Training Plans, Three Ways

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I’m getting more and more nervous for my half marathon in January.  I know that I should “trust the plan” but maaaan – I’d really like to be running longer distances right now, if not for my physical strength but for my confidence.  Soon enough, I guess!


One of the reasons I feel so nervous about this half marathon is that 13.1 miles is a LONG, LONG way to go.  I’ve raced a few halves before, but I last covered the distance in April 2011 when I walked a half marathon in NYC (<— let me tell you, in many ways, walking a half is way harder than running one).

I last ran a half marathon back in October 2010 during my last marathon – man, time flies.

I think I’ll feel a lot better when I do my 10, 11, and 12 mile long runs and don’t feel like dying in the process.  Winking smile


Speaking of long runs, I thought it’d be fun to break down three ways to complete training plans.  I’ve tried all of these methods and love each for different reasons.


The Traditional Plan


I also call this version of a training plan ‘the strict plan’ because – well – it’s really strict.  These plans are organized by day of the week.  Advantages to the Traditional Plan include: a clearly defined method for success, little wiggle room for slacking off, set daily goals, the ability to map out your week in advance.  Disadvantages to this type of plan include:  very little wiggle room for slacking off!  Taking an unplanned rest day can screw up the entire rhythm of the week.  This type of plan works best for:  Type A people, people with highly structured work weeks and little variation in their scheduling, people who enjoy following instructions.


Flexible Plans


Instead of being organized by day of the week, Flexible Plans prescribe workouts for a certain number of days a week.  This is actually the type of plan that I’m following right now for my half marathon.  I modified a Traditional Plan (this one from Hal Hidgon) and organized it by Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4, making a cross training day a Bonus Day.  I complete the workouts when I can, sometimes doing Day 3 before Day 1.


The biggest advantage to the Flexible Plan is that it’s… flexible!  It’s great for college students or parents or anyone who has a varied but busy schedule.  I may think that Monday would be a good day for a long run, but if Henry is sick, I’m going to have to push it.  With the Flexible Plan, I don’t have to worry about ‘missing’ my day because I can just do it later.  The disadvantage to this plan is that you have to have a pretty good understanding of how your body reacts to training and how many off days you need prior to long runs.  You’ve definitely got to plan ahead.  For example, last night, I realized that I had three runs left this week but only four days to complete it all.  I had to run last night and must run today so I can take a day off (Saturday) before my Sunday long run.   I feel like Flexible Plans are friendlier and more relaxed, but you do have to hold yourself accountable a bit more than you do on the Traditional Plans (v. just following instructions).


Blank Plans


Blank Plans are like Flexible Plans but they are blank. I used a Blank Plan all through my pregnancy, and I think it’s an amazing way to stay motivated.  Blank Plans are best when you aren’t training for a specific race – instead, they work well for people who are just looking to stay active.  The ‘goal’ with a Blank Plan is to fill in all the blanks every week.  As mentioned, this plan worked really well when I was pregnant.  I knew I wanted to exercise three days a week but couldn’t commit to certain workouts in advance – I was sometimes too tired to swim or not in the mood to walk or whatever.  The advantage to a Blank Plan is that it encourages you to mix it up.  Like Flexible Plans, the disadvantage is that it’s more self-directed.


Are you a training plan kind of person?  Which technique is your favorite?



  • Claire @ Live and Love to Eat December 7, 2012, 12:59 pm

    I used Hal Higdon’s plan for my first 10k, and I was amazed that the structure actually helped me build up my mileage so easily. I found it toughest to adhere to the prescribed low-mileage days and rest days!

    • ASK December 7, 2012, 1:24 pm

      couldn’t agree more! i think a good training plan is one that helps you build up to the longer runs in an effective/healthy/balanced way – which is why i think the so called “stricter” training plans are better because they force you to stick to the plan and just do it! long runs should be challenging, but not so hard that you feel like you’re dying. also, with a stricter plan, you can build in speed work, hill workouts, strength training, and flexibility while also knowing that you can realistically fit it around/with your other running mileage.

