I recently hit a new milestone in writing my 500th completely custom training plan. So I thought something that might be interesting in order to celebrate would be to take a deeper dive into the plan. So I'll go through my thought process during the design of this plan.
The plan was written for Patrick. He's relatively new to Blaser Coaching Services (2nd plan), but not new to running. Patrick has been an avid runner since at least 2008 with many of his PRs sprinkled throughout the years, but all greater than six years ago. Patrick is also a traveling working father with kids. So the weekdays need to be capped at no more than 60 min, they need to be flexible workouts in case he's on the road for work that are accomplishable on a hotel treadmill, and on the weekend's we need to be mindful of his family time since he see's them primarily at that point. As a mid-40s runner, he has two main goals moving forward. Reduce his propensity for consistent running related injuries, and a desire to potentially get close to the same fitness levels he had back in his 30s.
In reviewing the answers to my standard questions, a few things became clear that would need to be addressed. Patrick has a habit of not running slow enough on easy days. He also has a habit of starting off his races way too fast, and then fading hard at the end. So my plan was to try and address these issues, with the hope that solving both would help him meet his goals.
Additionally, Patrick has a desire to only run 4 days per week, but is willing to cross train on 1-2 other days. He has access to a Peloton and their suite of classes. I believe we should try and use this to our advantage and mesh the Peloton Power Zone classes with his running in order to make a cohesive structured plan.
Lastly, his goal races are the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Half Marathon in January (now virtual), and the Star Wars Half Marathon in April (currently still scheduled to be in-person). So that gives us roughly 19 weeks before his April half marathon.
I'll add pictures of the plan at the end of this post for reference purposes.
I started off with what I would argue are the two most critical components to the plan. The pace at which he'll train, and the structure of the design of the plan. Patrick ran a 5k in July in 27:38 and a HM in September in 2:11. So I used these as a guide in order to determine his current fitness level so we could settle on physiologically relevant pacing.
Based on my training pace calculator, we came up with the above. When we compared these paces to what he had been doing recently, we determined that he was probably still running his easy days at least 30 sec/mile too fast on a consistent basis. This was despite a concerted effort on his part before he came to Blaser Coaching Services. But Patrick was receptive to the idea of "Train Slow to Race Fast" as an attempt to see if it would help him solve his past issues.
From there, we moved to the structure of the plan. We came up with the following after several back and forth conversations in order to nail something down that he thought he could be consistent with, but that I thought would enable him to meet his goals.
T- 60 min run max [Easy]
W- 60 min PZ or PZM
R- 60 min run max [Hard]
Sa- 90 min run max [Easy]
Su- 60 min PZ + 60 min brick run max (so these happen consecutively) [Hard]
T- 60 min run max [Easy]
W- 60 min PZ or PZM
R- 60 min run max [Hard]
F- 60 min PZE or PZ
Sa- 90 min run max [Easy]
Su- 150 min run max [Hard]
Where the Peloton Power Zone classes are denoted by PZE, PZ, and PZM.
PZE = Power Zone Endurance (which works on Endurance watts)
PZ = Power Zone (which works on Tempo and Lactate Threshold watts)
PZM = Power Zone Max (which works on VO2max and Anaerobic watts)
This would give us a two week rotating schedule. Additionally, with only 4 running days per week, we would limit the amount of hard work he'd do running, but balance that out with some easier cycling workouts.
With the two main components taken care of, it was time to get down to the detail level.
The Nitty Gritty
I first inputted the dates of his two races - WDW HM and Star Wars HM. These would serve as the starting point for the design so that I could write backwards from there. Since we were only weeks away from the WDW HM, Patrick had a strong desire to be peaking for the Star Wars HM, and the WDW HM was currently virtual, we decided to push back the "date" of the WDW HM a bit and make it a training run instead. This was so we could squarely aim Patrick's peak at Star Wars instead of trying to peak for two races separated by 14 weeks when the total plan is only 19 weeks. Again, an abundance of caution in design keeping in mind that Patrick has had a significant history of running related injuries in the past.
Next, Patrick had two vacations that needed to be worked around with as little running/cycling on those days as possible. One set of three days in mid-December, and a second set of six days in mid-February. Neither were all that close to race day (mid-Feb was 9-10 weeks out), so both were relatively easy to maneuver around.
