"Champions are everywhere: all you need is to train them properly..." ~ Arthur Lydiard
If I had a penny for how many times I've been asked "What's the best marathon training program to use", I'd be a very, very wealthy woman.
Many marathoners, both novice and experienced, end up doing a lot of cutting-and-pasting when it comes to marathon training. Noodling around with this workout or that workout or running what they feel like running - taking this and that from different training programs: long runs, Medium long runs, GA (general aerobic) runs, hills, tempos, AT (anaerobic threshold) runs, progression runs, MP (marathon pace runs), intervals (400/800/1200/1600???), etc. The logic goes like this: If I just take the best sounding training runs from each approach I'll have a killer program...and of course it might just kill me too. Worse of all is the tendency to stick with what you've done before, even if it didn't work (remember that tried and true definition of insanity). Oh, but this time it will be different! Or, having new goals and doing exactly what you've done in the past, which may have worked in the past but will doing the same thing work again, now with new goals. If a plan worked, I'll just do it again but I'll run everything faster. Brilliant!
A form of fishing in which a crazy person runs into a lake and searches for holes on the bottom with his foot. Then he inserts his finger into the hole and lets something bite it. Hopefully, it's a catfish. If so, he wrestles the catfish to the surface and drags it to shore. If its not a catfish, he may lose his finger to a snapping turtle or his life to a water moccasin." (Urban Dictionary)
Now there's many other definitions for "Noodling" (most of them sexual - as in bad sex - in nature) but what the above definition points to is the somewhat crazed, ad hoc, haphazard, risky, willy-nilly nature of noodling around with training programs. I don't care that this is not an approved use of the word (Hello, OED, take notice - new use in the lexicon ;)
I've even had runners contact me and ask me to look at their training and their program. I look at what they're doing and make suggestions. The response is often: "So I should just add some miles on to the plan I'm using???" Oh dear!!! That is NOT how it works. That's noodling - here you tweak the plan without taking all the variables into account. You can't just take a given plan and add miles to it and call it a "better" plan. There are certain principles in training - stress and rest, super-compensation, different length cycles, cycles within cycles, etc. - all aimed at maximizing your body's response and making it stronger, faster, better at running. Adding to one component just gets that all out of whack - or it may anyway.
But, the fact is that sticking with a set program for 24, 18, 16, 12...whatever number of weeks, is always a challenge. Schedule conflicts, weather, injuries, illness, etc. seem to throw wrenches into the whole system just as things start clicking. So when things start to go all pear-shaped, what's a runner to do?
Often times it's not necessarily discipline that is the limiting factor. Most runners I know are fairly strong on the discipline side - and this can sometime cause problems itself, such as overtraining and injuries as we pigheadedly feel compelled to complete a run even when injured or exhausted because...HELLO!!! IT'S WRITTEN ON THE SCHEDULE!!. The issue is how do I adjust to these blips along the way?
A couple years ago I was following Pete Pfitzinger's plan in Advanced Marathoning. This plan is fairly demanding, with lots of fairly long runs during the week. Pfitzinger's attitude (and this he clearly states in the book) is that you really have to suck it up and commit to the program and work your life around your training, not work your training around your life. Okay. Fair enough. Commitment is important, but so is paying the mortgage and being there (at least occasionally) for your kid(s), and perhaps even your partner.
So, everything was ticking along and then I hit the proverbial training wall. I was lying in bed one night, facing a 12 mile run in the cold and snow during the 2 hour window I had from 9-11 while my daughter was in pre-school. I'd been doing this for several weeks at that point and now something snapped. I said to my husband, I just can't do this. I'm completely wiped out. Training, parenting, working...I hit my limit. And I gave up.
I slipped back to my tried and true approach, which I knew I could do, and I knew it would result in the same ho-hum results it had in the past. But what else could I do? At that time I didn't know how to fix the plan so that it could work for me. And so I threw out the baby with the bathwater.
Today I have a little more understanding and appreciation for how this all works. As a USATF, RRCA, and Lydiard Foundation Certified Running Coach I have more resources available to me. I read training books before bed for the fun of it. I can see all the mistakes I've made in the past. I understand that I will, no doubt, continue to make mistakes, because the fact is, this is all difficult business. If there was ONE way that ALWAYS worked for everyone, then we'd ALL be DOING IT! But alas. Life and running are not so simple. And if they were it would be boring.
So, out of a twisted curiosity, I decided to make myself a guinea pig of sorts and a couple months ago I embarked on my marathon training experiment: I decided to test the Lydiard Foundation's Running Wizard Training Program on myself.
A Lydiard based training program is based on five basic principles:
1) Aerobic Conditioning as the Foundation
2) Response-Regulated Adaptation
3) Feeling-Based Training
4) Sequential Development
So how does all this work within a set, pre-planned, program? Well it works and it doesn't work - and this is the problem with all pre-set programs, though this program is, in my experience, far superior to other 'cookie-cutter' type programs because it provides multiple feedback mechanisms. Importantly, Lydiard based programs ALWAYS build on where you are presently at, what you've done in the past, and where you want to go, and helps in establishing realistic short and long term goals.
A couple weeks ago I finished with my "aerobic base" sequence and I felt super strong. Now I was set to begin my "Hill" sequence. Only one problem. I was dealing with an injury, and I am convinced that this was not caused by my running. One of the things I have to remind myself (and those I coach) is to be very careful about adding new stresses when you are already pushing things. I am not always good about listening to myself - and since I was feeling like gang-busters, I started pushing too many things at once - too much swimming, too much core work, too much stuff!! And I snapped. I felt this snap in an instant. I felt the straw that "broke" my back (in my case, my SI joint) as I placed it there. Butt-head, butt-head, butt-head...
So I put off the hill work for a week. THIS is Response-Regulated Training, as much as adjusting paces might be response-regulated training. I did not add insult to injury and stick with the workouts I was "supposed" to do.
This is the most difficult part about working with a set plan. Gaaaaaaaaaaa. My experiment is already messed up! And yet is it? Rarely do any of us make it from beginning to end of a training sequence without dealing with some major hiccups. So I guess now the challenge and experiment means seeing how it works even when everything doesn't work perfectly. I feel so strong coming out of my first sequence, and I am committed to this experiment. I won't throw the baby out with the bathwater this time.