  • Sunny December 7, 2012, 1:06 pm

    I guess I use the flexible plan with a traditional plan. Lol, I have a hal higdon plan I’ve modified over my halves and just do not get too carried away with the exact days written. Wednesdays have been tough for my running partner lately so we’ve been running Tuesdays instead. Due to this we’ve been flipping Monday and Thursday’s workouts since Thursday is normally the shortest and thatch the only back-to-back days we run.

  • SArah December 7, 2012, 1:12 pm

    I have yet to find a training plan I really like. But to be fair, it probably doesn’t exist. My ideal training plan would probably list a strict 6 days of rest and carbo loading. Going to be hard to find one of those that leads to success.

    Whatever plan I choose, I just like it to be physically printed out. I cannot stand digital plans! It doesn’t seem real to me I guess?

  • Jackie December 7, 2012, 1:25 pm

    I just did my first half this past weekend. I used Hal’s novice I plan for the distance of my long runs (ie, 10 was the farthest I went before the race). But the rest of my “plan” consisted of 2 days a week of 4-mile runs. And if I was on the ball, I’d do an easy 2-mile cool down run the day after my long run. That was all I did. (I have a 9-month old and limited time.)

    But anyway – I say all this to give you confidence about your run. You’ll do awesome! When running the race, it felt much more mentally difficult than it did physical – that is, my SMALL amount of training was fine to physically prepare me.

    I’m thinking about doing another half in early March. Any thoughts on what I should do for “long runs” between then & now? Like, should I re-start a training plan in January (with “long runs” beginning at 4 miles) or should I try to keep my endurance up NOW by continuing to long run on the weekend?

    • Beth December 7, 2012, 1:45 pm

      I would recommend deciding on a longish time/distance for a run that fits into your schedule. I don’t know how fast you are, but for me (I’m a 1.57 halfer) 7-9 miles is a good maintenance long run distance. It takes less than an hour an a half, but longer than an hour, so I’m keeping my endurance up.

  • Beth December 7, 2012, 1:42 pm

    I think no matter HOW many races you run, you can still get nervous. I’m running half marathon #11 tomorrow, and I’m NERVOUS. My training hasn’t been what I would have liked, but I know I’ll still finish, so I’m going to focus on FUN!

  • Amanda K. December 7, 2012, 2:04 pm

    i once walk/ran a half with a friend. we finished around 3:30 and i agree, it was WAY harder than running sub-2 hours. my knees were killing me.

    i’ve been running for a while, so when i sign up for a race i do a combo of using a training plans (usually for the long run schedule) and a blank plan — gauging how i feel and how much running/cross training/strength i can handle.

  • Beks December 7, 2012, 2:06 pm

    I’m so new at running, I just stick to the app on my phone (Couch to 10K from 10K Trainer Free-Run for Pink). I try to run first thing in the morning, but today, that didn’t happen. I am determined to become a runner, though!

  • Molly @ Happy&Healthy December 7, 2012, 2:34 pm

    I am currently training for a 15K in Jan, and I am using a flexible schedule (also from hal higdon). And you guessed it–I am a college student and my schedule is always changing. For instance, these plans give me the flexibility to run longer distance on Wednesday (when I have no class) and work my schedule around Crossfit.

  • Carina December 7, 2012, 2:49 pm

    Traditional work best for me, but there are always certain weeks where I have to flip occasional days for work travel or whatever, but as long as I have buddies on the same schedule, there’s a lot of accountability and it’s easy to just put your head down and focus, no waffling.

  • Hillary December 7, 2012, 4:01 pm

    When I’m training for a half, I much prefer a strict plan. I am super type-A about a lot of things, and this kind of a plan keeps me on track and accountable.

