Thoughts on: Chicago Marathon Training + Working with Run Coaches

Throughout my short running career I’ve been lucky to have been coached by some incredibly accomplished female runners. My first coach was a retired champion ultra marathoner and triathlete. I’ll never forget her biking alongside me at my first half marathon. More specifically I’ll never forget crossing the finish line and declaring to her, “next I will run a full marathon!”

To get ready for my first full marathon I transitioned to another incredible coach who frequently wins races. Watching her train and compete was very inspiring and her coaching philosophy fit me well. Under her guidance I PR’d at every single distance I raced and completed my first full marathon.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 10.26.53 PM

Earlier this summer I started working with a new coach who is an accomplished marathoner and triathlete. There was nothing I could throw at her that she didn’t have the answer to or the perfect story to share.

As a fairly new runner I’m always looking to learn about different running philosophies, and I was open to trying something completely new for Chicago.

Training for Chicago

I really cannot say that I loved my Chicago training plan, which was a modified version of Hanson’s. marathon method. That being said I think I would have PR’d by quite a bit in Chicago if I didn’t have to DNF which means the training plan itself was successful. I know I got faster following the plan and I hope to take those gains into the half marathons I run this fall and winter. That being said, just because a training plan is successful doesn’t mean you have to like it!

The main thing I didn’t love about my Chicago training plan were the back-to-back long runs. I understand the reasoning behind them but I much prefer one long run. Not only do I think long runs help me build mental confidence, I just plain like them. Many of you know I aspire to be an ultra marathoner one day and it’s not because I like suffering, it’s because the long run is my favorite.

Also, as a slower runner doing two medium-length long runs on back-to-back days meant I often didn’t do a whole lot with my weekend that didn’t involve: running, resting from running or strategically eating.

I know that training for a marathon requires commitment, but last year when I did one long run on Saturday and one short, recovery run on Sunday, I had the energy to spend time doing activities with Adam on Sundays. This year I spent almost all my time thinking about when I would get my first or second run in, what and when I needed to eat and if/when I could take a nap.

I don’t think this plan allowed me to have a good balance in my life or at least I didn’t manage it well. Maybe if I didn’t have a job and could do my back to back long runs during the week it would have been a different story :).

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 10.35.11 PM

I’m not upset I followed this type of plan though. My goal was to try something new and that is exactly what I did. You can’t learn or grow from something if you never experience it. Now I know for future reference that a marathon training plan that incorporates back-to-back long runs isn’t for me. When I train for my first ultra marathon I will have to make some concessions.

(I know many runner’s love Hanson’s marathon method and the various offshoots of it. Jennifer at Running on Lentils PR’d her recent half marathon following Hanson’s and Margaret from Balancing Meanderings PR’d her recent marathon following Hanson’s too. They both have said they would use this same method for future races.)

Training for a Half Marathon PR

Now that Chicago 2015 is in the rear view mirror, it’s time for me to start thinking about my half marathon racing season. I mentioned in a post last week that I am not planning to work with a coach in my attempt to PR at the A1A Half in February. Instead I have purchased access to the Runner’s World SmartCoach program which generates a plan for you based on variables you enter such as: recent race time, goal race time and intensity at which you want to train.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 10.29.20 PM

I won’t start training for a couple more weeks. First I need to get clearance from my PT to start doing speed work again but ideally I will maintain a decent base leading up to training.

Last weekend I ran 6 miles, this weekend I hope to bring it up to 8 miles, the week after I plan to run 10 and on November 15th I will run the Michelob Ultra Fort Lauderdale Half Marathon for fun (fingers crossed). After that I will take a recovery week and then I hope to start training for my half marathon PR attempt in earnest using a plan from the SmartCoach program.

Why I’m Not Hiring a Coach

There are just a couple of reasons I’ve decided to not hire a coach for my half marathon PR attempt this season. I have nothing but good amazing things to say about the coaches I’ve trained under. At this time I just feel like I know what I need to do to PR in the half marathon distance. Unlike the marathon which is still a relatively new distance to me, I have completed five half marathons and have run 13+ miles many, many times in training. I feel like the time I’ve spent learning from my coach’s has paid off and now I am ready to go off on my own.

Also, having a coach is not cheap. The coach’s I have worked with charge about $100 per month for their services, which I think is money well spent. Not only do they offer custom training plans based on the type of runner you are, they modify those plans on the fly, are always available to answer questions and share all kinds of educational resources with you throughout training – from new stretches to try to nutritional guidance and race day strategy.

I plan to hire a coach again when I start training for Chicago 2016 next summer but for now I feel like I’ll be okay on my own.

I’m just your friendly neighborhood (below) average runner. Even though I think of running as something more than a hobby (because of the way it has impacted my life), I also realize that I am not going to win any races (or even age group awards) and shouldn’t take myself too seriously. I just want to keep improving every year, learn more about running and have fun along the way!

