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Tell Me Tuesday: Stick to the Prescribed Plan

Don't make us yell at you!

As readers of our first book know, I was fortunate enough to be coached by Lynn Jennings for a 2009 marathon. The 1992 Olympic bronze medalist and I often went on long runs or did track workouts together. But even when I did the majority of my runs solo, her advice echoed in my head. One of the most memorable things she told me: “Don’t do more than the workout calls for. You won’t impress me, and you’ll just overtax yourself.” From there, she’d explain that if the training plan said run 14 miles at long run pace, I wasn’t doing my body any favors by running it faster, say, at marathon pace. She stressed that each workout had a purpose—build endurance, increase speed, encourage recovery—and by messing with the formula, the gains could be lost.

I was reminded of Lynn advice on Sunday during my final long-ish run before starting the taper for the Boston Marathon. The Marathon: Own It plan from Train Like a Mother called for 14-16 miles. I’d been hankering to run part of a route I typically bike, but I wasn’t sure of the distance. A quick check of a map-routing site told me I’d be well within that range.

Levi, me, and Ellison (L-R) at a less sweaty time

Not! Around Mile 10, I realized my long run was going to be, well, too long. All my pals who have run Boston have told me to take the taper extra-seriously so this was definitely not the run to shun Lynn’s sage advice. What to do? Detour by a friend’s house to see if she could give me a ride home? Call Jack and ask him to pile the clan into the van to retrieve me in a few miles?

Hmmm….Instead, divine providence intervened. Running down a random, little-used street, I suddenly heard a woman say my name. It was Levi, a runner I admire greatly, asking me if I wanted to a ride. Normally I’d pass—my overbuilt sports ego wouldn’t permit skipping miles, especially “in front of” a mother (and now grandmother) who used to run sub-3:00 marathons—but today was different. I hopped in, asking her to drop me off a mile from my digs. The ride meant instead of covering nearly 17 miles, my Garmin clicked to 15.16 when I hit home. Instead of feeling like a slacker for trimming my run, I felt proud I’d stayed true to the plan.

If you’re not on a set training plan (say, oh, one of the nine in TLAM), covering a little extra distance or going a little faster isn’t going to set you back. But messing too much with prescribed workouts can wreck havoc with your race day results or your performance in hard workouts. If you push too hard in your weekend long run, chances are good you’ll feel sluggish in Tuesday’s track session. Or run too fast in Friday’s tempo, and your legs might turn to lead on Sunday’s 12-miler.

So ‘fess up: How true do you stay to a prescribed workout? Do you have trouble turning off your inner overachiever?

32 responses to “Tell Me Tuesday: Stick to the Prescribed Plan

  1. What do you mother runners do about running multiple races in a “season”?? If you follow a training plan for a “big race” (for me, a recent half marathon), how do you plan for subsequent races? Rest for a while, then restart the plan? What if they are only a few weeks apart? What might be a reasonable turn-around time for another longer distance race? (I’m a new runner, <1 year, slow but steady….). Thanks for any suggestions!!

  2. I followed my C25K plan to the tee. I had an app on my phone and did what it said to do when I was told to do it. Now that I am about to start using a TLAM plan, I really hope I am able to still be so disciplined.

  3. I am horrible at sticking with a training plan. I run so slow that I feel like I should be trying to go faster all the time, so I push, and all the hills around me don’t help. I just started your book and hope to stick to the plan! First up the 5k, then hopefully the 5k own it, then the 10k, and in the fall I hope to do a half marathon.

  4. I hate to go against the grain here, but I never stick to a plan and it works well for me. That said, I am one of the lucky ones who recovers well and can handle extra distance. I love being able to run any distance or any pace (within reason) on any day. I still race and I take my tapering very seriously, but I want my training to be fun. I don’t want to have to get my splits and count miles. My favorite recent quote is, “It’s your run. Do what you want with it!” 🙂

  5. I usually stick to the plan because I am still a relatively new runner who struggles sometimes even with the low mileage. I love having a plant to tell me how far I need to go. Sometimes, if I’m feeling really good, I’ll add a little mileage, but that’s usually once I’ve gotten home and then just add an extra half mile or mile depending on how I’m feeling.

  6. I follow plans to a tee so you can’t yell at me, now wether I select a plan I am actually capable of doing is open for debate 😉

  7. My problem isn’t sticking to the plan, but it is more that I can’t run at a different pace, it’s always all out. Every time I am told to run at an easy pace, I think, what is that? How do I determine what is an easy pace, is 10 seconds slower than my usual pace easy? OR am I supposed to take a minute off? For example run a 10 min. rather than a 9? How do you figure this all out? I trained for a half and didn’t do it right, over-trained, and ended up not being able to run it and had to walk most of it. 🙁

    1. Hi Cynthia,

      McMillan’s calculator was mentioned earlier, but not with a lot of detail. I suggest using it for pacing guidance; put in your most recent race and its distance into the calculator on the righthand side of the page and see what kind of pace suggestions it pops out. Here is the link:

      If you haven’t run a recent race, then you could try a time trial at the appropriate distance. If you’re like my wife and don’t have a good feel for what a certain pace feels like, then I recommend doing some running at various efforts on a track or another area of set distance so you can get a good idea of what various paces feel like. Eventually, you can learn to run on feel, allowing you to maintain proper efforts in non-ideal conditions where times might be skewed, like high wind, hills, different terrain, or bad weather.

