First Marathon – Conservative or Aggressive?

Monday was an off day, not by choice, but just because we were super busy. We didn’t even sit down to eat dinner until 9:45 p.m. and we were STARVING. We had white chicken enchiladas, YUM.

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After dinner Dixie and I got all caught up on the Bachelorette (Oh heyyyyy Shawn) while Thomas caught up on Game of Thrones. I’m kind of mad that Kaitlyn spoiled the winner with her snapchat slip up, but I’m kind of happy that it was exactly who I wanted it to be.

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Over the past few days I’ve been putting some serious thought into my fall marathon training. For a first time marathoner, a lot of advice is focused on not setting goals and focusing primarily on mileage – NOT speed. I think that’s great advice, and I want to make sure I’m smart about training, but I also want to make sure I accomplish something in November.

It seems like every training plan has two options – beginner and advanced. Just because it is my first marathon, I’m not going to automatically put myself in the “beginner” category. I’ve been running for a LONG time. I understand that the marathon is a totally different race than high school cross country, but I feel like I’m educated enough to know when I need to slow down, when I can speed up, and how to avoid getting injured. I am by NO means an expert, but I also wouldn’t define myself as a beginner.

I want to challenge myself, but I don’t want to overdo  it. I understand how hard this is going to be, but I want it to be hard. A quote always sticks out in my head that was probably on some corny motivational poster at the gym, but it said something along the lines of “if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.” I don’t want to take the easier path (no marathon training path is easy) just because it’s the first race. I don’t want to set the bar too high either, but I want to set it high enough that I still feeling like I’m challenging myself and working towards something.

I’ve been reading the Hanson’s Marathon Method and combining aspects of the beginner and advanced plan into a sort of customized plan for myself. I don’t think I’m going to be able to commit to running 6 days a week throughout the wedding madness and honeymoon time in September, but I want to come up with a realistic and attainable plan that will help me run a good race in November. I’m excited to finalize everything and officially get started next month, but I’m curious about how everyone else feels about the beginner/advanced training divide and how to approach a semi-experienced runner’s first marathon.

Do you group yourself into the beginner or advanced category? 

How was your training for your first marathon – conservative or aggressive?


About Maddie @ Dixie Runs

I'm Maddie. I'm a long time runner who has finally decided to start training for my first marathon. I do a lot of running with my 3 year old redbone coonhound, Dixie. This blog is about our running adventures and a whole lot more.
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38 Responses to First Marathon – Conservative or Aggressive?

  1. Jamie says:

    For my first marathon I actually grouped myself as a beginner/novice on Hal Higdon’s program. I know what you mean – I ran cross country all through high school and had completed 10 half marathons before I started training for my first full, so I never felt like I was a beginner. What I was nervous of was over training, taking on more than I could handle, and ending up injured. Because I didn’t know how my body would train to the heavy milage weeks, I approached my first marathon conservatively, knowing that I always had the opportunity to run another and really see what I could do. Part of me just wanted to finish to know I could make it! Haha. Now I usually piece together my training plans based on what I’ve learned from past races. I think experience is the best teacher, especially when you find the balance of what your body can safely take on. I hope this helps!!! And YAY for marathon training!! 🙂

    • Maddie says:

      That’s a good perspective… knowing there will always be more races. 10 half marathons before your first full!? Definitely not a beginner! But I totally understand why people take a more conservative approach just to see what it’s all about before they dive in.

  2. I’d say go aggressive – but smartly aggressive with a huge emphasis on recovery. I think the focus on just finishing is best for true beginners -those with less than a year experience of running or who only run when they train for a race. No matter what, training for a specific time will help you so much in practicing pacing, figuring out a fueling plan, etc. The great thing about the Hansons plan is the marathon-pace runs let you test out your pace too see if you set an achievable goal.
    Even though I’m only training for my first marathon, I don’t consider myself a beginner either. I’ve been running for 8 years now and done two half marathons, so by no means am I super advanced, but I’m still going with the Hansons Advanced Plan since I like higher mileage. I’m so excited for you to begin marathon training!

    • Maddie says:

      I feel like we are on the same page! I’m excited to see how Hanson’s works for you. I’m not following it to a T but I like a lot of the tips and strategies that they talk about in the book.

