On Greg McMillan Custom Running Plans

A bit of background, I started running at the end of 2011 (following Couch to 5K) at the age of 42 and my first year of running was somewhat of a struggle as I learned about running in general.  I ran my first half marathon in Fall of 2012, loosely following a Runner’s World plan using their iPhone app.  I was a bit lost, not sure what paces to run or if that really was the right plan for me.

For my next half marathon I used a Hal Higdon plan.  I also read more about training plans and running in general.  I read Greg McMillan’s book “You (Only Faster)”.  His approach to training and his training philosophies made sense to me.  I also used his training calculator, which I believe is one of the best running resources out there.  I really enjoy training and I am the type that loves to have a plan to follow.  I was getting good results using the free Higdon plans, tailoring them slightly for my needs.

In 2014, somewhat on a whim, I entered the lottery for the Chicago Marathon.  I figured if I got in, it was fate telling me that I should run a marathon.  Well, I got in.  Then began the search for a training plan.  My main goal was to train smart, not just run a lot of miles.  I decided to splurge on a McMillan custom plan for the Chicago Marathon.  After purchasing a plan you will get a very detailed questionnaire to fill out. Obviously, the more information you can give the more tailored your plan will be.  It made me really think about my strengths and weaknesses as a runner. One of my biggest weaknesses is that I have a tendency to fade at the end of the race and have somewhat inconsistent pacing.

About a week later I received a spreadsheet with my running plan and some additional documents.  This was followed up with an email from Andrew Lemoncello.  He is a McMillan coach.  Oh, and also an Olympian!  So I was a bit psyched about that.  If you purchase a training plan you are allowed to ask questions through email about the plan.  I had a few questions and they were answered promptly.

The running plan had the expected components for a week: long run, easy runs, speedwork, and recovery run.  At the end of the plan it added a day of running which was a semi-speedwork or slightly longer runs for a total of six running days a week.  There were also a lot of fast finish long runs and “combo” speedwork days where there were some shorter sprint intervals thrown in at the end of the longer intervals.

I could see what the plan was trying to do, build the mental toughness to hang in at the end of a race and eliminate the fade.  The overall mileage of the plan was less than other marathon training plans.  But it taught me to push hard and how to run when tired.  It also taught me to pace myself so that I had the energy for the push at the end.  During my marathon training I raced a half marathon.  It was the best half marathon that I had run in terms of pacing and being strong throughout the race.  Any additional races that you have scheduled are included in the plan so there are no worries about adjusting a plan for races.

During the Chicago Marathon I felt strong throughout and I never hit the wall.  It was a great experience and I couldn’t ask for more for my first marathon.  I decided to go back to McMillan for a half marathon plan.  I set my goal, a sub 2 hour half marathon time (I would have to shave about 5 minutes off my PR) and I felt confident that McMillan could point me in the right direction.

My goal race was the Rock N Sole in June.  That race has some hills.  So my new plan had some hillwork (a nice bit of research by McMillan). I ended up taking some time off running due to a PF issue in my heel and I moved my goal race to September.  The new course didn’t have significant hills, but I followed the plan as it was, since running hills would only make me stronger. Again, there were a lot of fast finish runs and “combo” speedwork.

It was an ambitious plan for a half marathon plan because it built upon my marathon training.  I had mentioned my heel issues and the number of weekly running days was reduced by one and there was more of an emphasis on recovery.  I felt that the new plan hit the “sweet spot” in my training.  The point where I was improving but not going to the point of risking re-injury of my foot.

You can read more about my race in my recap, but I did get my sub 2 hour half marathon.  I never felt that I couldn’t achieve my goal.  I had to push hard but I felt prepared for it.  Not bad for a turtle like me!  🙂

One thing that I really liked about the McMillan plans is the variety.  The speedwork was always different.  The plans are challenging, but they are doable.  I really enjoyed my training.  The plans do what they are supposed to do.  I felt that I was progressively getting stronger and able to handle the next challenge.  The plans built confidence in myself. I really do believe that you need to trust in your plan.  For any race the mental challenge is half the battle.

I had a great experience with the McMillan custom plans, I actually went back to get a 5K plan.  I also believe I have the ability to go back and tweak the plans that I have for future races.  Greg McMillan’s book “You (Only Faster)” has plans for the standard distances and suggestions about tweaking the plans.  I would recommend reading the book if you are interested in the McMillan training plans.  Based on your level of knowledge, the book may be all you need. I would recommend trying the custom route if you want a more personalized experience, or if like me, you feel a bit lost trying to put together your own plan.

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