      Also, a 10k race (or longer) is more accurate for predicting longer races than a 5k is due to the different physiological mechanisms that are the limiting factors in those races (for the curious, 5k is typically dictated by your VO2 max whereas the longer races are dictated by your lactate threshold level). So if you’re training for a half and have both 5k and 10k times, give more weight to the 10k results.

      Hope that helps,


  8. Excellent post.. now I have a question:
    I’m trying to follow te McMillan calculator training paces, but I’ve realised that the pace suggested for long runs it migth me a little bit fast for me, how? well it takes longer for me to recover. Beacuse this is my second HM I really want to PR, but i don’t know if going a bit slower on my long runs would affect me on race day.
    If anyone can help me I’d really appreciate it. There’s still two 13mi long runs left and I don’t want to messed them up (I mean mess me up!) going too fast.
    I’ll post this in the FB as well, sorry if you see the repeated discurse.

    1. Hi Mariale,

      The McMillan calculator results are generally pretty accurate given that they cover a decent range (for instance, my recommended long run pace spans 1 minute/mile). I assume that when you say slower you mean you’re slower than even the slowest number in that range? While a slower long-run pace isn’t troubling by itself (you’ll still get the aerobic benefits), I do wonder if it’s a sign of something else. Without knowing your training schedule, it’s hard to evaluate. Are you only doing 3 hard workouts per week? More than 3 hard workouts/week is too tough on the body. Are your other workouts near the fast end of the calculator’s suggestions? If so you could slow them down. Are your long runs hilly and/or in hot & humid conditions? If so, then your pace is fine. Are your tempo runs kicking your butt more than they should? If so, consider starting the tempo at the slower end of McMillan’s recommendation and slowly speeding up…I’m convinced that one of the secrets to killing your tempo workout is to start at the slow end and speed up as your body gets more efficient.

      Anyways, that’s a lot of questions/suggestions, and maybe none of them help. If you’re willing to share more info on your specific plan, then maybe some other suggestions could help out. If not, then don’t worry too much about being slower than the suggested long run pace, as that’s probably the only run where being slower than the predicted range isn’t a deal breaker.

      Hope that helps,


      1. Thanks Scott! I’m sure you are a badass husband runner 🙂
        To answer your questions:
        I’m only running three times/week: speed+tempo+long
        The only one I feel kind of demanding is the long run. But it might be because my tempo runs only last up to 1hr.
        And that is considering the slowest extreme of the range given by the calculator.
        Thanks for the tip about the tempo run, I’ll try that in the next one.

        1. Hi Mariale,

          Sounds like you’re doing everything right–and don’t worry about tempos “only” lasting up to 1 hr, as that’s plenty long!

          I think it’s interesting that you find the long runs the toughest…everyone is different, and I find the long runs to be the easiest of the hard workouts, at least mentally. However, I did find that the long runs became much tougher once I got onto an actual training plan and off of just “maintenance” in the off season, when the long run is much easier because the body isn’t as worn out.

          Honestly, this close to your race date, it’s probably best if you don’t change up anything. The one exception might be your off days. Doing 3 hard days/week, two of your hard days will be followed by only one easy/off day, and the other hard one will have two easy/off days after it. Which of the workouts is followed by two easy/off days? Having that 2-day rest follow your long run if it isn’t already might be all it takes to make everything align like it should.

          And good luck with your race. If you’re nailing your speed work and tempos, then you have a great shot at hitting your goal. By now I’m sure you’re looking forward to the taper. I have my own goal half on Apr 22 and my taper starts in a bit over a week–really looking forward to it and the improvements my training should yield!


          1. Sigh, you are right. Last year while training for a marathon because it was the 1st time I didn’t have any time ambitions, and I remember the long runs being just long but not demanding. This time is different, I’m doing speed and tempo runs that I haven’t done before and also my long runs have to meet a pace criteria, now that you mentioned it, that must be the reason I found them tough.

            My schedule is pretty loose I think, compared with what most people do. My long runs are on Sunday, Monday is off, Tuesdays are for speedwork in the afternoon (which gives me 48 hours of rest) then Wednesday and Friday are for strength and Thursdays are for tempo. Saturday is off as well.

            Another thing is that this plan as the TLAM one calls for more than one 11mi run. So my race will be at the end of May and I already have done one 10mi and 11mi run. There’re still one 12 and 14mi run on the way before I can even think of tapering!

            Running is not only physical, is also mentally exhausting!