Do you like writing your own training plans or do you work with a coach?
Have you used the Runner’s World SmartCoach program in the past? If so I’d love to hear about it!



  1. October 27, 2015 / 9:04 am

    I have loved so much reading about your training experiences. Too bad you couldn’t see your final results in Chicago. Do you think if you didn’t have to DNF and had an awesome PR that you would feel differently? Your post is a reminder that there are different strokes for different folks, and it’s good to take a step back and evaluate what works for *you*. Can’t wait to follow more of your running journey!!

    • Kristina
      October 28, 2015 / 8:18 am

      Thank you, Sam! I really don’t think finishing Chicago would have changed my mind. I think Hanson’s method is a great training method but it’s just not for me at this time. Then again I think the magic of Hanson’s is that it trains you to run strong in the second half of a marathon and I didn’t get to experience that!

  2. October 27, 2015 / 9:15 am

    I used a RW plan for my first marathon. It wasn’t SmartCoach, it was one of their marathon plans you can buy online. A lot of people poo poo on paying for training plans, but I think it was money well spent. It was my first marathon and I had no idea what I was doing, and I could take the lessons I learned from that cycle and apply them to my next one. I now like to come up with my own plans although for what it’s worth, they are heavily inspired by other plans such as Hansons. I just don’t feel comfortable following cookie-cutter plans – while I love that those resources are available, I’d rather customize them to something that is more unique to me as a runner. Plus, honestly, I just really enjoy and look forward to the process of crafting a plan. It’s fun for me!

    I’m excited to hear how SmartCoach works out for you! This is exciting that you are flyin’ solo for the first time, and with your experience I’m sure you’ll be enormously successful. It’s crazy to say that now since when I first met you we were both newbies with little experience. Sometimes I can’t believe how long I’ve known some of my blogger friends!

    • Kristina
      October 28, 2015 / 8:20 am

      I completely agree, spending a little money on plans is a good thing. I know people crap on the idea of recreational runners using coaches as well, but I say to each their own!

      I love all the thought that you put into constructing your own plans. It makes me WANT to be that into it, but I just am not haha. That’s why I think I’ll always use a coach or a program like SmartCoach that builds it for me. I’m too lazy 😛

  3. October 27, 2015 / 9:35 am

    I’ve never had a coach, but I’ve thought about it several times. I like trying to look at a variety of plans and come up with a custom-ish plan that I think would work best for me, but I know that coaches have a lot of experience and could probably help me more than I can help myself. We will see how my upcoming half goes, then I will reevaluate. 🙂

    • Kristina
      October 28, 2015 / 8:21 am

      Having a coach is so nice because someone else is just as invested in your training as you are. It’s nice to have someone else who is willing to talk about your training with 24/7 haha! 😀

  4. October 27, 2015 / 9:47 am

    As a new reader to your blog, I didn’t know that you had used coaches. That’s cool! I have never used one, but I think I could benefit from one. I rank coaches up there with massages, another awesome thing I don’t spend money on but could really use!! 🙂 Technically speaking, my husband is my coach, but he doesn’t actually have any formal training. He just runs a lot and has run a sub 3 hr marathon, so I figured he must know something about it! We both use a Pfitz plan and that has worked well for me in the past. I have heard that the Hansons plan is pretty exhausting (challenging!). Knowing me, I’d probably just end up injured.

    • Kristina
      October 28, 2015 / 8:22 am

      WOW!!!! I didn’t know that your husband had run a sub-3 marathon! Incredible! No wonder your kids are speedy, they have good genes from both sides! 🙂

  5. October 27, 2015 / 9:49 am

    I have been using the same plan from “runner’s World” magazine to train for my marathons. I like the plan, which alternates between long runs, double runs and races on the weekends. It also alternates between pace runs and speed work in the week. Because you choose from 5-6 speed work sessions, I feel like there is variety. I agree, double runs are exhausting mentally, and I prefer the long run. I stick with them because I feel like they really prepare me for running on tired legs!

    I would some day love to try and hire a coach, but it isn’t in our budget now. I am glad I have the benefits of the blogging community to ask advice and learn from others.

    I would hardly call yourself a less than average runner. Hello, you are a marathoner, and a runner is a runner. We all toe the same start line, and run the same race…

    I look forward to seeing how this plan compares to a coach…

    • Kristina
      October 28, 2015 / 8:24 am

      Thanks Cheryl! I am grateful that we have the blogging community to ask for advice from and to see what works/doesn’t work for others. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to starting my running journey without the Internet! To this day I still Google everything!!! haha

  6. October 27, 2015 / 10:45 am

    I’ve been super impressed that you’ve been working with coaches all this time. It seems like they’ve been really beneficial for you, but at the same time, I’m sure the cost has been adding up. I’ll be curious to see how you like training based on a schedule you’ve developed yourself with some online help.

