The Lowdown on Marathon Training with McMillan Running

imageHere at Salty Running, we’ve talked about a myriad of ways to train in our training logs and recently in our popular marathon training plan reviews. So far we’ve taken a look at Hansons, Pete Pfitzinger and Lydiard training plans. Now, we’re going to talk about Greg McMillan.

I know quite a bit about Greg McMillan’s theories about optimal run training, because I’ve been training with McMillan Running since 2013, under one of Greg’s protégées, coach Emily Harrison. Under coach Emily’s care, I’ve PR’ed in every distance I’ve raced from 5K to 100 miles. McMillan Running is for runners of all levels and distances, but his expertise seems to be the marathon. 

McMillan training plans have most definitely worked for me, but how do you know if they’re right for you?

The man behind the plan: who is Greg McMillan?

Greg McMillan is the founder and head coach at McMillan Running and holds a master’s degree in exercise science. A 2:31 marathoner, he’s been running since high school and coaches runners from Olympians to high schoolers to everyday amateurs.

McMillan’s training methods are very similar to the Lydiard method, as McMillan learned much of what he knows from Arthur Lydiard himself. In his book, “You (Only Faster),” McMillan notes that his goal is to make Lydiard proud.

Isn’t he the calculator guy?

YES! McMillan is probably best known for the McMillan Running Calculator, which helps you set reasonable race goal times and guides your paces for all of your runs and workouts throughout training. Entering your info into the calculator will give you training paces and suggested workouts for whatever your goal race is plus it can also help you set a reasonable goal time based on your current abilities. You may also know him from his columns in the now-defunct Running Times Magazine.

There’s more to McMillan Running than the calculator

Greg McMillan is so much more than the calculator guy, though. Even though he coaches elites, recreational runners can purchase a custom training plan or a full-service coaching service from him and his team. Additionally, he has a book with canned plans, called YOU (Only Faster), if you’re looking to dabble or learn more about his approach to training. If you’re looking for something in the middle, you can join the McMillan RunClub, where for about the price of a custom training plan, you get a custom training plan, access to the coaches, and a community of other trainees in the program.

Ways to access McMillan training plans:

  • Personalized coaching
  • Custom training plans
  • Join the McMillan RunClub
  • Read Greg’s book, YOU (Only Faster)

McMillan Training Periodization

All McMillan Running training plans are based off of the same periodization method that Caraway discussed in her post about Lydiard training, meaning each training plan is separated into phases or blocks of training weeks that each have a distinct purpose, although McMillan’s phases are different than Lydiard’s. Not every training plan includes all the phases McMillan uses, but the phases in one of his training plans may include:

  • Mileage Basegoal: to build up weekly mileage.
  • Workout Base goal: setting your body up to handle longer, tougher workouts.
  • Prep Hillsgoal: to “condition the legs to the stress of faster running” before a speed-oriented training phase.
  • Prep Speedgoal: to develop speed in advance of beginning training for a longer race.
  • Prep Staminagoal: to develop endurance in advance of beginning training for 5k or 10k.
  • Race Specificgoal: to prepare you to meet the demands specific to your goal race.
  • Peakgoal: to balance recovery and sharpening to be your best on race day.

After the mileage, workout and hills phases, next comes speed and stamina prep before race-specific training starts. Race-specific training includes specialized workouts based on distance and from my experience, makes up the bulk of the training cycle. The last week to two weeks before race day is the peak phase, which you might know as a “taper;” it includes a special focus on rest, nutrition and reducing stress to gear up for the big day.

The big difference

One interesting thing to note about McMillan’s training is that he prefers to track time running instead of miles. For instance, instead of saying run six miles easy, McMillan will say run 45:00 – 50:00 easy. However, while most McMillan workouts are time-based, marathon long runs, for the most part, are distance-based. Depending on your goals, experience and intensity level, the longest long run can be up t0 22-24 miles long.

Additionally, McMillan has always advocated that runners do more than running. He has a library of core workout DVDs. Most recently, McMillan Running rolled out the Runner’s Strength Project: a strength and core exercise program based loosely off of short Crossfit workouts and is designed for areas that all runners need to focus on to be stronger and injury free. I’ve enjoyed these workouts a lot because they’re quick and easy to do after a run. The program builds upon itself in phases, just like McMillan Running training, and has definitely helped me build strength and endurance this training cycle.