            Good luck with your race! It’s so close now!!

            And thanks!

  9. I’m too type A I follow Hal higdon’s 1/2 and full plans religiously. However, my mom just bought me TLAM and I’m looking forward to using it .

    Side note- miss how you guys use to have button or link to reply to blog post right after post. Now it takes me forever to scroll through all the posts to put my reply. Just a suggestion.

    1. Not sure what you mean, Natalie. I see a comment button right at the end of the post…is that not the case with you? Please clarify. We want to make things as simple as possible. Thanks for your feedback.

      1. I have to scroll down to the end as well- took a while with the Garmin post- Ha ha! I’m on firefox if that matters.

  10. Oh I made a big time rookie mistake by “racing” one of my 20 milers before marathon day and ended up with a stress fracture 1/4 of the way through the marathon. It was a painful finish, and now I know better for next time!

  11. More or less. I’m following a Hal Higdon training plan for an early June marathon (it would have been a TLAM plan except for the small wrinkle of needing to start marathon training before the book’s release date…), and I play around with the numbers a lot. Last week’s runs called for something like 4, 7, 4, 7, and 11, but the reality is that I don’t always have time to run a full 7 (see: spring break week = 2yo + 7yo in double jogger, not to mention all the time needed to get them in it and keep them in it or the fact that I was going to be driving 60 miles each way to a conference on Friday and Saturday). So I split the runs into 4.5, 7, 4.5 and 6, and then did the usual 11. The plan only calls for a “pace” workout ever other week or so and I’m not a huge fan, so I did 6 Yasso 800s on Friday morning at the middle school track (yay for spring break!). I’ve been known to switch around speedwork too, especially if the kind the plan calls for isn’t terribly reasonable–like if I’m doing school pick-up with the double jogger in 15-20 mph winds, say. Speedwork mostly works fine on the way there, which is more downhill than up and with only one kid in the jogger, but the way back, which is a lot of uphill with two kids–suffice it to say that I’m putting in a quality effort, but without actual “speed” to show for it.

  12. Usually I’m an overachiever. Extra credit? That’s me, every time. But not when it comes to running. I like to stick to my plan – to a tee. This has been problematic when my husband is traveling for work. I hate that.

  13. I am a rule follower for sure, with training plans like anything else. Since I’m in PT now, I’d like to be able to follow the Bike-to-Run plan in TLAM, but right now I’m allowed to do cardio only every other day. So I’m doing my best to do the workouts and be smart about how to do them staggered (since that’s NOT the way the plan is written–I hate not being able to do the plan as written!).

  14. I like commenting after Erica- I can just say ditto what Erica said. Training for TCM I ran my miles by the book. And when it said “long, slow run”, I questioned why so slow? But I stuck to the plan and it seemed to have worked. But sticking to the plan also meant if it said 18 miles I had to run my 18 miles on the dot, even if that meant circling the block a couple of times until my Garmin clicked 18. THAT I do not miss….

  15. Always struggling with this in one way or another. When running is squeezed in among other mother responsibilities, it often means picking up the long run pace to get the miles in. And, since speed work is new to me, I’m still trying to figure out my paces as well as their effects on my body, especially how long it takes to recover from intervals.

    Guess I’ll be buying a certain book 🙂

  16. Garmin: “BEEP”
    Me: “Yay, all done. Check!”
    Nope, not extra steps for this rules (plan) follower. I think just training for a marathon makes you an automatic over achiever. No junk miles needed. 🙂

  17. I have a horrible time following a prescribed training plan. In fact, I’ve never been able to do it successfully. I’m currently following the TLAM 10k Own It plan (in week 2 now), and am determined to follow this one to the letter. That being said, when it sayd 3 miles easy does it really mean only 3 miles? 🙂

  18. This is generally good advice: sticking to the plan is definitely a good guide. However sometimes to make a big breakthrough we need to push a little harder. On the other hand, sometimes sticking with the plan itself can be overstretching. It takes a bit of running maturity to get to the point where you know how to walk the line between pushing and over-doing it. Not even the greatest runners on the planet always stay on the right side of the line even with trainers and coaches constantly monitoring what they do.

    Plus, sometimes what’s enjoyable about running and training is occasionally pushing the limit. Frankly, it’s boring to stick to the plan 100% of the time. That being said, going above and beyond the prescribed workout is a bit risky, but the pay-off in the enjoyment boost might be worth it!

    One of the great things about training is that it gets us in tune with our bodies and our minds. It provides an opportunity to figure out where our own limits are.

  19. I usually stay pretty true to a plan, unless I’m feeling incredibly awesome
    (in which case I may tack on a mile or two, but not for a long run.)
    Exception: 20-miler for my 1st full marathon, I did 21. Mentally I needed
    to get that much closer to the full distance, and it helped a LOT race day.

  20. I sometimes do over do but not usually on long runs.

    I am heading to local bookstore to find TLAM as I am looking for a new training plan come the end of May.

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