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Editor Mike Haney is training for the New York City Marathon with all the help from high-end running tech he can get. Read his previous posts here

I’ve prepared for my past four marathons with roughly the same plan: Run as little as possible. Now I’m old and out of shape, so to stand a chance at beating my last NYC Marathon time (3:27:45), I need a training scheme that seriously puts me to work. But I don’t want to just mindlessly pound out miles — if I’m donning the Dri-Fit, I better know why.

Last week, I checked out the New York Times’ excellent new online training-plan generator and tracker, Run Well, where I found exactly what I needed: a plan that its creator, exercise physiologist and long-time coach Greg McMillan, describes in an appealingly nerdy way as “a systems-based approach.” (Warning: that site auto-plays some inspirational music.)

McMillan bases his coaching on the notion that each workout has a purpose: adapting one or more of the body’s systems — loosely categorized as energy delivery, neuro-muscular, muscular-skeletal, and psychological — to the demands of 26.2 miles. So every run on the schedule has a target pace, which you can easily find using his very handy pace calculator. Training plans always call for runs at your 5k or 10k pace, but what if you’ve never run one of those? McMillan’s calculator lets you input a recent race time at any length and it smartly estimates the rest of your paces based on his experience and years of data collection — for example, it knows your marathon time will not simply be twice your half-marathon time.

Each pace, each run, is designed to trigger specific system improvements: the clearing of lactic acid, the strength of ligaments and tendons, the volume of blood your heart pumps, the triggering of fast-twitch muscles, and the economy of your stride. Going too fast is just as bad as going too slow, because you’re stressing different systems, and each workout builds on the next, so systems have time to recover and strengthen before being taxed again. So, according to McMillan, what’s important is consistency. Move the workouts a day or two as life demands, but stick with the sequence and the pace.

Easier said than done, perhaps, but I’m going to try to stick with it. And I have some new gadgets that’ll tell me exactly how lazy I’m being. More on that next time.

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