Tag Archives: training plan

Comrades Update: Phase II Planning


Of all the differing opinions about how to best prepare for Comrades, there is one piece of advice that everyone seems to believe: Comrades training begins on January 1st.  Popular opinion also says that training should include at least 1000KMs (620 miles) between January and May.

Comrades offers a training plan written by their official coach Lindsey Parry.  There are options for every goal finish, as different medals are awarded for different finish times.  From what I deduce, this plan will get you to the start line without an overuse injury and will prepare you to finish.  It relies on the strategy of double-blocking long runs on the weekends pretty much every weekend January-May.  Nearly every run is to be done at a slow pace.

There is another popular free training plan written by Norrie Williamson and sponsored by Old Mutual.  This program has more speedwork included, both in the form of tempo runs, intervals, and hill work.  There is more variation in pace for different runs, although the majority of the training is not surprisingly long,
slow distance.

I was surprised that neither training plan takes runners past 50KM in the build up to Comrades.  In my mind, that seems not far enough, as it leaves (nearly) a full marathon between the longest long run and Comrades itself.  I think the logic is that it is better to be underprepared than overtrained (and injured).

Neither training program specifies strength training, although most coaches and Comrades runners profess that strength work is non-negotiable for the Down Run.

So with these two training plans and the seven decades of collective running experience– and a little bit of hubris– between us, my dad and I spent some time over his visit at Christmas to devise our game plan.  We looked at both the Old Mutual plan  and the “official” plan.  We looked at our calendars to determine what races we’d like to use as supported training runs.  We noted when we’d both be in the same city so that we could plan a long training run together.

We decided on three races to enter so we can practice our race day pacing and fueling: Waco Miracle Match Marathon 50K at the end of January, Ft. Worth’s Cowtown 50K at the end of Feburary, and the North Texas Trail Runners Grasslands 26.2 in mid-March.  We won’t be racing at any of these events; rather, they are long runs that will offer some of the excitement of race day and break up the monotony of solo long runs.

We will also be hosting a DIY 40-miler at the end of April.  Using a super hilly 4.5 mile loop that starts and finishes at my house, I’m planning on running 8 full laps plus a final 4-mile loop to knock out a 40 miler as my penultimate long run before Comrades.  I plan on enlisting the support of my running friends to join me for a loop (or more) as I get nine hours on my legs.  Stay tuned for more info about how you can come join me!

All in all, my training plan will bring me to about 880 miles if I run the four-days-a-week as planned. That gives me wiggle room to hit my 1000KM in case I get sick or injured or just need a mental break one week.

In addition to the running, I’ll ride my FitDesk bike one day a week.  I have one day of yoga-for-runners and two days of strength training built into my plan.  I have one day of full rest each week.  All in all, it seems like a lot of work but in a very manageable way.

I’m going to chew the elephant one bite at a time.

If you’re interested in seeing the excel spreadsheet that details my training plan, leave a note in the comments.  I’d be happy to email it to you.






Comrades Update: Planning a Year-Long Training Program


This post is one in an occasional series about my plans to run the 2016 Comrades Marathon.  

A few weeks ago, I wrote an update about the logistics involved in my plan to run the 2016 Comrades Marathon in South Africa.  This 90K race through “the valley of the hills” (cough, oxymoron, cough) takes place next May 29th, and both my dad and I plan to toe the start line.

In addition to the financial and childcare logistics that must be sorted, I’ve already devoted a lot of time to planning out my training program.  While I’ve run many marathons and ultramarathons, I have never endeavored to undertake a full year-long training cycle before.  I’ve looked at all kinds of magazines and blogs and websites for ideas and to read about others’ experiences.  It’s enough to make my head spin.  For mental tidiness, I am dividing this training into two phases: July-December 2015 and January-May 2016.  I’m terribly old school and do this by printing out monthly calendars, grabbing a pencil, and working backwards from target dates.


Because Comrades requires a sub-5 hour marathon run between August 1, 2015 and May 1, 2016, I am aiming to run my qualifying marathon in December.  While I have no doubt that I can run a sub-5 hour marathon even if I had to do it this weekend, the start of Comrades is seeded based on your qualifying marathon finish time.  And because Comrades is a gun-timed race– with a strictly-enforced 12-hour time limit to finish and other sweep times along the course– having a faster qualifying time means precious minutes aren’t wasted getting to the start line.

