Marathoning Made Complicated


About six weeks ago, I got the good news that my name was drawn in the lottery to run in the New York City Marathon this November.  This is a dream come true, as I turn 40 this fall and wanted to mark the milestone with something to prove to myself that I’ve still got the fight, drive, and fitness to run a decent marathon.

I’ve run 10 marathons, including the Boston Marathon (four times) and the London Marathon.  Adding New York to my list is a real thrill.  But it also throws me back into the study and research phase of preparing for a big race.

In the 10 years since I’ve run a marathon, the science of running (and writing about running) has become a huge niche market.  I decided to get a few of the books outlining several of the more popular marathon training programs and see which one I thought would work best for me, my current fitness level, the time I have to devote to training, and my goals.

The three main sources I consulted were Smart Marathon Training by Jeff Horowitz, Run Less, Run Faster by a group of Runner’s World writers, and Hanson’s Marathon Method by Luke Humphrey with Kevin & Keith Hanson.  Each of these experts delivers a plan that is part science and part art.  I respect this approach, as my experience has taught me that all the training in the world can save you from having a Bad Day on race day.  Sometimes it just happens.  But each of these three training programs purports that following their plan will get you to the starting line ready to run a high-quality race.  And they have the runner’s testimonials to prove it.  (I’ll be back in a later blog post to talk more about each of these approaches.  Stay tuned!)

Of course, being a historian by training I also had to go back and look at my original training plan from my preparation for the 1998 Austin Marathon:


Following that plan prepared me to run a 3:53 maiden effort, so it has to have some merit to it.  All the science and thinking and writing about running between the fall of 1997 and now can’t argue with the success I had following this simple, straightforward program.

And then there’s all of my old running logs and calendars.  Here’s just one from March 1999, as I was preparing for my first (and slowest) Boston Marathon:


I liked looking at this log because it reminded me that any training plan has to be flexible….a week off of focused training due to a trip to England just one month before my race, for example.

In the end, I’m still working on picking through each of these plans and pulling out parts I like and discarding the rest.  The plan has to be personalized to my life, or it won’t happen.  And then it’s just not very useful, is it?

Have you followed a training plan for a big race before?  What were the positives and negatives of the plan you used?

Good health and great happiness to you.




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