    Kerry (from YogaontheRun) sent me a picture of the 2016 A1A medals earlier today… I think you’re going to need to incorporate some more strength training exercises if you want to be able to carry that thing around! Holy smokes, it is huge!

  7. October 27, 2015 / 1:38 pm

    I totally agree with what you’re saying about needing a coach when it’s a distance you’re still developing, versus a distance where you feel you know what you need to do to PR! I feel the same about the marathon versus half, and I’ve used the free version of the SmartCoach for I think my last couple halfs. But will definitely follow a plan (probably Hansons again), for my next marathon (though it probably won’t be for a while). I’m thinking of looking into the Hansons half training plan and maybe trying it out for fun, but I do think I can continue improving my half without a dedicated plan (just dedicated running!).

    I think the thing about a plan like Hansons is how it fits into your life – for me, I think it helped that the training cycle overlapped significantly with Abe training for a half ironman (e.g., on our anniversary in July – I recall us both getting home from work/school about the same time, and then immediately we both headed out for training – a run for me and a bike ride for him!), as well as disc golf tournament season, so he was out for training or gone altogether for tournaments a lot on the weekends when I was fitting in the double long runs. Easier to do when I didn’t feel like I was missing out on as much back at home.

    I also felt like in my plan the long runs were short enough, compared to what they could have been, that even while I had to be aware of eating/resting/recovering throughout hte weekend, it was still better than resting for and recovering from a 20 or 22 miler. For me the decreased stress of recovering from two lower stress runs was better than the stress and time commitment of a single longer run. But that’s obviously an individual preference, so something to weigh when considering a plan.

  8. October 27, 2015 / 3:29 pm

    I can definitely appreciate the fine line between an effective training plan, yet one that works with your life and allows you to ENJOY not only the training but how it fits into your life. You definitely gave your new training plan your all, so at least you know it is not something you like and can move on.

    You know me, I like writing me own training! But if I were training for a distance I never did before, or something brand new to me (like a tri!) I would definitely seek an expert opinion. Luckily when I got into marathoning I ran with a group of seasoned runners who told me exactly what to do. But now I feel pretty confident on my own.

  9. October 27, 2015 / 6:41 pm

    I’ve never worked with a running coach, but if money were not an issue I would hire one in a heartbeat. I’ve been trying to come up with a training plan for my next marathon and I can’t decide which one I want to use. I don’t think the back to back long runs would be for me either.

  10. October 27, 2015 / 6:58 pm

    Crazy girl, you are not a below average runner, you ARE a very accomplished runner 🙂
    I think the back to back long runs would kill me, my body seems to need more rest. I could do it, but I would have to do it very easy paced. I think one long run a weekend is more live your life friendly. That being said I would think training for an ultra one day it may be very useful if go easy so you don’t end up injured in training.
    I have never had a coach, I think it would be nice to have someone to bounce thing off of, and the plan is nice, but at this point you can do your thing for a half marathon for sure! and you have all your blog buddies for training support!!

  11. October 27, 2015 / 8:49 pm

    I think it’s great that you’ve tried new training approaches and learned what’s best for you. I can totally see how not doing one really long run would be tough for you since you love really long runs. And FWIW, I know that many people would be really unhappy doing Hansons for that and other reasons. What’s important is finding what works for each of us. I think you’re absolutely right about the decision to not to work with a coach for your goal half. Between the foundation you built through marathon training and what you’ve learned from all your races, you’re going to do awesome! Hmmm…I hadn’t even thought about working with a coach for my first full. I was planning on using a plan from the book & asking you all for advice when I had questions, ha ha! Now I’m going to think about it. Thanks!

  12. October 27, 2015 / 10:12 pm

    I prefer a dedicated running partner vs a coach. I need someone to get me through the actual run. But I will look into getting a coach once I pick a running goal I want to achieve 🙂

  13. October 28, 2015 / 12:36 am

    Best of luck with your AIA training and recovering from your injury.

  14. October 30, 2015 / 4:27 pm

    I’ve never worked with a running coach, but I think if I were to seriously shoot for a PR someday it might be worth it. I used to like coming up with training plans but lately I’ve felt that it’s easier for me to skip workouts and take it too easy when it’s a plan I made. I think for my next race I’ll go for something someone else created with a little more structure. Good luck with Half PR!

  15. November 7, 2015 / 1:55 pm

    I’ve enjoyed learning about the different plans and styles you’ve had training with coaches. I look forward to hearing how the RW program goes for you. Thanks for answering my coaching questions 🙂 I decided to go with a coach from the Oiselle team and try it out this year. To save the $$ I will spend the money towards that vs. a personal trainer (which was pricier too). I’ll start around January, hopefully my quad will be brand new by then.