Choosing a marathon training plan, take 3

After City of Oaks, my immune system totally crashed. I took my first sick day in a year on Tuesday and napped for four hours. I'm starting to feel more like myself this weekend, though not as quickly as I would like. Ready or not, it's time to pick a plan for Tobacco Road. Training starts this week!

I don't, and have never had a running coach, so I've always relied on books and the internet to get me to the starting line. I totally see the appeal of a coach, but I can't really justify the cost of one for what is really just a hobby. So here's how I've picked a plan in the past.

Marathon 1, New York City: Read reviews of marathon books on letsrun.com by people and, on their advice, buy Pete Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning. Never mind that this is my very first marathon, so I am hardly an "advanced" marathoner. Scan the easiest plan, shrug, and plug it into my spreadsheet. After one week into the plan, realize I am WAY in over my head, and dramatically cut back the mileage and workouts. Have a good race anyway!

Marathon 2, Kentucky Derby: Re-attempt the Pfitzinger 18/55 plan, because I paid for that book and I hadn't yet realized that letsrun is not a good place to get advice for such things. But again, I am just am not up to that level of training. I get kind of frustrated, until I realize I should have really taken an entirely different approach to choosing a plan that makes sense for my level of running, instead of just relying on reviews from people on the internet. It's a training plan, not a pair of headphones, yaknow? Shuffle things around, drop down to 3-4 days a week of running, and somehow still PR by 13 minutes. 

Marathon 3, Tobacco Road: Resolve to be "more serious" about training this time around. At the very least I'd like to not make the same training plan mistakes again, so I'm starting by sketching out the things that are important to me. They are:

  1. Running four days a week: Left to my own devices, I would run three days a week, ride twice, and ride my bike some in between. I tend to get burned out running five days/week. If I can find a plan that gives me four days of running with an optional fifth, I'd be happy.
  2. Workouts. When I realized I was in over my head with Pfitzinger, I cut the workouts and just tried to get the mileage in. That is really, really boring. I'd love a plan that has me doing workouts in  a way that doesn't leave me completely exhausted. 
  3. No mid-week long runs: I kind of hate mid-week long runs in the winter. They're too long to do on the treadmill, and I've never thought when leaving work in the evening in the pitch black dark (North Carolina = no streetlamps), "I think I want to put a headlamp on and trip on broken sidewalks for two hours." I mean, I get that they're important and  I could maybe figure out how to run in the morning if I had to, but I'd really rather not...
  4. Lowish mileage. Yeah, there is something awesome about running 50, 60, 70 miles per week. But I feel totally worn out on just 40 miles per week. Maybe someday I can run higher mileage, but it's hard to see how when 1) A regular-person training plan kicks my butt; and 2) I just said I would like to run just four days a week, with no mid-week long runs!

So, I already know Pfitzinger's 18/55 plan is not for me. Hal Higdon's Novice II plan , which I've also sampled from in the past, has four days of running/week, but no workouts (and the next level up, intermediate has five days of running/week.) What else is there?

>>>google search montage<<<

So the best thing I've found comparing marathon plans is this mega guide from Fellnr. Using his typologies of marathon runners, I'd categorize myself as an "Improver" (A runner who has run several marathons and is hoping to improve their performance. An improver will have not trained hard in the past, so may have the ability to improve significantly); or maybe an "Enthusiast" (A runner who has trained hard for marathons in the past and is looking for ways of optimizing their performance). I don't know if my past training can be called "training hard," or not, so I'm including both.

Additionally, I'm certainly a "mid-pack runner," (though I question the utility of a range as big as 3:00 - 4:30 -- surely a woman finishing in 3:00 should not be considered a "mid-pack runner," no?), and I might also be someone with "Limited Training Time," since I can only run about 4 days a week. 

Scored from 0-5, with 5 being most suitable. Total is an aggregate of the 4 categoies to which I might belong.

Scored from 0-5, with 5 being most suitable. Total is an aggregate of the 4 categoies to which I might belong.

After reading up on each of these plans, it does seem that the two plans Fellnr's chart recommends for me, FIRST and Daniels's "Plan A" (which is very similar to the "2Q" plan in the third edition of Daniels' Running Formula), are what I'm looking for.

The difference seems to be in number of days of speedwork (FIRST = 2/week; Daniels = 1/week) and days of running (FIRST = 3 days of running with two days of cross-training; Daniels plan = extra day of running, but no required cross-training.) So, maybe this decision will come down to whether or not I like and would actually do two days of cross-training a week, or not . 

How do you pick a training plan? Does anyone have experience with either of these programs?