Marathon Training: My low mileage plan & thoughts on out of town races

May 6th, 2014 | Posted by Erica House in Life

Now that a week has passed since the Nashville Marathon I wanted to answer a few common questions I received along the way regarding how I trained differently for this race compared to my first marathon (the Pensacola Marathon.)

In general, my first training cycle featured very high mileages weeks and zero strength training. I trained with a local running store and followed the plan they prescribed. A lot of people questioned the lack of strength training but I completed the training and marathon basically injury free so not having the strength wasn’t detrimental in that regard. I definitely missed the weights though! This training cycle featured lower miles and I continued to do core work 2x a week and a total body routine once a week. Training Plans

Do I think this training plan was more effective?

Honestly, that’s impossible for me to answer. Going into this training cycle I already knew that I could run a marathon, and that was a huge improvement over cycle 1. I had a confidence I didn’t have before, and I feel like my legs were in much better condition at the start of this cycle thanks to the heavy mileage weeks they were running a few months prior. As far as time/energy saving I think this cycle was more effective. Since the courses for the two races were so dramatically different (Pensacola marathon had very little elevation and Nashville marathon was nothing but hills) and my times were similar (4:44 and 4:52) I think I went into the race as prepared as I did with the first one.

Pensacola marathon1

Would I train this way again?

Absolutely. My body does not like the high mileage weeks. When I was preparing for the first marathon and running 40-50 miles weeks it often entailed waking up at 4:30 a.m. to get in 8-10 miles before work, and between running and working 3 jobs (60-70 hours a week) my body just freaked out. I stopped producing estrogen, didn’t get my period at all in 2013 and was just tired. Of course this all happened a few months after my Hashimotos diagnosis so some of those symptoms went away as my thyroid medication kicked in, but I’m certain they weren’t being helped by the stress I was putting on my body. For my next marathon I will continue to do similar mileage as I did with this cycle, maybe changing Tuesday’s run to a tempo run.

2014-04-26 12.49.30

Would I do another out of town marathon?

Not unless I was very familiar with the city. I had read that some people can get cranky in the two week taper period before the marathon but that didn’t happen to me the first time around. This time I was a wreck. The stress of having to pack and coordinate an out of town race was just too much for me. Going out of town adds new dimensions to the race like; waking up at 4 a.m. to make sure we could find parking at the start line, not being familiar with driving in a new city, making sure to bring food my tummy was familiar with to eat the days leading up to the race, and not being able to go home after the race and do my normal post-race recovery stuff. I’ll be running in NOLA in January but I’ve been there so often I feel very comfortable there. I’d run a half out of town without stressing about it much, but I don’t think I’ll ever run a marathon in a city I’ve never been to again (unless it’s somewhere amazing like Paris!)

For my general tips about running a marathon please see this post on surviving my first marathon. All of the same advice still applies! Of course if you have any other questions at all please ask them in the comments and I’d love to give any insight I can.

pensacola marathon

Want to know my #1 secret for having a great marathon? Check back tomorrow! {I know, I’m such a tease}

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26 Responses

  • Caroline says:

    I’m glad you found a way to train just as well for a marathon while saving time and keeping other muscles solid as well! I hope it works just as well for NOLA!

  • Congrats on your second marathon girl! I agree that running a marathon in a foreign city can be very nerve wracking! A half is fine but a full is just a whole other ball game lol! And you said something about Nola…are you doing the Rock ‘n’ Roll one there next year? I’ll be there! :-)

    • Erica House says:

      Yep – just registered for RnR Nola today! I’ll be working with them so I’ve got a $10 off discount code on my side bar now :)

  • I love this :) I’m training for my first half, so your posts are extremely helpful!

  • I’m the opposite. I think if I had to run 26.2 miles in Pensacola I would kill myself. I’ve decided that if I do run a marathon, it’s going to be a destination race somewhere gorgeous :) Great job on your second!!

    • Erica House says:

      Lol – I can see not wanting to run here as well! I feel more comfortable on my home turf. I think it helps take some of the nerves away (not a lot though!)

  • Kel says:

    I am a total convert to the lower-mileage marathon training plans. I completed my sixth marathon back in October. For the first 5 races, I ran 40-50 miles a week, did very little cross training and my strength training was minimal. I was exhausted, cranky, burned out and I found that I got sick really easily–nothing major, just colds and stuff, but enough to know that I was really run down. For the last one, I cut my mileage a lot (though my long runs still got up to 22, so it was more about running shorter distances during the week) and averaged between 25-38 miles a week. The shorter weekly runs allowed me to focus more on speed/tempo work, add in a lot more cross training to avoid injury, and keep up with strengths training. The result? A PR by 25 minutes and a Boston qualification. Go figure.