I aimed for a two week taper, so I built in the longest run of the plan 14 days prior to the Star Wars HM. I went with a 14 miler fast finish workout. He is scheduled for 13 miles at his long run effort, and then a 1 mile marathon tempo finish. Traditionally, I would have probably scheduled the peak fast finish in the 15-30 min range, but again with Patrick's injury history I settled on 10 min. In total, this run will last him about 153 minutes which is roughly where I'd want to peak him on a max duration run. From there, I scheduled backwards every 2 weeks with the next long runs. Each time for the last three peaks having a 1 mile fast finish at marathon tempo, and each time subtracting about 10 min from the previous peak. So for Patrick that worked out to a 13+1 (150 min), then 12+1 (140 min), then 11+1 (130 min), when working backwards. With that, it gave me one more weekend to work with prior to his longer 6 day vacation. So I penciled in a standard 11 mile LR (120 min) and decided to denote this as the beginning of a Phase. So everything prior to his mid-February trip would be Phase 1, and everything afterwards would be Phase 2.
From the end of Phase 1, I continued to work backwards subtracting out another 10 min from each long run. The WDW HM was pencilled in for 1/24/21, and then continued all the way to the beginning of the plan in the week of 12/7 where Patrick will start with a 7 mile (75 min) long run.
Now that I had all the peak long runs scheduled in on a two-week basis, I needed to go back and fill in the "off" weekends. As you can remember from the earlier discussion of the plan design, we were going to go with a classic cycling workout - a brick. Where Patrick would ride on his Peloton for a certain period of time at a certain effort level, and then dismount his bike, quickly change into running gear, and then immediately head out for a run (or on a treadmill). The goal for these brick workouts was to induce some fatigue into Patrick's legs pre-run, but do so while minimizing the normal impact forces found in running not found in cycling. So simply put, make him tired before pushing him into a progressively more challenging workout as the training plan proceeds.
For the brick workout, Patrick will find a Peloton Power Zone (PZ) class that focuses on Tempo work. So we're looking from something that has longer intervals at sub-threshold FTP (functional threshold power) levels. With each weekend working backwards in the plan, the running portion would get progressively easier (and then when executed by Patrick would be getting progressively more difficult). Since the first weekend to schedule was the weekend prior to the SW HM, I went with an easier 40 min brick run at marathon tempo effort after a 45 min PZ class. From there, was a peak 40 min brick run at half marathon tempo effort after a 60 min PZ class. I knocked off 10 min from each brick workout backwards so that they ended up at 40, 30, and 20 min. That put us at the beginning of Phase 2. From there, I continued to work backwards adding in efforts at marathon tempo instead of half marathon tempo. And then workouts that started with long run and moved to marathon tempo, and then only long run efforts coming off the bike.
So in all when viewed in the manner in which Patrick would complete the workouts, he will go:
Phase 1 Bricks - Long Run, Long run + M Tempo, M Tempo
Phase 2 Bricks - HM Tempo, M Tempo in the last week
First teaching him what it's like to run coming off the bike, and then challenging him with harder workouts under a time constraint of no more than 90 total minutes between his cycling and running. So that now gave us a Sunday activity for every week from the beginning to the end of the plan.
I then moved to Tuesday and Saturday running workouts. These were to be Patrick's easy days. From a scheduling standpoint, these are fairly easy to put into the schedule as well. Patrick really wanted to limit the number of times he did 90 min max workouts on Saturdays in order to maximize his weekend time with his kids. So I was more aggressive in the cutdown working backwards with a 90 min easy run paired with the 150 min Sunday run. Then from there it was a 75 min easy run and 60 min easy run with the two other hardest Sunday long runs. The cutdown working back to the start of the plan was shallower and ended at a 30 min Saturday run in the starting week. Similarly, the Tuesday runs were easy as well. Cutting back from as long as 60 min down to 30 min as we work backwards in the plan.
With that, we had our Tuesday, Saturday, and Sunday runs all scheduled. Which only left me with his one hard workout per week on Thursdays. Unlike everything done thus far where I would start at the end and work backwards, with the Thursday hard runs I wanted to actually start at the start and work forwards. That way instead of working from max and finding where I start, I wanted to start at something easy enough and then based on timing find where I end up.
