Last November I registered for my first half marathon, which at that time was over 5 months in the future. A few days later I received a gift from some relatives. They purchased me an online coaching plan and 23 week custom training plan for the half marathon.
The coaching group is called QT2 systems. They seem to specialize in the training of triathletes. But they have a sister website titled 26.2 at the Url yourmarathontrainingplan dot com.
When I tell other runners about my experience with QT2 systems (or to be more precise, the sister program of 26.2), they can’t tell whether I am endorsing QT2 or criticizing QT2. The reality is that I have both positive and negative views on their coaching execution and their training philosophy.
It was mid-November and I was told that Cait Snow, a very talented female triathlete, would be my coach and that she would develop for me a custom 23 week training plan for the half marathon taking place on 5 May 2012. I admit that I was not entirely fired up about having a coach and a custom training plan that I had no part in selecting. I had signed up to do my first half marathon with my own ideas in mind.
I received the 23 week training near the end of November and immediately found a problem with it. It was only 8 weeks long. It showed specified workouts from the last week of November 2011 through the 3rd week of January 2012. The remaining 15 weeks were missing. So, I went to the coach’s forum to ask Tim Snow where the rest of my training plan was.
This was another aspect of QT2 that I didn’t like from the start. I had been told that Cait Snow would be my coach and that she would develop my training plan. But once I received my training plan, I would never hear from Cait Snow again. Any questions I asked on the coach’s forum were answered by Tim Snow, Cait’s husband. I could never figure out if Tim Snow had read my answers to the questions I was asked to answer and provided to Cait Snow or if Tim Snow was familiar with the training plan that Cait Snow had provided to me.
Tim said that my 23 week plan had been developed. It’s just that only 8 weeks of it had been uploaded to the website. The remaining 15 weeks of training would be uploaded “in a week,” Tim said in the coach’s forum. Another week went by and the missing 15 weeks still wasn’t there. So, I asked about it again in one of our free teleconferences. I got the same response again from Tim. “It’ll be uploaded in a week.” Another week later and still the 15 weeks were missing. I decided to wait three additional weeks, the beginning of January 2012, before asking again. At that point, the remaining 15 weeks of the training plan was uploaded the next day.
So, what about that 23 week training plan that I eventually did receive? Let’s break it down month by month.
First, let’s look at the last 3 days of November, which is when the 23 week training period started.
November featured 1 day of running and two days strength training. I admit that I had no real interest in doing strength training. So, I looked at those days as simply “a day with no running.” The run was supposed to last 39 minutes and was to be a Z1 run.
What is Z1? Z1 is the aerobic heart rate zone, which for me was between 131 beats per minute and 141 beats per minute (bpm). The other heart rate zones I was assigned were ZR (Zone Recovery), 106-126 bpm, and Z2, between 141-151 bpm.
Prior to my introduction to QT2, I wore my heart rate monitor on every run. On most training runs I usually found my heart rate averaging somewhere between 140 and 155 beats per minute. I figured that it would be a challenge to get my heart rate in Z1, between 131 and 141 bpm. And I figured it would be very difficult to get my heart rate down in ZR, between 106-126 bpm.
December was the first complete month of training. It featured 10 days with no running (8 of them included strength training), 8 recovery runs (ZR), 9 aerobic runs (Z1), 3 tempo runs (runs that require running in both Z1 and Z2) and a 5K race.
The recovery runs would turn out to be the deal breaker between myself and QT2. In my opinion, it is inaccurate to call these “recovery runs,” because in order for me to keep my heart rate in the 106-126 heart rate zone, my running became awkward. I had to take very tiny steps and had to avoid lifting my feet too high off the ground in order to stay “in the zone.” While running in the aerobic zone (Z1) was relaxing and non-stressful, running in ZR was unpleasant.
In addition, these 8 recovery runs ranged in duration from 20 to 25 minutes. Does any self-respecting runner actually put on their running shorts, shirt and shoes only to go out an run for 25 minutes?
I tried running in ZR once and brother did I hate it. I felt like QT2 was playing a prank on me. I went on to the coach’s forum and asked if I could replace my ZR runs with Z1 runs. Even if the coach had agreed, this would only have solved half of my complaint. I didn’t like the idea of going out for a run that would last 20 to 25 minutes. I think 35 minutes is pretty much the bare minimum for a run. Nevertheless, Tim Snow said rejected my idea of running my assigned ZR runs in the Z1 heart rate.
As you might have noticed, a majority of the training days featured either no running at all or a 25 minute stumble (that’s because to stay in ZR I would have to stumble instead of run). Wait a minute, I thought running was supposed to be fun!
At this point I’m sure some runners might have said to me, “Just be patient. This early part of the training is the base phase. There will be fewer ZR runs in the months ahead.” In early December I could not have known this because I only had access to the first 8 weeks of the 23 week training plan. But let’s take a look at how many training days were gobbled up by no running at all or a short recovery run in the months of January, February, March and April.
January: 7 days with no running; 8 recovery runs ranging from 15 minutes to 25 minutes in duration.
February: 5 days with no running; 12 recovery runs ranging from 15 to 27 minutes in duration.
March: 5 days with no running; 13 recovery runs ranging from 15 to 31 minutes in duration.
April: 4 days with no running; 11 recovery runs ranging from 15 to 35 minutes in duration.
May: 2 days with no running; 1 15 minute recovery run. May 5th was half marathon race day.
Now, if you look at that data above, you can see that how a runner feels about recovery runs is going to have a huge impact on how that runner views this training plan. Perhaps my recovery heart rate zone of 106 to 126 beats per minute was set too low by the coaches of QT2. I have talked to relatives of mine who really like the QT2 system. They look forward to their recovery runs. For them, recovery runs are neither a struggle nor a stumble, but relaxing. That’s sort of how I view a Z1 run. A Z1 run is a relaxing run for me. Perhaps this is what a ZR run should feel like.
What’s interesting is that QT2 offers free full marathon training plans on their yourmarathontrainingplan dot com website. If you look at the couch to marathon training plan, you will see that this plan features more than twice as many Z1 runs as my custom half marathon training plan. To be fair, the couch to marathon training plan is a 30 week plan, not a 23 week week plan. Still, even if you were to take this into consideration, you would have to conclude that the free plan focuses more on aerobic conditioning and less on recovery than my custom plan.
So, what happened once I gave up on my custom training plan? For a while I loosely followed Hal Higdon’s training plans. I looked at his half marathon training plans and his full marathon training plans. I tried to run a reasonable number of miles, tried to do some long runs and tried to run at a slow to moderate pace. While doing this I was influenced by the Z1 heart rate zone assigned by QT2.
Then in early February I watched some online videos featuring two running coaches, coach Dean Hebert and coach Joe English. They placed an emphasis on anaerobic workouts instead of on aerobic conditioning. I decided to try to follow their advice as best as I could understand it.
I ended up getting injured in early April, during a 15K training race. My left IT band and left knee were causing me pain as a ran. I first noticed this injury in early February, before I adopted the ideas of Hebert and English. But the injury seemed to go away after a short rest. It reappeared after weeks of trying to increase my intensity level. Was my injury due to my focus on intensity? I tend to think so, despite the fact that the injury first presented itself before I adopted these methods.
So, when I look back, I think that the principles of QT2, specifically their emphasis on aerobic conditioning, are correct. Perhaps they provided me heart rate zones that were incorrect or perhaps they assigned me a custom training plan that included too many recovery runs and too few aerobic runs. Still, when I do my training runs, I still aim for getting my heart rate to stay within the 131-141 range. That’s why I can neither completely recommend nor completely reject the coaching style of QT2.