McMillan Workouts

Each week of the training plans is pretty similar to other training plans: easy runs, some sort of speed workout and a long run. The plans follow a normal progression, building time, distance and intensity as the training progresses with many plans including cutback weeks every three to four weeks for rest and recovery.

Within each phase of McMillan training plans are workouts intermingled with easy runs that are categorized into four different types:

  1. Speed
  2. Stamina
  3. Endurance
  4. Sprint

Because my time as a McMillan runner has been training for races like marathons or longer, I can’t say I’ve had any sprint workouts in my plans and if you use McMillan to train for a marathon you probably won’t either, but you are sure to enjoy plenty of stamina and endurance workouts as I have. My favorites are definitely the endurance workouts, but I’ve really learned to like the stamina workouts in the process too. Stamina workouts, on the other hand, are workouts like tempo runs, cruise intervals, and the like. McMillan’s endurance workouts are long runs, which can range from your typical “x miles at easy pace” to complicated long run workouts, with portions at different paces.

My favorite workout of all is probably the fast finish long run, a McMillan endurance workout staple. A fast-finish long run starts at an easy pace and then the pace drops to goal race pace for the final 4-6 miles. These runs have always been a good test of fitness for me and definitely some of the most satisfying. My long runs are usually followed up by a 50-60 minute recovery run.

calc shirt

McMillan’s approach to rest days and fitting in training

One big emphasis of McMillan’s training philosophy is that all runners are unique and need a personalized plan that will work for them. Because we all have lives outside of training, McMillan encourages you to take the demands of your daily schedule into account during training and mixing up the training schedule as necessary. Rest is also an important factor and most of the training plans outlined in You (Only Faster) including one, if not two or more rest days per week.

Also, the book explains how to modify the training plans to meet your unique needs, either as an athlete or because of other things going on in your life. Likewise, if Greg or another member of the McMillan team draft a plan for you, they will consider your recovery needs, as well as the time and energy demands that other areas of your life place on you.

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For me, I’ve really benefitted from and enjoyed following plans based on Greg McMillan’s training philosophies over the last three years. I’d highly recommend giving one of his plans a try!

Have you used a McMillan training plan? How was your experience?

Trail and 100 mile ultra runner who still loves a good road marathon every now and then. Lifetime Northeast Ohio resident that dreams of the mountains out west, but loves CLE too much. Sometimes a vegan, sometimes does yoga, always loves a good craft beer and post race donuts.

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3 comments

  1. I worked with the McMillan team for one training cycle, which unfortunately was the one during which I realized I was overtrained. I had coach Andrew who is super, except I still chuckle when he told me to just wake up early and get the runs in when I told him about my trip to Disneyland in the middle of the cycle (when two of the days I was staying with my kids by myself). That notwithstanding, he is the one who put two and two together and told me to stop running. But that’s all beside the point. I do like the thorough questionnaire McMIllan gives you before developing your plan and how much they try to customize it for you. I also like how the book tells the reader how to do this for herself, although it might be way too difficult for the average runner to follow and/or it’s asking people to have more insight into themselves as athletes than most people probably do. But the fact that the plans are made to be more customized makes them better than a lot of others. I also like that McMillan takes the tried and true Lydiard stuff, but adapts it to today, whether that be our modern lifestyles or what more recent science suggests. Lastly, the McMillan calculator is GOLD. Although I find it to be way too generous for me when it comes to the marathon, but almost every other distance is spot on! There was a time when all my PRs lined up perfectly on it (except the marathon). Hopefully, this book-length comment makes sense. Feel like I rambled!

    1. One thing I didn’t think about until your comment is that McMillan’s plans aren’t really for beginners. I’m sure that beginners can benefit from personal coaching or personalized plans on RunClub, but it’s difficult to pick up the book and start from there.

      Agreed on how thorough the questions are and the personalization/customization of every plan, no matter which avenue McMillan offers. That’s really what drew me to the company for coaching. I knew I wasn’t going to just get some canned plan that every other runner gets. It’s made to help me develop and become a stronger runner.

  2. I am a beginner – for years running once or twice a week, recently ramped up to three or four times. I used the McMillan plan for a 10k and found it super useful. I liked the variety of workouts and the fact that he makes
    plans very flexible, with 2-3 times a week plans that can really go to 5 day a week if you would rather keep the number of workouts low, 4-5 day a week plans that are more designed for intermediate runners but that I could adjust to my level, and 6+. I have been considering Hansons for an upcoming HM but think I will stick to McMillan because I find it easier to adjust to my (busy ) life.