This post is the first in a series of four blog posts that reviews different marathon training plans. I hope to offer a very brief synopsis of each training plan along with my editorial comment about what I perceive are the plans’ strengths and weaknesses. All opinions are mine. As we like to say in distance running: your mileage may very.
Jeff Horowitz’s book Smart Marathon Training espouses a simple premise that is also the books subtitle: run your best without running yourself ragged.
Sounds great, right?!
Smart Marathon Training is based on three runs per week, each of which has a specific focus and intention. The types of runs are broken down into Hill Workouts, Speed Workouts, Tempo Runs, and Long Runs. These types of runs are familiar to anyone who has done distance training, and Horowitz explains their purposes clearly for the novice. The goal is to eliminate junk miles (miles a runner runs without any real purpose other than to go out and run) in an effort to combat overtraining and burnout. The book includes six training plans for the half-marathon and marathon distances.
Smart Marathon Training adds to the three runs per week a prescriptive cross-training regimen and strength training program. Horowitz makes a sound case for the merits of cycling as cross-training, and the program assumes you will follow his advice and get on the bike to supplement your overall fitness. The book also includes two chapters devoted a very specific strength training program.
The training schedule is neatly laid out on two facing pages of the book. It is clear, easy to read, and logically progressive. This may not sound like much, but given how many different components there are to this plan (11), the fact that it is graphically pleasing is a real accomplishment.
The photos and descriptions of the strength training exercises are, for me, the best part of the book. They are presented in such a way that even someone who has never done any kind of resistance work can understand how to do the moves. Furthermore, the inclusion of such a thorough strength training program will likely help prevent injuries during training, as there is an emphasis on building a balanced body.
I like that many of the runs are done at a pace based on Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). This is especially appealing to new distance runners, as they learn to tune in to how their body feels during a run. Also, RPE allows runners a freedom to flow with the reality of life that pure pace-oriented training programs do not.
The 20-week training plan includes three 20-mile long runs, with the first coming as early as week 11. In my experience, that’s at least one 20-miler too many for most people, and if you can run a good (meaning not-get-injured) 20-mile run that early in the training cycle, it might be hard to keep interested in a goal that is still more than two months away.
Also, I have no interest in cycling. I don’t want to buy a bike and all the gear necessary to follow the cross-training parts of Horowitz’s plan. Even as a personal trainer who owns quite a lot of fitness equipment, the strength training plan can’t be done as indicated without a gym membership that gives you access to weight machines. I am a runner because I enjoy the freedom of fitness without all the stuff required of other endeavors.
Furthermore, as someone who travels a lot, the inclusion of four long distance cycling efforts instead of long runs during the 20-week training could be a real logistical challenge. One of the great benefits of running is that I can do it wherever I go with very little advance research and planning.
The Bottom Line
Smart Marathon Training is an excellent plan for a triathlete or avid cyclist who wants to try the marathon distance. Likewise, if you’re coming to running from a weightlifting background, the strict and integral strength training program will appeal to you. The components of the plan are scientifically sound and the focus on creating a well-balanced body would be helpful to those who are plagued by injuries.