Marathon training: class vs. solo
July 15, 2013 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Should I sign up for a class to train for my first marathon or train by myself?

I've decided to train for a December marathon. A friend who recently started running marathons encouraged me to sign up for a class so I'd have some company on long runs, but I'm a little unsure. For those who have trained for a marathon, help me decide which approach is better for me. Some of the pros and cons are two sides of the same coin that I think may be tough to judge without trying out the class. Pros and cons that I can think of related to the class are listed below. If I train by myself, I'll be using Hal Higdon's novice plan given that I've liked his plans for half marathons I've run in the past.

Class Pros:
- Company for long runs (which is mostly a pro for me on runs over 12 miles, which I'm guessing will be at least half the long runs, since I've been perfectly happy to train for halves on my own)
- Coaching
- Will force me to stick to a regimented schedule (less of an opportunity to make excuses for skipping a short run here and there)
- Long runs will have water and sports drink, so that's one less thing for me to worry about preparing for long runs
- May motivate me to push harder (though I recognize that just completing the marathon regardless of pace is a hard enough push on its own)

Class Cons:
- Less flexibility in my schedule (weekday classes are at 5:15 am, and Sunday runs are 6am, so I'll need to be very regimented with my sleep and weekend evening activities).
- Maybe less of a meditative feel to my runs since I'll be running 3x per week with other people, which may come with the pressure to talk, rather than just listen to my music and let my thoughts go where they will. I really prefer to listen to music while I run, and I don't want to come across as a loner or rude if I do that. I'm happy to converse a little here and there, but I'm pretty introverted, so having a running conversation with a stranger for more than 20 minutes is stressful. Though presumably after a few classes the people won't be total strangers.
- Not sure what the coaches will be like and whether their styles or the schedules they propose will be too intense for me. For example, I've normally done run-walk for my half marathons, but the coach said there isn't always enough people to form a run-walk pace group. (That said, the description on the website about run-walk pace says that one must be able to do the run portion at a 13:00 min/mile pace, which is slower than I would expect to be. In my half marathons, I've done run-walk and averaged 10:45 - 11:30 over the whole race. It's possible I could still run-walk at my pace while others are running at that pace.)

Bonus: There is a Q&A session about the class on Wednesday. What questions should I ask?
posted by Terriniski to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you're moving to the marathon distance, there's no getting around the regimentation. I'd move that to the "pros" column, actually.

I haven't done much with run groups but my friends do; there's won't be any pressure to actively chat although you might be stuck listening.

I would do it. It is going to eliminate a lot of mental excuses and "not today"s. The water/gatorade support is going to be priceless too. Mark my words - after training for other distances, training for 26 is going to feel a whole lot like a job. Anything that can ease that, you're probably going to be grateful.
posted by ftm at 1:34 PM on July 15, 2013

Do you have the option of paying a drop-in fee to do an occasional long run with the group? I used Hal Higdon's beginner plan for my first marathon and did fine on my own, although I did pay $15/session for a couple of drop-in long runs with a large running group in my town. I liked having the flexibility of chosing whether to run Saturday or Sunday depending on my schedule and I felt like I didn't need a group to do shorter runs. However, when I started getting really psyched out by the distance of the long runs once I hit 16 miles or so it was nice to start with a group. Having a set time to start my run rather than all weekend to procrastinate and dread my run made a big difference. Some people in the group were super chatty but I chose to run with headphones- I suppose they might have thought I was rude but training for a marathon is really hard and I think it's best to do what works for you.
posted by shornco at 1:36 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've never used an official training group, but for at least the first few years of my long distance running life, I had reliable friends who joined me for the vast majority of my long runs. Beyond simply having company, I never missed any of the other items you list as "pros" for the class option.

Personally, I don't think I would have stuck with it through the beginner's learning curve if I didn't have 1) accountability of meeting someone at 8 AM on Saturday for long runs and 2) company for the 12+ mile runs. Since you mention you have a friend who plans to do the long runs with you, it sounds like you have that covered.

On the other hand, running has allowed me to make/deepen many friendships, so that could potentially be a plus for the class for some people.

Best of luck with your first marathon!
posted by soleiluna at 1:38 PM on July 15, 2013

Sounds like you could use a Galloway Group. They train run/walk and have several pace groups. Mine only runs on Saturdays and our training schedule is set for most of the large 1/2 and full marathons. If you have one in your town I would suggest a look.

I love the group training for my long run. They set up water for every run, and anything over 12 miles they put out coolers with snacks. They do discourage headphones however.
posted by wrnealis at 2:28 PM on July 15, 2013

I chose a program from I think this page, and did it mostly on my own, but had a friend to meet up with for the longer, weekend runs. That was a way to have the benefits of "regimentation" with the benefits of some flexibility. I liked it quite a lot, but have never done group runs, so I can't personally say anything good or bad about them.
posted by ibmcginty at 2:43 PM on July 15, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks so far! Looks like the Galloway Group in my area is already 2 months underway and is most likely geared toward races earlier in the fall. As far as I know, there aren't groups with drop-in rates for this class or others.

The friend I mentioned lives hundreds of miles away, so no luck there. She had a training buddy that she found to be priceless, which is why she recommended a class since I don't have any local friends who run. I do have an acquaintance that's training for the same race I am, but she and I don't live particularly near each other (though we do plan to keep each other on track via online encouragement and whatnot, and we might do the race together if we expect our paces are similar).
posted by Terriniski at 3:50 PM on July 15, 2013

When I was preparing for my first marathon, I did the twice a week shorter/interval jogs on my own. That was no big deal.

For the long day? What I did was complete a bunch of tune-up events. I would do the local half marathon, then a couple of extra miles on my own. Or travel to the next town for a 10 miler, grab a finish line beer, then go back out and do an extra six. My final "test" was a 20 mile run, so I found a half/full marathon consisting of 2x or 4x6.5 mile loops. I just did three loops and stopped.

Anyway, it gave me the discipline (set time/place) and company (the other runners) to get through some of the slog. Most half marathon courses are open 3.5 to 4 hours so you can get in 17-20 miles if you are doing 12 min/mile. It also kept me fresh doing different courses and plenty of practice being handed dixie cups.
posted by 99percentfake at 6:22 PM on July 15, 2013

I did my first marathon last year, trained on my own. I actually liked the long weekend runs, but was meeting a friend for some of the weekdays.

Now I'm training for my second 26.2, and so is my wife*. I found a local running group that meets once a week on Tuesday, but am still doing my long weekend runs solo. My wife started her own running group for Sunday runs. I still like running with others but having the freedom to start when I want and do the mileage I want on Saturdays is fine with me. My wife likes meeting people because the company makes the miles go faster. I could honestly go either way.

Coincidentally, my wife's current regular running partner is a woman I met on the Tuesday group runs. She happens to run at a pace that works for both my wife and I, she lives very near us, and she seems to like talking to either of us on our respective runs. See if there are any run clubs near you; even if once a week, if you want some level of freedom but still want a running partner, maybe you'll meet someone. I know a LOT of runners who like to run with others just for the company. It's finding someone at your pace that can be hard!

(*I don't run WITH my wife because of our 4-year-old. Who wants to push a stroller 16 miles? What 4-year-old wants to sit in a stroller for 2 hours at a stretch?).
posted by caution live frogs at 11:20 AM on July 16, 2013

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