Also, I was very well-trained for my marathon last fall and wound up having a terrible run in New York.  I was hoping to qualify for Boston– and was in shape to do it– but things just didn’t fall my way.  If I follow the same training program again this fall, I am optimistic I can run a BQ at the Dallas Marathon on December 13th.  This is the first target date from which I worked backwards to fill in my training schedule.

(Aside: I was chatting with a woman at a local road race a few weeks ago, and she downplayed my desire to run Boston.  I mentioned to her I’d run it four times before, but that was back when I was in my 20s and qualifying didn’t require so much work.  It’s nice to work hard for something and earn a precious reward.  It’s also a good lesson for my kids that just because it didn’t work out last year doesn’t mean I should give up on it.)


I will once again be using the Doug Kurtis training program— I reviewed it in this post  as part of my mental pump-up in the week before New York.  Like I said, I feel like it had me very well prepared to run a strong race. I know I can run sub-4 hours, which would place me in seeding batch D, the fifth of nine corrals.  This is a very achievable goal.  If I can run sub 3:40 (which is my goal that would ensure not just a BQ (sub 3:45) but actually getting to run in Boston), I’d move all the way up two corrals to C.  (Confusingly, there is a corral CC between C and D for charity runners.)  This could mean the difference of 2-3 minutes, which doesn’t seem like much in a 56 mile race, but I’d like all the time I can get!  At any rate, I plan to stick to my summer running plans and start my marathon training in earnest in August.

I will take off a full two weeks in the second half of December.  Knowing that break is out there gives me confidence I can press on for eleven months straight.


For my January-May 2016 training, the target date from which I’ll plan is the BIG DAY– May 29th, Comrades Marathon. To shape this phase of training, I’ll turn to the expert: Coach Lindsey Parry is the official coach of Comrades, and he writes the training plans available to all runners.  There are several plans from which to choose based on projected finish time, but all of them focus on running about 600 miles between January 1st and race day.  I will likely follow either the Bronze Medal plan (finish time between 10-11 hours) or the Bill Rowan Medal plan (finish time 9-10 hours).   I will wait and make my determination after my fall training and qualifying marathon.  I also want to wait and see which seeding batch my dad is in and gauge whether or not we’ll run together on race day.

Regardless of which plan I follow, I’ve started to research ultramarathons in Texas for the winter and spring.  I am quite good at the lone wolf training method, but I think for the longer training runs I would like to have some on-course support.  I do have the kooky idea of hosting a DIY 40-miler as my final long training run, wherein I propose to do ten four-mile loops on a very hilly course right outside my front door.  In my head, I will cajole ten friends in to joining me for one lap each.  I’ll keep you posted how that works out….

Good health and great happiness to you.

Trying a Tri


It’s been at least 15 years since my first (and only) triathlon.  I don’t remember much about, other than I couldn’t get my shorts on over my wet swimsuit so I went without them.  Go ahead and imagine the chafing that caused…..

At the prodding of a friend, two other friends and I find ourselves registered for the Spa Girl Triathlon that will be held at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines resort in September.  The friend who is the ringleader is someone I met way back in ealry 2009 when she came to my old early morning “bootcamp” class.  We wound up having baby girls just a month apart in 2011 and have been friends ever since. One of the other ladies has a daughter the same age as ours, and our fourth friend is a childhood pal of the ringleader.  We’ve developed a fun and supportive group friendship over the last few years that goes beyond our shared parenting trials.

Motivated by our ringleader’s enthusiasm to undertake the challenge of a triathlon, I’m ready to add it to my summer training plans.  Fortunately, the event is a Super Sprint Tri: 300m swim, 10 mile bike, 2 mile run.  This means that I feel fabulously confident about the run, satisfyingly confident about the bike, and not totally terrified about the swim.

(For as much as I love teaching swim lessons, I am a terrible lap swimmer.  What can I say?  I get bored.  So I don’t do it.  Shame on me.)