  • Stellina @ My Yogurt December 7, 2012, 4:17 pm

    You will ok Caitlin…you’ve ran halfs before so you can definitely do it again! I like to try and loosley follow a plan. I can’t stick to one day by day because my weeks are all different. If I don’t feel like running on monday, I will move Mnday’s run to Tuesday…For me, I like to look at as “time on my feet”. As long as I keep increasing the time on my feet, I am happy. 🙂

  • Hilary December 7, 2012, 4:29 pm

    Which half marathon are you running in January? I’m new to Charlotte and looking for some good races!

  • Carolina John December 7, 2012, 4:49 pm

    I do make my own training plans for big races. sometimes I’ll do them by time & effort, sometimes by miles. it usually works.

  • Amy @ Extracurricular Activities December 7, 2012, 5:18 pm

    I would say I am a mix of Traditional and Flexible. I HAVE to get a long run in on the weekend (Fri-Sun), and I like to do at least one 4-5 mile speedwork workout per week when to keep/get my speed up. Other than that, I’m pretty flexible. I really like the Runner’s World SmartCoach tool on their website, but I definitely don’t follow their plans to a T. As long as I get in my long run, speed run, and one other short to medium run plus some cross training per week, I’m a happy girl. I am definitely not one of those people who can use running as their only form of cardio. Gotta switch it up every now and then.

  • Amanda December 7, 2012, 6:09 pm

    Do you have any tips for running post baby? I am due January 7th with the second kiddo and plan on doing the Lincoln Half Marathon in May. Also a for fun Warrior Dash in June! I have done a half marathon before but never post child so soon and definitely haven’t worked out much while pregnant….me and running while pregnant don’t agree! :-/

  • Jen December 7, 2012, 6:25 pm

    Hey Caitlin, I just wanted to point out the significance of the mind. You are already telling yourself that 13.1 is LONG.


    Tell yourself that it’s a good distance, not too far and that you can easily do it. I used to race half-marathons years ago and it was ‘no big deal’, just a short training rain. And I did well because I never built it up to be scary. After a series of injuries and life changes, running went down hill – which led me to fear it and now super short distances seem scary. I am still injured and not sure if I’ll ever get back to it, but I know if I do…I’ll try to enjoy the ride.

  • Kristen L December 8, 2012, 2:03 am

    I like to traditional plan, as well as he flexible plan. I probably stick more with the flexible one because I like being able to change things up if I need to. But it is good for me to have an idea of what to get done each week. I like to have a goal to look forward to.

  • Amanda December 8, 2012, 2:53 am

    I <3 the flexible plan! I work third shift so I need to move my training runs around to suit my schedule. I also work alternate weekends so there's that too…..

  • Army Amy* December 8, 2012, 7:38 am

    I saw a quote the other day that said something along the lines of, “The best training plan is one you’ll stick to!” So true! For me, that means a stricter plan. I’ve used Hal Higdon for previous races, but I’m trying the Run Less, Run Faster approach this time around. I like that the plan is only 3 days of running, but the runs are really specific. I’m only a week in, but so far, I like it!*

  • Judy December 8, 2012, 9:04 am

    Just wanted to say I walked RnR Vegas last weekend because I was doing it with a friend who was injured . . . and yes, I was as sore as if I ran it! I was quite surprised.

  • Luv What You Do December 8, 2012, 11:07 pm

    i definitely NEED a training plan to make things work! I have some old plans from friends that I follow for tri’s and half marathons. And I definitely think that walking 13 miles is harder than running it!

  • Kim December 11, 2012, 9:39 am

    I’m just now catching up on blogs from several days ago and I wish I saw this post sooner! I just finished my first marathon on Sunday. 🙂 When I saw this post, I clicked on your last marathon link and the the link for running the tangent within that post. SO SMART! I always wondered how races were measured. When I stopped my Garmin at the end of the race on Sunday, it read 26.51, so clearly I wasn’t running the tangents very well! Had I read your post sooner, I would have been aiming to do that more (although it is the biggest race in Dallas, so it was pretty darn crowded). Thanks for the helpful information!! I will put it to use next time… if there is a next time…. I’ll make that decision once I am no longer hobbling and walking normally again!

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