    I have to disagree on out of town races though. I LOVE them. For me, the key is finding bigger races and staying close to the start/finish (or at a race hotel that runs shuttles). The change in scenary is really exciting to me, and I love that the marathon feels like an “event.” Well, that, and I use it as an excuse to travel.

    Congratulations on getting another one under your belt!

    • Erica House says:

      “the key is finding bigger races and staying close to the start/finish” <---- YES. That would have eliminated over half of my stress. I just couldn't stomach payin 2x as much a night to be that close to the start lines! Running in a new city is a great way to see the area, and a nice excuse for a vacation. So, I shouldn't say I would not run a marathon out of town again, but I'd do so only if I could afford to stay at the start/finish area. I'm relieved to hear the shorter mileage weeks helped you PR. I'll definitely be sticking with my loose plan for the next two marathons, and I think I've found a nice rhythm for what works for me. I've seen other runners have zero issues running 50+ mile weeks, but my body just don't play that game!

  • Jenny says:

    You ARE a tease!! I think the training plan you had this time around seems like it would be more realistic for me to follow! I don’t know how I could possibly fit 50 miles in in a week. My body would hate me.

  • Sounds like you had a great training and a great race. I have to agree about the out of town race. It is exciting to be somewhere new, but it can also be really stressful!

    • Erica House says:

      As someone else pointed out in the comments it really wouldn’t have been that bad if I had been able to stay near the start/finish lines. I will definitely be doing that IF I do a full out of town again.

      Congrats on your great half finish! Your time is my next half PR goal :)

  • Congrats on your second marathon! Maybe once you hit your 4th or 5th marathon you’ll be a lot more relaxed about pre-race prep and being in a new place won’t bother you as much. I’ve seen a lot of my fellow runners almost become lackadaisical – swinging by expos to pick up their bibs at the very last minute, showing up to the race just in time for the gun. It’s pretty funny.

    • Erica House says:

      My Dad has shared similar stories with me before of guys who have run dozens of marathons and literally just walk up to the starting line without a care in the world! I’m sure if I wasn’t such a newbie the stress wouldn’t have been nearly as bad. I need to not be such a cheapskate next time and pay to be in the hotel next to the starting line!

  • Helen says:

    Wow, Erica. Thanks for comparing both of the training plans you did. The first one seems like there are a lot of miles but there are two rest days a week. The other one has one est day but there’s strength and less miles! I think that the 2nd one is better since it preserves muscle!
    And, you’re awesome for running two marathons so far! You’re inspiring me to run a marathon that’s coming up at the end of the year, December. Hopefully, it doesn’t rain!

    • Erica House says:

      YES!!! I’m so excited you will be running one! It’s such an amazing experience. Have you decided on a training plan yet?

      • Helen says:

        I haven’t decided yet but it’s more on the yes side right now! =) And, I haven’t yet. When should I start training (December 7 is the marathon), and what training plan do you suggest?

        • Erica House says:

          My marathon plan follows this one by Hal Higdon’s pretty closely. I only follow his Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday schedules, and do my strength training MWF.

  • Hi again! :) I love how you compared the two training cycles…I honestly believe training for every race can be different based on where you are at in life :) I love reading your blog and want to pass on the love…so I’ve nominated you for a Liebster Award on my blog Daydreams & Shoestrings: http://daydreamsandshoestrings.com/2014/05/06/liebster-award-round-1/

  • I think the biggest thing for many people is mentally knowing that they can! I wouldn’t recommend low mileage for most folks unless they are running hard as it has shown more injuries, but hey whatever works!!!

    Sorry about FitBloggin, I feel really bad. I wanted to see everyone!

    • Erica House says:

      My second training cycle was 10x better because all the stress/nerves of not knowing if I could REALLY run a marathon were gone. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was more ‘fun’, but it was certainly more relaxed.

      We will miss you in Savannah!

  • This was a really helpful post! I’ve now run in two half-marathons and I’m planning to run in a full marathon if not in the fall then certainly next year. And so it’s really good to get an idea of the benefits to different training plans.

    I ran in the Vancouver Half-Marathon on Sunday, and training for that, I mostly focused on just logging the miles and doing very little cross-training or weights or yoga or core work or swimming or anything like that. Like your first plan, in other words. And I did go way faster than my first half (in Edmonton back in August), but for my next half in September (and if I wind up doing a full marathon), I want to follow a similar plan to your second plan… doing some cross-training and not just putting in miles. I also want to do more speed work (I’ll try repeats of about 800 m, is what I’m thinking) before a 10k I’m doing in June, as I want to crack one hour for that race.

    Anyways, I’m rambling. Just wanted to say, I appreciate your helpful advice here and on the rest of the blog. And big congrats on your achievements so far!

    • Erica House says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you found the post helpful. I think most runners will agree that a training plan that incorporates some cross-training and/or strength training is best for most runners. I certainly enjoy it more as I just get bored less then when I’m doing nothing but running!



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