the steps outlined in the book. I tuned into my body and running patterns and learned more about what type of runner I am, including what type of runs are most challenging for me, what types I recover most quickly from, and what types help give me the greatest confidence boost. I’m still applying this information and learning new things all the time.

One of the great parts of this process is that it lines up perfectly with something that I mentioned back in January. You may recall that I wrote about wanting to focus on living with purpose and intention this year. McMillan’s plan has helped me apply this to my running. I am thinking about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Some runs may be about going slow and building my endurance, others are about pushing on that VO2 Max, or about simply being in the moment and enjoying a run without a distance or pace goal in mind, but through all of them, I have a particular purpose and that feels really good to me. Quite good, actually.

I tend to excel in most areas of my life when I have a plan, a goal or two, and purposeful steps along the way, so it makes perfect sense to me that I follow a similar trend when it comes to running.

So here I am, five weeks of training under my belt, and about ten more to go. I’ve to say, I’m really loving how this is going so far. In addition to the positives that I’ve already pointed out, I feel like my body is responding well. I’m building back up some of the endurance that I got away from during the winter, but I’m also adding in more speedwork, which hasn’t ever really been much of a focus for me before. I’m challenged by my speed days, but I also find them to be a new satisfying way to push my abilities a bit further. I’m feeling healthy and committed to my training, too, which certainly doesn’t hurt.

It’s still early to be able to say how this will all play out in Newport, but my hat is off to Greg McMillan for pushing me to be Me (only faster).