  3. a) I think that only you can know if your legs thrive on higher mileage.
    b) I thought my legs thrived on high mileage and running the same pace as always. I was wrong, in that instance.
    c) DON”T BREAK YOURSELF. You say you want it to be hard. Don’t worry, it will be. My advice? Set yourself up to run another–You want your first to be just hard enough and fun enough that you enjoy the challenge but it doesn’t keep you from ever doing it again. Hansons is a good plan, but many people honestly hate running after it–they are completely burned out. For the people that it works for, it is great. But it is not for everyone. Don’t take yourself too far just for the sake of it. Your goal is to get to the start happy, healthy, and strong, not pulling together by the skin of your teeth! The first marathon is all about figuring out a baseline and where to go from there. So set a goal, but set a goal that you can improve upon–otherwise, what is the fun?

    • Maddie says:

      Very, very true. I definitely want to be able to improve on whatever I do, so I want it to be a good baseline. I’ve heard Hanson’s is super tough, so I’m adding more rest/cross training days and replacing some of the back to back semi-long runs with just one longer run. I totally see how people can EASILY burn out.

  4. I think doing a plan catered to yourself is perfect. You know how you run and you know what you’re capable of handling. Especially since you’ve already done a half marathon! My first marathon was my first race, so I followed a SmartCoach plan from Runner’s World. I mainly used it to structure my weeks and guideline my long runs and it worked great for me. I was clueless about how to build mileage, so I needed the help for that. Then for all subsequent races, I’ve used that original and what I’ve learned to create my own training plans. I think the biggest thing is to listen to your body! If you need to rest, rest! You can get pretty worn down during marathon training (I think the training is harder than the actual race!), so make sure you don’t get caught up too much in having to nail every workout. Flexibility is key! I’d also wait until about mid-training to pick a time goal. See how your long runs are going and your speed sessions and go from there. I’m sure you’re going to kick ass this cycle!

    • Maddie says:

      Thanks girl, I’m excited to get started!! Flexibility will be soooo important because I’m about to have a very busy 2 months coming up. There are going to be days where I have to switch workouts around to make them work, so the plan I use is definitely going to be personalized.

  5. I think its better to start off with a conservative plan that can always be modified. I started training for my first marathon with low mileage but was able to add a little more as I was feeling good. Use whats worked for you in the past. Just remember that no training plan is written in stone and you can change it as you progress through the training.

    • Maddie says:

      I definitely don’t want to dive into super high mileage too quickly. I’m thinking I’m going to keep in conservative the first few weeks and see how my body is adjusting.

  6. The Bachelorette is making me so mad this season but I am still resisting looking at spoilers. I think it will be Shawn though. My classmate ruined it for me last season and I was so mad!
    I felt the same way with trying to pick a training plan and with setting goals. I did set a light goal for myself, because I like having something concrete in place. I am using the Hal Higdon Novice 2 plan, as it’s a little more challenging than a beginner plan but only includes 4 running days a week. My body unfortunately breaks down after much more than that.

    • Maddie says:

      I didn’t want to see the spoilers either but Kaitlyn posted a picture of herself in bed with *someone* on accident last week and so everyone is assuming that is the winner. I’ve heard different things though… I feel like they always end up breaking up so I try not to get my hopes up 🙂

      I really like the Hal Higdon plans. That is what I used for my first half marathon (Novice 2 with some Intermediate workouts thrown in) and it worked really well for me!

  7. I guess I’m an advanced runner, but it feels funny typing that!
    I ran my first marathon when I was still very new to running. I was conservative.
    You can always do an advanced plan, but be conservative with your paces. That way you grow you mileage, but without risking injury.

    • Maddie says:

      Good approach! I’m definitely keeping my pace conservative so I can build mileage. Then I’ll see how my body reacts and go from there!

  8. There’s such a huge gap between beginner and advanced! I like that some plans have multiple levels so you can find something that really works, but I agree that tweaking plans to be more self-specific is best!

  9. Those enchiladas though! Please invite me over the next time you make them! 🙂

    I like what Lisa and others said about just tweaking as you go. The cumulative fatigue (mental and physical) from marathon training is real and I think beginner or advanced some tweaking is necessary anyway!