I have worked the swimming and biking into my training plan, but I won’t really be able to focus on them until August because of travel plans.  The other girls are using the Zoom Beginner Triathlon 60 day training plan as a guide.

We have a Facebook page where we’re sharing training ideas, logging workouts, and providing moral support.  There are three of us in Austin and one friend who just moved to San Antonio, so doing this together is a positive way to keep and grow our group friendship.

We aren’t worried that between the four of us we have only one triathlon of experience to lean on.  By September, the Tri Amigas are going to be on the course and ready to rumble!

(And then after the race, we’ll be ready to relax!)

Summer Running Plans


We had a blessedly cool and wet May here in Austin, but now June is here, the sun is out, and it’s hot, hot, hot.  In order to keep myself motivated through the heat (plus having kids at home, plus going on vacation, plus the extra work of swim lessons), I decided to enter one of the great American summer road races: Beach to Beacon 10K.

Similar to my experience when I ran Falmouth Road Race two years ago, I wanted to run Beach to Beacon because of its important place in American running history.  It was founded by inaugural women’s Olympic Marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson as a way of celebrating running in her hometown of Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  And what started as a small race mostly for locals nearly two decades ago has grown into a race that attracts all of the big names in US distance running.  I never tire of the thrill of racing on the same course on the same day as the best of the best.

Last week I kicked off an eight-week training program in preparation for the race on August 1st.  I chose Hal Higdon’s 10K training plan, blending the intermediate and advanced plans to suit my current state of fitness and my goals for the race.  I’m using the Jeff Horowitz  book Quick Strength for Runners  as the strength component of the training plan.  I’m hoping that these plans will help prepare me to run under 50 minutes….that’s a stretch goal, but why not go for it?!

As part of my training, I want to race a 5K to gauge my progress about halfway through the eight weeks.  I’ve registered for the Freedom 5000 on July 4th, and provided it’s not blazing hot, I’ll be ready to run a respectable race.  I don’t think I’ve raced a 5K in more than 5 years.  While it’s certainly not a challenge to cover the distance, I haven’t tried to run anything with real speed on my legs for a long, long time.  It’s hard to force myself to train faster, but it’s essential if I want to see results on race day.

So far, I’m enjoying the training, and I’m definitely looking forward to my overnight in Maine with my husband later this summer.  To run around picturesque Cape Elizabeth– with some of the best runners in the country– and to enjoy some lobster afterwards…what a great day it will be!

Good health and great happiness to you!

Comrades Update: Phase II Planning

Everything that I’ve read about Comrades– all the different voices and experiences– is in agreement about one point: Real training for Comrades starts January 1st.  Most training plans for people like me (read: novices who are trying to finish comfortably under the 12-hour limit but have no hope of running under 9 hours) are based on the premise of running roughly 1000KM between January and Comrades.

There are several “stock” training plans published each year, tweaked slightly for the course.  Because this year is a “down run,” there is also essential strength training encouraged.  Without building up the quads and the muscles in the glutes/hips to keep the IT bands tracking well, the second half of Comrades will be nothing but jelly legs and aching knees.

While my dad was visiting over Christmas, we sat down with the official Comrades training plan (written by Lindsey Parry) as well as the Old Mutual training plan (written by Norrie Williamson).   We compared the two programs, noting that the official plan really favored double-blocked long runs on the weekends and the Old Mutual plan included more speedwork.  The main point of consistency is that the bulk of mileage is intended to be run easy, at a quite slow pace.

For reference, my marathon training pace is about 9-9:30/mile.  The easy and long runs in training for Comrades will be run at 10-11/mile.  Both paces figure in walking about a minute every mile.

Not wanting our collective seven decades of racing experience (and Comrades novice hubris) to go to waste, my dad and I used the two stock calendars as a base to create our own training programs.  As with any five-month long training cycle, there were plenty of dates that needed to be shifted to accommodate personal events and travel plans.  We were able to shift runs around to fit our needs, scheduling in dates that we knew we could run together.

My Phase II plan includes three races: I’ll be toeing the line at the Waco Miracle Match Marathon 50K at the end of January, Ft. Worth’s Cowtown 50K at the end of February, and the North Texas Trail Runners Grasslands 26.2 Marathon (42KM) in mid-March.  I will not be racing at any of these event.  Rather, they will be three supported long runs, allowing me to practice race-like prep and nutrition.

