“It’s probably the most practical training book I’ve read. Every word is useful.” Matt Fitzgerald
I first met Greg at the NCAA track meet in 2007. I was hoping to finish my collegiate career with a bang in the 10K final, using it as a springboard for my leap into the world of professional running. I had spoken with Greg a few times leading up to this race, expressing great interest in the new team he was forming in Flagstaff, Arizona. We had plans to meet up after my race, and I was eager to see if I might be a good fit for the team. Unfortunately, that race did not go as planned, and I struggled to the finish, close to dead last. I was sure that I had blown any chance at continuing my running career and that Greg would be looking elsewhere for talent to fill his team. To my surprise, Greg was still very enthusiastic about meeting up. We sat down together in the lobby of my hotel, and that’s when I first learned what Greg McMillan was all about. We talked for a while, covering topics from my high school running accomplishments to my injury history. He didn’t seem deterred at all by the fact that I had just raced horrendously the day before. He wasn’t focused on all the ups and downs I encountered while in college. What he saw was a kid that had success in high school and deep down knew what it was like to be a winner. He saw a chance to unlock this winner’s mentality that had been lost somewhere in the midst of inconsistent performances throughout college. It was all a part of his mission to help fuel the resurgence of American distance running.
Greg offered me a spot on the team and upon arriving in Flagstaff, I was excited to sit down with him and talk about goals for the upcoming season, something I had done many times with other coaches. The only problem was, Greg didn’t want to talk about the upcoming season – he wanted to talk about the next four years! He told me it was going to take two years to know just how good I could be. He talked about times he wanted me to run and races he wanted me to win. At one point, I think I laughed out loud at the goals he was setting for me. I couldn’t believe this guy I had met only months before was telling me I could do these things. I thought, “There’s no way!” His face remained dead serious. He methodically laid out a plan for how we were going to accomplish these goals, and by the end of the meeting, I was a believer.
Over the next 4 years, Greg and I formed a great relationship. His training methods, studied and learned from some of the greatest minds our sport has seen, suited me very well and helped build me into the runner I always thought I could be. He valued my input, always willing to adjust or tweak parts of the training so that both of us were happy. He knew he had developed rock solid principles over the years, but he understood that I knew my body better than anyone else. Instead of having a “my way or the highway” kind of attitude, he took advantage of my input to build my own perfect training plan. At practice, every day was about becoming a better runner. There was no time for complacency in a sport that demands consistent, progressive training. I learned that it’s the entire body of work that matters. You could tell he truly loved his job. He always reminded us how lucky we were to be doing what we love everyday.
I had a bit of an “Ah ha!” moment almost exactly 2 years after that first sit down in Flagstaff. I had committed myself just as Greg had told me, dedicating my life and making sacrifices to see how good I could be. Two years after that first sit down, I won the US 20K Championships. I thought, “Hmm, I guess this guy really knows his stuff!”
I’m so happy that he is sharing his wisdom as I’m sure many more runners will have their “Ah ha!” moments using the training principles in this book.
– Brett Gotcher
The Starting Line
Running is a simple sport but the training for it can seem complicated. Ask ten coaches how to train for a marathon and you’ll probably get ten different answers. Some marathon coaches say you only need to run 16 miles for your long run in order to race your best. Some say you must run at least three 20-mile runs to be ready, and still others say you must run farther than the marathon distance (over 26 miles) to be adequately prepared for race day.
The answers vary because of one very important point: Training for distance running is not a one-size-fits-all process. Sure, we have general principles for training, but to be your best it’s clear that what works for you could be very different than what works for your training partner.
The best training ultimately depends on several very important traits that are specific to you: who you are as a runner – your experience level, injury risk, race history and training background; how you respond to, recover from and adapt to different types of training; and even how much time you have available for training and (just as important) recovery.
The answers to these questions are yours and yours alone (and they change from month to month, year to year). That’s why generic, cookie cutter and computer-generated training plans are good only to a point. To reach your best you need a program made specifically for your particular physiology, psychology, training/racing experiences and goals.
To help runners like you train smarter and run faster, I’ve devised a simple six-step system that allows you to dial in your training for maximal performance. It starts by picking a training plan. In the first part of this book, I’ll provide my collection of proven plans and you can select the one for your goal distance and how often you run. After choosing your program, I’ll walk you through the same process I use when I start working with a runner. I call it your Personal Running Evaluation or PRE. Armed with this information, you’ll see how to easily modify your training program to make it even more customized for you (just like I do with the athletes I coach). I’ll say it over and over but I truly believe that it is this step that separates a good training plan from a great training plan.
Next, we dive into the details of your new training program – learning how to execute each and every run. And in Step #4 you use the McMillan Running Calculator to calculate the precise paces you should hit on all your runs, as well as your equivalent race times (so you’ll know the estimated finish time of future races based on your current race times).
After selecting your plan, making it your own, understanding all the workouts and knowing your precise training paces, we’ll put the finishing touches on your training plan, which includes how to adjust your plan when “life” happens (which it will inevitably do). And lastly, we’ll review the 10 Rules of Running that the greatest coaches and athletes have taught us through the years. Follow them and you are very likely to run the best you’ve ever run.
The result is a near foolproof way to optimize your training so you stay healthy, get more from each workout and, most importantly, you’ll run faster. It really is a simple sport and once you learn more about yourself as a runner, you’ll be amazed at how fast you can run. On your mark. Get set. Go!
You Need a Training Plan
The first step in becoming a better runner is to choose a training plan. Runners, and I mean ALL runners, need a training plan to provide structure and guidance as they train for their goal race.
A smart training plan like you and I are going to build together is set up in such a way that it gradually, yet progressively, builds your fitness as you march toward race day. Runners, because we often get excited and do too much too soon and end up injured, need a smart training plan to control our training so we avoid runner enemy #1: injury.
In addition to safeguarding against injury, smart training plans build the types of fitness appropriate for your goal race. It’s easy to understand that the type of fitness required to race a fast 5K (3.1 miles) is different than the type of fitness necessary to race a marathon (26.2 miles). Smart training plans make sure to build your overall fitness (which is often called “base fitness”) and to also include specialized workouts that get you specifically prepared for the demands of your chosen event (called “race-specific” training).
In this first part of the book, I’m providing my training plans for races from 5K to the marathon. But, you don’t have to use my plans. Just find a training plan (whether from another book, on the web or from another coach) that seems to fit your needs and you can use it as I show you how to customize your plan to better fit your particular physiology and psychology. As I mentioned earlier, training for distance running is not a one-size-fits-all process so no matter which plan you choose, mine or another’s, you’ll need to customize it (which we’ll do in Step #2).