    • Maddie says:

      Come on over for enchiladas anytime!! You’ll just have to stay up really late if you want to eat dinner at our house, ha!

  10. I make my schedule based on a hybrid of training schedules that best fits my life/ability (I am assuming that you are not going to want to run 20 miles on your honeymoon ha! but you also aren’t a beginner). My first marathon was super ROUGH–I was in college and studying for finals and did not take marathon training seriously. It was a tough 26.2 miles–since that humbling experience I make sure that I get enough milage in before race day. I think that doing two to three 20+mile runs helps a lot!! Good luck 🙂 Which marathon are you training for??

    • Maddie says:

      That honeymoon week is going to be killer… I’ll consider it my mid training break 🙂

      I definitely want to do at least two 18-22 mile runs during training, which is an adjustment I’m making from the Hansons plan because the max run you do is 16. Their theory is that you do the 16 on tired legs so it is just as effective as a longer run, but for confidence reasons I need to know I can do a longer distance before the race.

    • Maddie says:

      Oh and I forgot to say, I’m training for the Richmond VA marathon November 14!

  11. Ariana says:

    I am taking a semi-conservative approach. I’m using Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 for my training plan since it has some “Marathon pace” runs and some of those I will swap out for speed work. I prefer lower-mileage so I liked this plan. That being said, I am doing my “marathon pace” runs at a more aggressive pace and keeping my other runs slow (heart-rate based). I’m running a half marathon in August which should be pretty humid & terrible so a good time to test out how my pacing is feeling. That’s my plan for now, my guess is that I will throw all my plans away once I actually start the marathon and just enjoy the ride – this is exactly what happened for my first half marathon & I don’t regret it one bit! But like you, I like having something to work for and don’t want to just drag along with slow paces all summer long.

  12. Suzy says:

    All I want to say is that the marathon is a beast deserving of utmost respect. It feeeels when you don’t respect it and it’ll hand out a spanking like no other. You know your body the best, but my advice to you would be to go into your training with respect for The Marathon. What I mean is, don’t get cocky, but do get excited. Don’t get pushy, but do push yourself. Learn how to walk that delicate line between training hard and breaking. It’s way better to tread lightly and get across the finish line than to push too hard and injure yourself for a long time.

    • Maddie says:

      Finding the balance between treading lightly and pushing myself is what I’m trying to find right now… I don’t want that marathon biatch to spank me!!

  13. I can understand your concerns! It really can be hard to figure out how to train for your first marathon, whether you’re a beginner or not.

    Honestly, just go with your gut. At the end of the day, only you know what’s best for you and your body.

    But your comments about wanting to make sure you accomplish something and wanting to make sure it’s hard gave me pause. It WILL be hard and you WILL accomplish something. That’s the great thing about marathons – there is always a sense of accomplishment in crossing the finish line no matter what your time is. Because it’s not something anyone can just wake up one day and do. Don’t underestimate the marathon – even if you are an experienced runner, it really is not like other races. I like to remind myself that nothing is a given in the marathon – even elites and experienced runners sometimes DNF them. I agree with others that it’s probably better to start conservatively, because you can always add more difficulty as you go. As they say – “if you undertrain, you may not finish; if you overtrain, you may not start.”

    That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with shooting for a time goal or trying to challenge yourself as a first timer. I actually walked away from my first marathon training plan feeling like I wasn’t quite challenged enough, so yes, it is possible. I think a better idea is to have a loose time goal in mind, but keep the emphasis on just finishing strong. Don’t get caught up in this idea that you need a time goal for your first marathon to “accomplish anything”. There will always be other marathons! And FWIW, I really think you will do great no matter what! Just be smart and have fun 🙂

    • Maddie says:

      Thanks for all of the great advice!! I love the quote about over training… definitely something to keep in mind. And I think I’m just really hard on myself with my time goals. I’m going to be doing A LOT of tweaking as I go.

  14. Kerry says:

    I like to combine plans to make one that is a little more suited to my abilities. The Hal Higdon beginner plan doesn’t offer any speed work, but some of the intermediate plans with other groups do, so I kinda supplement the beginner plan with speed work from harder plans. If you know your body and its limitations, it seems like you’d do really well stepping it up a notch and being a little more aggressive. Do you have a lot of cross training planned? I imagine that could help take some miles off of your legs if you are being a little more aggressive with training.