The penultimate long run of my training plan is a DIY 40-Miler (64KM) I’ll be hosting in late April.  I have a very hilly 4.5 mile course that I run regularly, and I am planning to run 8 full loops plus a 9th 4-mile loop to get in 40 miles.  I will run and walk this event, trying to get the feeling of being on my feet and conquering hills for close to nine hours.  Stay tuned for how I plan to turn this training run into a fun community event!

Overall, the training plan I’ve devised has three main things going for it:

  1. It is doable.  There is never so much running in one week that I won’t be able to fit it in to my busy schedule.  There is nothing worse than wanting to run but feeling like it’s a stressful squeeze to get it done.  Running should be my release, and this plan ebbs and flows with my family’s life so that I can balance my love of running with others’ needs.
  2. It builds quality mileage without being so intense that I risk overuse injury.  Running four days a week plus cross training one day and two days of strength training (one day double-blocked with a run) gives me one full day per week of complete rest.  Total mileage projected is 850 miles.  Plenty.  (And with room to scale back if I need to for a mental or physical break.)
  3. It incorporates yoga and strength training in such a way that they don’t seem like extras– they’re integral to success.  Knowing that I have the time blocked for the mind-body benefits of yoga and the course-specific requisite strength training means I won’t have to feel like I’m day-by-day trying to find time to smoosh them into the training plan.

Hit the road, Comrades.  Training starts NOW!

If anyone is curious about the exact training plan I’ve written, leave me a comment, and I’ll email you the excel spreadsheet.

Marathon Training Plan Review: Hanson’s Marathon Method

This post is the third in a series that reviews marathon training plans.  Each review is based on my experiences and opinions.  Your mileage may vary.

Who the heck are the Hansons, and can I really run a marathon without doing lots of long runs?

The Basics

Keith and Kevin Hanson are brothers who own and operate a running store in Detroit.  Twenty years ago they took a look at some of the science regarding long distance running and developed a plan based on the premise that optimal running performance is achieved when running 2-3 hours…and physiological damage is done after that point.  To this end, the Hanson Marathon Method is a high-mileage training plan, but no single run is longer than 16 miles.  It is based on the principle of cumulative fatigue.  As the Hansons like to say, the plan teaches you how to run the last 16 miles of the marathon (when most runners fall apart).  The plan includes SOS workouts (Something Of Substance), which are tempo runs, speed workouts, strength workouts, and long runs.

The Differentiator

The Hansons’ plan that eschews the traditional long run is radical.  I must admit that I was skeptical of the entire premise.  The plan requires runners to train six days a week, also radical in our fast and efficient society.   Rather than looking at all of the easy days on the calendar and dismissing them as “junk miles”, the Hansons challenge their audience to understand the idea of cumulative effort and that running every day teaches you to run when tired.

The Pros

It’s a blessedly simple and straightforward plan.  Only three paces to guide your workouts– 5K and 10K paces for speed and strength workouts, goal pace for tempo workouts, and goal pace + 1-2 min/mi for easy workouts.  The book explains clearly the value of specificity– running faster is the best way to make your body learn to run faster.  And running a lot will help your body learn to run a lot.

The plan requires no fancy equipment.  While there is a very short chapter about stretching and strength training, it is not a formal component of the plan.  Let’s face it….most runners like to run.  And this plan is all running, all the time.

That said, you don’t have to devote your entire weekend to a long run.  For those of us who have weekend commitments that make running for 3+ hours on the weekend a challenge (soccer games, swim meets, other kid activities, church)– and then the afternoon nap required after such an effort– the no-run-longer-than-16-miles plan allows you to still have a family life on the weekend.

The Cons

There’s no way around it.  This is a high-mileage program.  It requires your commitment to running and running only.  For the 4-hour marathoner, you may be running two workouts per week that are close to two hours each.  Also, with only one rest day per week during the majority of the training weeks, you should expect to be exhausted during training.

