The Two Plan Rule of Racing – Part 2



Coach Joe Vigil is a master motivator. He’s also a tough task-master when it comes to running well. He continually forces runners to raise the bar on their own performances. As with Yoda, the sage Jedi Master, “there is no try, only do.” Following the advice Vigil gives his athletes, before your next race, set two concrete, realistic, yet challenging plans. The one you believe is equal to your fitness — your A plan — and the one that you must have to make it a successful event — your B plan. Don’t settle for a fall back. Don’t say you’re trying for something unreachable. Then, go out there and do it. Read more about How to Set Your A’s and B’s in Part 1 of this article.


Athletes trying to qualify, whether it is for Boston, high school state meet, NCAA Championships, Olympic trials or the Olympic Games, provide good examples for the two-plan rule. For any of these cases, it comes down to having two clear plans. Plan A is for the goal to be realized (qualifying); Plan B is to ensure a performance that moves you forward toward your goals (taking a positive step toward qualifying).

For example, Howie needed to run 3:30:59 to qualify for Boston, his life-long running goal. It wouldn’t be easy as he needed to knock 10 minutes off his PR, but the training indicated that he was ready to go for it. Heading into his marathon, we decided that our A plan was to run right at the qualifying time. Nothing crazy. Just following the workouts we had done, we let his body and mind do what they were trained to do. Our B plan was to run within three to four minutes of the standard, thus setting us up nicely to achieve the qualifying time in the next training cycle. Since he was trying to knock a significant amount of time off his PR, the 6-minute improvement was the minimum we would be happy with, something that showed we were making progress and it was just a matter of time.

In his marathon, Howie ran great but came up short of qualifying for Boston by three frustrating seconds. While we didn’t accomplish our A goal, we were within our B goal and our confidence is high that the next marathon will get him to Boston.

Another example comes from Martin Fagan, an Irish Olympian that I worked with. Making an Olympic team requires putting together the training, and the racing, that gets one to the games. In Fagan’s case, it meant running a marathon under 2 hours and 15 minutes — the Olympic A standard. For Martin, anything over 2:15 did not accomplish the goal. So, running 2:15 became our B goal. This was our bottom line.

As we prepared for his marathon debut and his attempt at this 2:15 goal, it seemed like 2:10 to 2:12 was possible, and reasonable, given his training and racing results. So, we set our A goal as this range. During his marathon, he was on pace to run 2:11 but a lingering injury forced him to stop several times for stretching over the last few miles. Never panicking, he knew that while his A goal would not happen, he focused on his B goal and finished in 2:14:09 to become an Olympian.

We’re excited to announce the availability of Greg McMillan’s library of training plans. For every distance between 800 meters and the marathon, these scientifically-based training plans include your McMillan Calculator training paces integrated, coach’s notes, and access to our prehab routines. Plus, the plans are delivered on a runner-friendly training log platform. Starting at $25.99. Learn more.

Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

Read Greg’s Bio




“I got my first Boston Qualifier today with a 21 personal record!”

– Ramona M.