Alternative Training Plans

Monday I discussed the idea that not everyone needs or will find a cookie cutter training plan to be helpful.  Each of us is different and has specific needs within our training.  Typically you will find somewhere around 18 week marathon plans and 13 week half marathon plans, but those are not always the norm.

Sometimes we have the best of intentions when we set out on our training.  We feel great and are motivated as we get started.  But our bodies don’t always comply and soon enough we find ourselves injured.  These setbacks are frustrating but they don’t have to be the end of your training.  They often do require you to rest and take some time off of training but if you are an experienced runner you can take a week or two off and come back with a modified plan.  I wouldn’t always recommend just jumping right back in where your training picks up.  You might have to alter your plan to allow for easing back in, but with enough time out before race day you can make the necessary adjustments to delve back in there.


Experienced marathoners might not necessarily need or benefit from a full 18 week training plan.  If you have already run a marathon or two and tend to keep your mileage high throughout the year, a 16 or even 14 week plan might be more ideal for you. This type of athlete doesn’t need those base building weeks at the beginning of their plan and instead needs a solid build up in miles along with focused speed work to reach their goals.

Another type of athlete who might benefit from a shorter training plan is an experienced runner who tends to get injured on longer training plans.  I have worked with a few athletes who are strong runners but tend to get overuse injuries on a full 18 week plan.  For an experienced runner a 15 or 16 week plan with a shorter base build up in mileage and a 2-3 week taper might be more beneficial in order to avoid injuries they might be prone to.

On the flip side, I would recommend a longer training plan for some inexperienced runners looking to do their first full or half marathon.  Adding a few weeks of focused base mileage and a slow build up might help these athletes avoid burnout or overuse injuries.  Mentally they might find this type of plan to be less daunting as well.

I personally prefer a six day training week but know that this isn’t always feasible for many reasons.  Some athlete’s work and family schedules do not always permit this. Most athletes prefer a second rest day somewhere during the week.  Other athletes that are injury prone need strong running days as well as proper rest in between.  I have worked with a few athletes whose bodies tend to scream at them half way through training.  Adding in a 3rd rest day in the middle of training seems to keep their legs refreshed before their longer runs.

I also have worked with experienced runners who were very honest from the start of training.  Their schedules and family life are not conducive for typical marathon training.    While they wanted to complete a particular race, they could not commit to a typical training schedule.  They were also willing to sacrifice a PR to just be out there in the race.  Under these circumstances, and knowing their running history, I felt comfortable putting them on a three day a week program as long as they stuck with other forms of cross training 2-3 times per week on top of the running.  This is not the ideal and I would not recommend it for most runners but it can work if everyone is on board.

Although running is an interesting study, it is not an exact science.  When looking for a plan or a coach make sure all of these factors or any factors specific to you are taken into consideration.  Training is always a commitment but it doesn’t have to break you.

18 thoughts on “Alternative Training Plans

  1. Nice tips! You’re right, 16-18 week plans aren’t for all of us. I burn out big time when I hardcore train for over 12 weeks nowadays.

  2. I like your points and advice! I am uncertain what to do. I had two babies and though I kept jogging and running in between and competed in 2 triathlons before getting pregnant with #2, my body and joints are so different than they were when I was in tip top shape pre-baby.

    I am about back to the same size, but since I am nursing I struggle with long mileage between soreness and exhaustion. I wonder if you’ve ever worked with someone postpartum and nursing and how that may affect training? I am planning a half in May and a full in October! I make chiropractic health, stretching and yoga all part of my regimen – but I could use some strengthening help and also advice in general on how long I really need to train. I can still manage long runs and typically do 3-4 mi runs on the treadmill. Though I am sore some days, I have not had a running injury yet. Thanks for your advice in advance!

    • I absolutely understand this. Our bodies change a lot with pregnancy (especially with the release of hormones like relaxin). I wonder if some specific strength training along with a long term build up plan might help? I have worked with a lot of pregnant and postpartum athletes and everyone has different challenges but I am certain it can be worked out with a little patience!

      • Thank you for making me feel better ha! I did some research and got some ideas for getting stronger in core especially when I have to push a double jogger it kills my lower back!

  3. Love everything about this post (especially your last paragraph). It’s very important to go with the flow and to stay flexible in your schedule. Thanks for your fab tips! You’re awesome! XOXO

  4. I think flexibility in training plans is crucial and your training needs are something you figure out as you train for more races. For example, Jesse is super resilient and can probably run 5-6 days/week without getting hurt. I would probably get injured very quickly if I started doing that! I’ve learned to adapt training plans for my needs.

  5. Yeah, I think you just have to do what feels right as long as you’re doing enough to realistically be able to accomplish your race goals (whether it’s a 2:00 half, 2:30 marathon, or just finishing a 5k). Following a training plan just doesn’t work for me. I doubt it works for many people.

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