Since I had already broken this plan up into two phases, I would focus on two different areas for the first and second 7 week blocks with filler weeks between and at taper/race. We weren't coming into this plan completely cold. Patrick had been working with me for a few weeks prior to this plan as well. In that plan he had been doing a bit of critical velocity pace training. A pace defined as between VO2max intervals and Lactate Threshold intervals. I schedule that pace at roughly 98% of Lactate Threshold pace. So for Patrick that was a 9:09 min/mile (vs his 9:20 LT and 8:35 VO2max paces). He was doing brief intervals of 4-7 mins with resting periods of about 1 min rest for every 2.5 min run. So since he had done that in the weeks leading into this plan, he was ready to doing something different for the first phase of this new plan.
I decided to set up Patrick with a series of lactate threshold runs that would get progressively longer. The goal of these Thursday workouts in Phase 1 was to extend the amount of time he was running at an uncomfortable pace, and to get some consistency at a pace that is about 20-30 seconds/mile faster than his current fitness HM pace. If things go really well, then maybe by the end of these 19 weeks this LT pace could be his HM pace. But as always we need to see how he responds to the training on a week to week basis. So I started him off on 28 min of intervals for the first three weeks. At a 6x0.5 mile, 3x1 mile, and 2x1.5 miles. All while keeping his total time for the workout at less than 60 min as per his time constraints. Next we moved up to a 2x2 mile workout with a maximum 5 min resting interval between the sets. Because of his time limit, it was difficult to proceed to much more than 40 min of LT pacing in order to include enough warm-up and cool-down. So I went with a progressive cutdown on the resting interval instead to make the next workouts a touch harder. Going into a 2x2 with 4 min rest, and then a 9x0.5 mile with 45 sec rest, and finishing with a 2x2 with 3 min rest. So hopefully by the end we will have accomplished one of my goals for his training: Get Patrick comfortable with being uncomfortable. Because LT in the latter stages of the workout is an uncomfortable pace.
Next, I moved to Phase 2. Here we are now 9 weeks out from the race. So we've got some "race specific" work on the weekends with the HM Tempo brick workouts. So on Thursday's I wanted to work on something else Patrick struggled with in prior race experiences. Settling on an appropriate pace to start a race. I wanted to instill him a mindset of "Start slow to finish fast". So in order to do that, I scheduled him a series of workouts I call "Blocks". A progression style workout based on time and effort levels. At the beginning of these series of workouts, the challenge is modest. It's a 1 mile warm up, followed by 5 min of easy A, then 5 min of easy B, 5 min of long run, 5 min of marathon tempo, 5 min of half marathon tempo, and 5 min of lactate threshold. In between each of these effort levels is a 60 sec resting interval. So not overly challenging, but something to get Patrick used to the style of this workout. These workouts will progress in the following manner:
(5 min @ EA + 5 min @ EB + 5 min @ LR + 5 min @ M Tempo + 5 min @ HM Tempo + 5 min @ T) w/ 60 sec RI between pace change
(5 min @ EA + 5 min @ EB + 5 min @ LR + 5 min @ M Tempo + 5 min @ HM Tempo + 5 min @ T) w/ 30 sec RI between pace change
5 min @ EA + 5 min @ EB + 5 min @ LR + 5 min @ M Tempo + 5 min @ HM Tempo + 5 min @ T
(7 min @ EA + 7 min @ EB + 7 min @ LR + 7 min @ M Tempo + 7 min @ HM Tempo + 7 min @ T) w/ 45 sec RI between pace change
7 min @ EA + 7 min @ EB + 7 min @ LR + 7 min @ M Tempo + 7 min @ HM Tempo + 7 min @ T
(10 min @ EA + 10 min @ EB + 10 min @ LR + 10 min @ M Tempo + 10 min @ HM Tempo + 10 min @ T) w/ 60 sec RI between pace change
10 min @ EA + 10 min @ EB + 10 min @ LR + 10 min @ M Tempo + 10 min @ HM Tempo + 10 min @ T
So as you can see the duration of hard in each of the first three workouts remains the same, but slowly we're cutting out the resting intervals. Then the increase to 7 min of each effort comes with a reintroduction of a resting interval. Then we take it away again, then we move to 10 min with with RI reintroduced, and finally finish it off with a max 10 min of each effort level with no resting breaks all while maintaining a workout of less than 60 min as per Patrick's weekday cap.
Now like I said previously, these Block workouts will instill a start slow and finish fast mindset in Patrick. How so? Because if you were to attempt to overrun the pace on the first few effort levels, then when you get towards the end, you're unlikely to have enough juice left in the legs to sustain the end of the workout. Secondly, these workouts are based on time and not distance. So running slightly faster doesn't end an effort level any sooner, as you might have in the occurrence of a distance based workout. So the workout itself will not save you. Only proper pacing throughout makes this workout executable. And thus it teaches the runner a mindset of patience at the start in order to accomplish the end.
