If you’re thinking of joining me for the 2012 Marathon Challenge, the first thing you have to do (after choosing a race, that is) is find a training good plan. How you train will determine the quality of your race experience. I love the stories of people who decide to run a marathon a week before the event, show up, and make it to mile 17 before collapsing, throwing up, or requiring medical attention. These are terrific cautionary tales, as long as the storyteller survives to tell it.

But you want to have a successful experience and maybe even have some fun (remember, no one is paying you to do this–it’s all for your own benefit). Fortunately for all of us, my friend, Carol Frazey, running coach, personal trainer, nutrition expert, and former Penn. State cross-country and track star, has prepared a solid training plan for you.

For those training for a HALF MARATHON, she has created a 12-week plan that will take you from running 4 miles to 13.1.

For those of you training for a FULL MARATHON, she’s got an 18-week plan that starts you from a base of six miles for your first Saturday run.

A few things to know before you start:

1. Carol refers to your “1-mile pace” in her plan. Here’s how you find out what that is: Go to a track with a stopwatch and time yourself running the track 4 times (if you don’t have a track handy, measure out a mile with your car or use your Garmin). Run this mile hard–not so hard that you can’t talk at all, but hard enough that you hope you don’t have to talk. This is your 1-mile pace for the time being. When Carol’s plan requires you to use your 1-mile pace, she’s asking you to get to know what your body feels like at that pace, not to measure it each time.

2. Your “10K pace” is slightly slower than your 1-mile pace, but still harder than your long run pace. Carol suggests adding 40 seconds onto your 1-mile pace as an estimate of what you should be able to sustain for 10K (or 6.2 miles). My best 1-mile pace is 8:53, so my 10K pace should be 9:33 (though truth be told, I cannot imagine sustaining a 9:33 pace for 6 miles–but some might say I really haven’t tried). Jeff Galloway says to multiply your one-mile trial by 1.15 for a 10K pace. Example: If your mile trial is 10 minutes, your 10K pace, according to Galloway, will be 11:30. Whichever formula you use, your 10K pace will help you work on conditioning and speed, and again, you’ll be going mostly by how your body feels for our purposes.

3. How do you know what your half-marathon or marathon pace will actually be? To figure it out, take your fastest 1-mile trial and multiply it by 1.2 (according to Galloway). This should predict your best per-mile pace (under ideal conditions) for a half marathon. So my 8:53 mile multiplied by 1.2 comes out to a little slower than an 10:39-minute mile. According to the experts, I should be able to sustain that for 13.1 miles. For a full marathon, Galloway suggests multiplying your trial mile by 1.3 (for me, that would be a little over 11:30 per mile sustained for 26.2 miles).

Having said all of this, my fastest half marathon brings me in right around 11:30 (or eleven and a half) minutes per mile and my average full-marathon pace is closer to 12:30. The moral of the story is: Do your best with whichever training program you choose and realize that no equation fits for every runner. In my opinion (and in the opinion of many who give advice about this sort of thing), the MOST IMPORTANT part of any training program is the long run. Get your long runs in on schedule and you’ll hold your own on race day!

Any questions so far? Well, guess what? I’ve got Carol on speed dial, so I can get answers.