    • Maddie says:

      For my half marathon I used a combination of the beginner/intermediate Hal Higdon plans. I really liked it! I definitely want to incorporate cross training.. I think it is highly underrated!

  15. Looove this post girl.!
    As you know, I haven’t ran a marathon before either. I plan my first one to be in May 2016. and of course, I’m already thinking about my approach also. I’m an aggressive person.. honestly my goal is to BQ at my first marathon. yea, I said it. and I’ll probably be kicking myself for it later. haha. butt. I think I know myself better than anyone. and you definitely do too.! I don’t think you should be afraid to go aggressive, obviously you have no experience in the marathon.. but that’s the beauty of it. We’re going to learn SO much after the first one.! Even if I don’t BQ and even if you don’t meet a time goal or the race goes unexpected.. just lots of room to grow.!
    I say do what your gut tells you to do 🙂

    • Maddie says:

      I love that you make aggressive goals… and like you said, even if you don’t BQ, you can’t say you didn’t try and there will always be another marathon to run. You will totally BQ if you train for it, especially based off that super fast half marathon you ran recently!

  16. I ran my first full last year – I definitely classified myself as a beginner, even though I had three half-marathons under my belt and had been running consistently for a while. Looking back, it allowed me to finish, but it wasn’t enough to get my body in performance shape – I fell apart after mile 16. This year I’m going with a little more mileage, and a lot more strength training. Excited to hear about your training! Good luck!

  17. Tina says:

    I’m all about creating your own plan. I just finished reading You (Only Faster) by Greg McMillan. It’s an awesome tool for learning how to create your own plan based on your personal physiology and what kind of runner you are. If you’re a super endurance monster, don’t torture yourself on the track, do longer tempos instead, etc. It includes outlines for plans for 5K-full marathons, and different variations depending on how many days a week you can realistically run. Then he walks you through how to customize it. Highly recommended 🙂

  18. Such a good question!!! It sounds like you have your thoughts pretty well sorted out and you have some good advice in the comments above. I would recommend a time goal, but I would keep it conservative. Since it is your first full, you want to enjoy the training and the race, feel pride in reaching your goals, stay motivated, and finish it wanting more. The Hansons method is great, but I’m not sure if I would recommend it for a first time marathoner – you could easily get burnt out and I would be concerned about not having any long runs over 16 or 18 miles. Regardless, it is so exciting – I love hearing about people training for their first marathons 🙂 Good luck, I am excited to follow your training!

  19. I definitely took the conservative route with my WDW training. It was my first marathon and I had absolutely no strict time goal in mind. I just wanted to finish! I will continue to work on increasing the intensity of my training, but I’m not in a rush- I’m still young and have plenty of more races ahead of me to reach the *real* goals.

  20. Cheryl says:

    For my first marathon (last year) I was aggressive, my goal was to BQ. It was successful! I would say while I was a beginner at marathon, I am NOT new to running and had run 10+ halfs prior. I used a training plan from Runner’s World which was 6 days a week running (in hindsight I would do 5). It was 18 weeks long, and the weekly mileage maxed out at 46 miles. Basically it had a long run, and a speed work run a week, with interspersed races. I still learned a lot, and can improve significantly on my next marathon, but it was very “doable”. Good luck!

    • Maddie says:

      Sounds like a really well balanced plan, and that’s awesome that you BQ’d in your first one!! It’s great that you went into it with so much half marathon experience.. I think that would be realllllyyyy helpful.

  21. wow, big decision! i’m a believer that you shouldn’t go too hard on the marathon goals for your first one. not because the mileage is too difficult or the training too intense, but because you simply have no idea what your body will do to you on race day. seriously. i think you have to have at least a few marathons under your belt to feel “comfortable” on race day — and even then, there’s still no telling what could happen, really. i definitely have gotten smarter when it comes to adapting to weather conditions, hydration, and nutrition, but only because i’ve run 8 marathons at this point and have a better knowledge of my body.

  22. Pingback: Fall Marathon Goal and Why I’m Not Worried About It - Dixie RunsDixie Runs

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