Likewise these Block workouts serve a second purpose. Patrick will likely start to feel like he may not be able to maintain the pace prior to the last effort level jump. But he will teach himself in training that despite that feeling, he does indeed have one last gear available to him when called upon. This isn't a "race workout", but rather another good memory lesson that when things get tough in the late stages of a training run, that many times you can overcome and push to that last level in order to finish it off. Hopefully something Patrick will be able to mentally draw off of when things inevitably become tougher at the end of his actual half marathon race.
The peak of the Block workouts brings Patrick's Thursday workouts to the taper. For the last two workouts (Thursday on 10 days out and Tuesday on 5 days out), he'll do a workout I call a "Mini-Progression". Just a simple workout that during the taper re-reminds Patrick what it's like to run faster. The first one will be longer and the second one just a few days out is just a taste.
1 mile WU + 3 sets of (6 min of HM Tempo + 2 min of CV + 1 min of 5k + 4 min RI) + 0.5 mile CD
Not everyone responds the same to this type of workout days prior to race day. So we'll use how he ends up feeling on race day as a guide as to how he responds to this type of workout. It definitely won't challenge him to the point of exhaustion, but like I said, a simple reminder to the muscles.
Once I've written in all of the workouts for the 4-day a week running plan, then I go back over the plan from a volume standpoint in order to ensure it's progressive nature. From training load lessons learned from the past, most of my runners do better with a progressively building plan from a training load standpoint. Something that keeps them in the window of enough that it's different from a few weeks ago, but not so different that it's too much. In practice, I find that to be around 25-40 min of increase in volume every two weeks. For some, a slower progression is better. For others, a more aggressive progression is better. Only learned through trial and error with each subsequent training plan. So as I review Patrick's plan in reverse I want to see a decreasing pattern of the run duration on a biweekly basis somewhere around 25-40 min. In addition to that, I want to see the "off" weeks in a pattern such that there is a moderate off week and a recovery off week. Secondarily, I review Patrick's easy/hard split to make sure the plan doesn't become too unbalanced with hard work. Traditionally, I try to stay around no more than 15-25% hard run effort pacing per week. But Patrick's plan does include cycling as a cross training workout, so that allows me to include mentally some of that aerobic cycling into the easier run day totals.
And cycling is where I finished off the training plan. To this point, I've only scheduled the Peloton Power Zone classes (with an emphasis on Tempo FTP wattage) for the brick days. I added in two FTP Tests over the course of the entire training plan. Once at the beginning and once at the start of Phase 2 (9 weeks out). This way if Patrick makes any gains along the way to his cycling FTP, then he can appropriately change the goal wattage zones on his workouts from 9 weeks out to the finish. From there, the goal of the remaining Peloton cycling workouts in Phase 1 was a focus on Power Zone Endurance (PZE) and Power Zone (PZ) classes. Ones where he will work on easier endurance/aerobic wattages and in the Power Zone classes build a foundation of lactate threshold wattages (along with his tempo work). In the second phase, he'll sprinkle in some Power Zone Max (PZM) classes. This way while his running starts to heavily focus on goal pacing and doing those progressions, his cycling can have a few speed like workouts at VO2max or anaerobic pacing. This way he can just touch on stuff that he's built over the course of the last several months in advance of his race.
In totality at its peak, Patrick will be running 6 hrs and 32.7 miles. Additionally, he'll have 1.5 of cycling that week bringing his total workload up to 7.5 hrs. He also has some body strengthening routines that come from his sports chiropractor in order to sure up his weak spots. Goal time on race day will be determined by the weather. If the race is a go in April in Disney World, then it's likely to be hot (as Florida usually is). So like most training plans, we can go into it with an idea, but the weather will be a major player during the week of the race in order to decide proper pacing. We'll also use his weather conditions at home to decide how much heat adaptation training will be necessary in those final two weeks. Under ideal conditions, I'm hoping for a sub 2:07 HM for Patrick and think that's doable. Based on his past history, it would not surprise me to see better (again under ideal conditions). But above all else, given his injury history, I'd say making it through the plan healthy and in good shape would be a step in the right direction.
Let me know if you've got any questions or critiques to the training plan.
Lastly, I'd like to thank everyone who made training plan #500 possible. Thanks, I appreciate everything.
Visual of the Plan