For the novice marathoner, I can see that there might be a mental hiccup in truly believing that a 16 mile long run will have you prepared to run more than ten miles more on race day.  This is where you just have to trust the training (like one of the Hanson wives did, and PRed after having being skeptical of her husband’s training program).

The Bottom Line

If you love to run and have the discipline to run a lot of easy, fairly slow miles, this is your plan.  If you have a work/life schedule that allows you to workout 60-90 minutes a day, most days of the week, this is your plan.  If you like simplicity, this is your plan.

It took me two times to read through the book before I decided that Hansons Marathon Method is the training plan I’m using to prepare for the 2014 ING NYC Marathon.  I’m ready to rediscover the peaceful rhythm of running daily and am looking forward to trying the Hansons plan.

Marathon Training Plan Review: Run Less Run Faster

This is the second post in a series of reviews of marathon training programs.  Each review is based on my experience and opinions.  Your mileage may vary.


Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) experts Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss– with the backing of the folks at Runner’s World– have put together a 3-run-a-week training program in their book Run Less Run Faster.

Now, before you go thinking that I’m just going to regurgitate the information from last week’s post about Jeff Horowitz’s book Smart Marathon Training, I am not.  While both plans center around three quality runs and cross-training, their differences are significant.

The Basics

The FIRST plan is described as 3PLUS2: three quality runs per week and two days of cross training.  The three runs are track repeats, a tempo run, and a long run.  There are multiple pace charts throughout the book, and the program is specific about what pace each of these three runs is completed– and it changes weekly as the program progresses.  The cross training component of the plan is well-explained as essential, and swimming, cycling, and rowing are offered as options.

The Differentiator

The FIRST plan is the most specific, customizable mass-market plan I have ever come across. The book provides training plans for all 16 Boston Marathon qualifying times (3:05 to 5:25), which allows the majority of marathoners to find a plan that will work for their current fitness level. In addition to the discreet pace charts in the book, there is a FIRST app that can create a personalized training plan in seconds (for $2.99).  The idea is that by following specific paces for each run every week of the program, you know you can reach your goal.

Furthermore, the cross training component of the 3PLUS2 plan is well-laid out.  The book includes specific workout charts for cycling, swimming, or rowing for the entire 16-week training plan.

For those who like to use a GPS watch while they run, the book includes a section about how to preset a Garmin for all of the workouts in the plan.  While I’m not a Garmin wearer, I know that I’m in the minority– a lot of people will find this section particularly useful.

The Pros

Three hard runs a week plus two days of cross training is ideal for a balanced body. I liked that the authors even discussed the merits of varying the cross training activities, explaining how each could contribute to overall fitness and running success.

The program charts are easy to read, and with all of the options for pace (by following the BQ charts), there’s something here that will work for almost everyone.

The book includes several sections of Q&A about everything from running basics to issues specific to the FIRST plan.  I thought these FAQs were a good way to distill a of of information clearly and concisely.  Also, there were a lot of success story letters from FIRST followers, and I liked the human “feel good” aspect of their inclusion.

The Cons

One downside to running such a pace-specific plan is that it can put a lot of pressure on the runner.  What happens if I’m 2 seconds off pace?  10 seconds?  What happens if I’m slow two runs in a row?  Ugh.  You can feel the pressure mounting, and in something that is supposed to be fun (or at least stress-relieving), this plan doesn’t leave much room for a purely recreational runner.

My greatest pause regarding the FIRST plan comes from the FIVE 20-milers.  If these are to be completed at the paces set out, even a sub-4 hour runner would be logging five long runs of nearly 3 1/2 hours.  This seems excessive to me, especially for a plan that espouses injury prevention as one of its hallmarks.

Also, the book tries a bit too hard to be all things marathoning.  There are very short chapters devoted to common injuries and nutrition and trail running/ultras.  I didn’t feel like these chapters added anything to the book, and in a novice they might open up a lot more questions and concerns than they answer.

The Bottom Line

If a BQ is what you’re after, this is the plan for you.  The FIRST plan, while tough because of all the at-pace (or faster) running and the numerous near-goal pace 20 milers, will likely get you to Hopkinton.

If you’re a novice marathoner who enjoys cross training, this plan will allow you to get trained for the distance while still allowing you to participate in your other fitness activities.