I don't always have a training plan going, of course. But whenever I have followed a plan in training for a big race, I have seen results. My first plan was for the 2007 Whidbey Island Half Marathon. I used Hal Higdon's intermediate plan. Even though this was my first half, the time I got in this race was my PR for more than two years, until August 1, in fact.
When I started preparing for the Anacortes Half this summer--which was to be my big comeback after a sluggish and disappointing winter (as far as running goes, anyway)--I used Higdon's advanced plan. I tweaked it to suit my needs--changed five running days a week (in Higdon) to four (my preference), and lengthened the weekday runs (as well as the weekend long runs).
I think the success of a training plan is not so much its content, but the continuity. It helps you be sure to get in a variety of types of runs. It's so easy just to make every run a moderate, even easy, run. If you follow your training plan pretty faithfully, you can stay out of that rut.
My four days a week running plan followed a basic schedule. Monday was easy, Wednesday was speed intervals of various lengths, Friday was a longer tempo or pace run, and the weekend (Sat./Sun.) was a long run. I worked in a few hill workouts, a couple of short races (one 5K and one 10K in this training cycle, both PR's), and a strong effort at negative splits on the long runs. I cross-trained on non-running days, although pushups were the only strength training I did.
I followed the plan faithfully except when I added extra distance or speed.
And it worked! I can honestly say I nailed every speed and tempo workout that I did. (I'll write more in my Anacortes race report--whenever that happens.) I was rewarded with a half marathon PR. And although I know there were other things involved, I do credit the training plan for getting me there.
Now that the big race is over, I'm still following the plan structure, to keep me on track for the races on the schedule in September. I'm not sure if I'll sit down and pre-decide the speed workouts I'll do over the next month (for a 15K on September 12) or just decide week to week.
But I do know that I train better with a plan! (So maybe, could a 15K PR be on the horizon?)
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