My DIY New York Marathon Training Plan (using Pfitzinger's 18/55 and Hal Higdon's Novice II)

I've all but disappeared from the internet these past few weeks for weddings and travel and packing and job-searching and work and all of that stuff. Before I leave on July 4, I'll definitely abuse this space to post about my packing lists for Thailand, and how my running streak is going (slightly exceeding expectations, but mediocre by any normal standard of success.)

In all of this, I am staying focused on NYCM training, which will be waiting for me when I get "home" to North Carolina in August. But before I dive in to how I'm planning to train for my first marathon, I just want to say that I have basically no idea what I'm doing. This is just what I'm doing, and isn't written as advice for other people!

Moving on! 


I wrote a while back that I am skeptical of the wildly optimistic finish times most marathon plans predicted for me. When I first started looking for plans for my first marathon  I was floored  by wild predictions from different plans. A 3:2x first marathon for a 1:52 half marathoner? Ookay,

It shouldn't be a surprise that it's hard for a n00b like me to make a real judgment about each of these plans, so I did some more reading and tried to learn more about training fundamentals (long runs, speedwork, marathon-paced tempos, running on fresh legs, running on tired legs, back-to-back hard efforts, recovery times, etc.) so I could try to weight what each plan was betting would work the best. And yes, researching training plans became a real time suck.

I threw some numbers in R for a quick comparison between Pete Pfitzinger's 18/55 (which is considered an advanced plan, for reasons I now better-understand), and Hal Higdon's Novice II, an "easier" plan.

Dashed line = Pfitzinger Solid line = Higdon

Dashed line = Pfitzinger

Solid line = Higdon

Basically, Pfitzinger starts off with longer long runs, builds more quickly, and tapers less dramatically. It assumes that the runner who begins the plan is starting with a pretty impressive level of endurance already. In contrast, Higdon starts off with long runs under 10 miles and builds more slowly. Pfitzinger has three 20-milers, while Higdon has just one, which occurs on the same day as the last Pfitzinger 20-miler.  The other notable thing that Higdon runners will probably really notice, is that he includes pretty significant step-back weeks. This is good for runners like me who have never run farther than a half marathon before and are going to be feeling some fatigue halfway through the plan.

Dashed line = Pfitzinger Dotted line = My DIY plan Solid line = Higdon

Dashed line = Pfitzinger

Dotted line = My DIY plan

Solid line = Higdon

This is the total volume for the two plans, plus the DIY one I made for myself (dotted line). Basically, I just used Higdon's long runs with the rest of Pfitzinger's plan, less about 20% of the miles per week. I think it's pretty cool how they all follow the same trajectory.

I knew I wanted to use Pfitzinger's plan as my template but reduce the miles and incorporate Higdon's long runs. So if anyone's interested, here are more details about how I made my plan:

STEP ONE. I determined the max weekly mileage I want to attempt, then proportionally reduced all of the other weeks' mileage. After reviewing my old training logs, I decided I could peak at about 45mpw. 80% of 55 is 44, and I like nice round numbers, so my DIY plan would have 80% the volume of Pfitzinger’s 55mpw plan.

STEP TWO. I calculated how many miles needed to be cut out every week.  To keep the shape of the Pfitzinger training plan -- meaning, I want to keep the peak/taper, build weeks/cutback weeks all the same -- I needed to reduce the mileage for every week by 20% (again, in order to have 80% the volume of the original plan). For example, for my new peak week, I needed to cut out 11 miles (55mpw - 44mpw = 11).  Repeat for every single week.

STEP THREE. *VERY IMPORTANT* Decide where these miles should be cut. I wanted to replace Pfitzinger’s long runs with Higdon’s long runs, so that was a good start to reducing my weekly mileage. Reducing miles beyond that point turned into more of an art than a science.

Also, it's not always the total weekly mileage that can break a person. I spent a long time poring over the details of Pfitzinger’s plan. He has a really demanding 5-6 days of running per week, running on tired legs quite a bit, and the midweek runs can really drain someone who doesn’t have much endurance (like me). I realized I needed to add extra whole recovery days every other week or so, and thought I should also reduce the miles on some hard days (11 miles with 7 at tempo two days after a 20-miler? I would not make it to the start line with workouts like that!)

This is highly personal and it took me a few versions to finally be confident that I cut the right miles out.

OTHER THINGS: I made my long run day on Monday instead of over the weekend. I had trouble prioritizing long runs during WIHM training, so I think this will be better. I never have plans Monday nights so there's zero chance I'll miss, reschedule, or otherwise thwart my long run.  Because of this, I had to adjust the rest of the days: my Sunday rest day is now a Tuesday rest day, and so on. This is probably obvious, but if you move one day you have to re-do the whole week, 'cause the order in which the workouts are done matters.

ALSO: Both plans are 18 weeks, but I only have 15 weeks because I'll be traveling, so I chopped the first three weeks right off. I'll probably run some in Thailand but not enough to call it "training."

That's it! The result is that my plan is slightly higher volume than Higdon’s plan, retains a lot of Pfitzinger's intensity (I'm doing all the speed workouts he suggests), with about one additional rest day per week and shorter long runs. I am pretty in love with it and I'm happy to see that it follows about the same trajectory as the other two. My only real goal is to make it to the start line without injury, but once I'm there, this is the plan I trust the most to help me race my heart out and go sub-whatever-makes-sense-once-I-figure-out-what-I'm-doing.

If anyone wants to take a look, I put together a Google Doc you can view here

In other marathon news,  just a few days after I registered for the Tobacco Road Marathon I had to bow out. A friend asked me to be in her wedding, and it turns out it's the same weekend. Fortunately, the super cool, superchill race director gave me a full refund.

Oh yeah, one more thing! I put together a creepy list of other people blogging about their NYCM training. Let me know if you're running and want to be added!  

How do you choose your training plans? And if you're running a fall marathon, please tell me what plan you're using!