Creating a Run Training Plan: Part 1

For anyone fairly new to running, or if you’ve been running for awhile but with no real direction in your training, this post is for you. Let’s see if any of the following resonates.

  • You’ve run multiple races of the same distance, but haven’t seen an improvement.
  • You run basically all of your runs at the same pace.
  • Every run is done at an easy pace.
  • Every run is done at a fast clip that leaves you breathless within minutes.
  • You’re frequently injured.
  • You start running really consistently, it feels hard on every run, so after a week or so you give up and don’t run for a few months.

Any of these sound familiar? 🙋🏼‍♀️ It’s OK, most of us have been there at some point. But if you’re ready to change that narrative, then working off of a basic training plan is probably the next logical step.

Why do I need a run training plan?

The most important thing a training plan can do for you is give you direction and a level of accountability. If you have direction and accountability you are much more likely to stay consistent with your running.

By staying consistent, you can break through that “run startup rut”, as I like to call it.
By staying consistent, you will build your aerobic base much more quickly , which leads to increased fitness and faster times.
By staying consistent, you make progress.

Consistency breeds success.

And success means different things to everyone! For some, success is setting a new PR. For others, success if making a habit of running 5 times a week in order to live a healthier life.

Maybe you’re already great with consistency. Awesome! You’re past the first hurdle. That doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from a training plan. If you’re reading this you likely are unhappy with the stagnant results you’re seeing with your running. Or maybe you feel burnt out and no longer love running. I encourage you to try following a training plan. It can breathe new life into your running.

How do I get a run training plan?

There are a few ways you can do this.

  1. Find one online. There are a lot of great resources out there. Depending on your ability level and/or if you have a goal race in mind, there are a variety of plans that will be helpful. If you truly feel too overwhelmed to start anywhere else, then try this route. The downside? They are generic and will not be tailored to you and your needs.
  2. Write your own. OK, I realize that may sound scary. But I will outline in this post how to do just that. And I promise, it can be easier than you think. I think everyone, at some point, should put together their own training plan. It makes you take ownership of your running and will teach you so much about the different aspects of training properly. Even if you switch to a coach or a pre-made plan in the future, you will now be armed with more knowledge about why certain workouts are assigned and how you will benefit from them. I truly believe that by taking ownership, you are far more likely to find success.
  3. Hire a coach. This is a great way to get a personalized training plan. Most coaches will gather a lot of information about you upfront, work with you on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, and they will tailor your training over time to match your evolving fitness. Contrary to popular belief, run coaching is for all ability levels – not just elites. And run coaches themselves are not beyond the need of having their own coach. It helps them be objective about their training. I won’t detail more about run coaching here, but future articles will dive deeper into this topic.

How do I write my own run training plan?

If you’ve made it this far and decided you want to give this a go, that’s awesome! I am so incredibly excited for you. Here are a few key things you need to know when putting together your own run training plan.

Start with a goal and pick a race.

It’s important to establish why you’re doing this. Whether it’s to set a PR or begin enjoying running (again), you need to be honest with yourself up front. Do you have a goal race in mind? If not, I encourage you to find one. Even if you’ve never been crazy about racing, adding one to your calendar at the end of a training period can make things much more exciting. It gives you something more tangible to work towards. Want to PR at that race? Awesome. Maybe you just want to finish your first 5k or half marathon, time by damned. That’s awesome too. Now you’ll want to make sure you’ve built in sufficient time to train for that race.

  • If your goal is a shorter race, you can get away with a much shorter training cycle. Six to eight weeks would be a sufficient amount of time to start establishing a running routine and to introduce workouts. You can start this off of 0 prior running mileage.
  • If your goal is a longer race, such as a half marathon, you’ll want to give yourself anywhere from 12 to 18 weeks. I don’t encourage longer races like these for anyone that hasn’t been consistently running for at least 6-9 months, and/or with a base mileage of 15 miles per week, minimum. The risk of injury is too high.
  • Marathon training blocks are more intense than most other types of training, as you can imagine. A typical marathon training cycle is also usually 12 to 18 weeks, but requires a much higher base mileage. I would not pursue this unless you have at least 1 year of consistent running under your belt. More would be preferred. Although some go into marathon training with lower mileage (and everyone is different!) I would encourage you to have a base mileage of 25-35 miles per week.

Determine your weekly mileage.

Start by identifying your current mileage per week. And then plan to increase that by no more than 10% each week following. If you jump your mileage any quicker than that, you risk common running injuries such as shin splints. Also, plan to do a “cut back week” every 3-4 weeks. A cut back week means you’re decreasing your mileage and giving your body time to acclimate to the new stress you are putting on it. Finally, your plan should also include a taper.

A standard taper is usually 2 to 3 full weeks of training and is a decrease in your volume and intensity as you gear up for your goal race. Within that window you won’t reap too many benefits from the workouts you’re doing in time for the race. The goal of the taper is to let your body rest, absorb all of the hard work you’ve put in, and maintain the fitness you’ve established.

Example: Jessica is planning to train for a half marathon. Her currently weekly mileage is 25 mpw (miles per week). She’d probably hope to peak around 40 mpw during her 16 week training cycle. Following the 10% increase rule, and accounting for cut back weeks and a 3 week taper, her plan may look like this:

  • Week 1: 25 mpw
  • Week 2: 27 mpw
  • Week 3: 30 mpw
  • Week 4: (Cutback) 25 mpw
  • Week 5: 30 mpw
  • Week 6: 33 mpw
  • Week 7: 35 mpw
  • Week 8: 35 mpw
  • Week 9: (Cutback) 30 mpw
  • Week 10: 36 mpw
  • Week 11: 38 mpw
  • Week 12: 38 mpw
  • Week 13: (Peak week) 40 mpw
  • Week 14: (Taper week 1) 32 mpw
  • Week 15: (Taper week 2) 25 mpw
  • Week 16: (Race week) 15-20 miles, plus 13.1 race

Whether you’re writing it on paper or inputting it into a spreadsheet (I prefer the latter), you now have a framework from which to work. Congratulations! You’ve made it through the first step of putting together your own run training plan.

Stay tuned for Part 2. I’ll break down the details and how to determine daily and long run mileage, how to determine proper paces, and how to incorporate workouts. Stay tuned!

Drop me a comment if you have any specific questions you’re hoping I’ll cover in Part 2.

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