Every runner has seen them. Beginner’s marathon plans. Couch to 5k. Sub 3:00 marathon plans. 50 and 100k plans. 16-week, 32-week, couch to 100-mile plans. Okay, maybe not that one. But since you run, you probably know someone who is ticking days off their calendar for months leading up to a single race and saying they can’t go out because today is <insert vague running term> day.
A quick google search will give you endless results. I’m not going to tell you which one is the best, or which ones are even good. But if you are shopping for a new plan, or want to get yourself on track, here’s what you need to know:
Guidance. Following a plan eliminates all of the guesswork from your training. It’s a personal coach telling you what you will be doing each day.
Motivation. Sometimes I don’t feel like doing a super long run, but I know I have a plan to follow, and I don’t want to see a big empty space where I should be checking my box off for today.
Structure. Most of these schedules are tried and true, and can provide you with a complete meal of running when you didn’t know you were missing key areas.
One size fits all. You don’t run the same pace and distance as every other runner. You don’t have the same terrain, weather, shoe size… So why would the same plan that someone else uses work for you?
Bad advice. Anyone can post a training plan. There is no coaching license for making beautiful visuals of running schedules and posting them on the internet. And even if it is a fantastic plan for one person, it may not be (and probably isn’t) the right plan for you.
Unforeseen circumstances. Work calls, your dog gets sick, it’s hailing the size of golf balls… but it’s a big run day. Life takes charge and sometimes we find ourselves writing and re-writing our plans to accommodate.
Okay, should I use one or not?
Yes and no. My personal advice (I know, I just got done telling you that taking advice on the internet is dangerous) is to make your own plan. Great runners are ones that listen to their bodies and coach themselves using methods using a methodology that is a good mixture of science and feeling.
Here’s how you can do it:
1: Start by researching at popular plans. Fellrnr has a list of some popular and effective marathon training plans as well as ultramarathon plans. It will help to look for ones that have a time-frame that match your target race. It’s important to look for one that has a starting point that is similar to the workload that you currently have.
2. Look for common themes. Some things I have noticed is this:
- Most plans have one rest day; usually, this is on Monday after a big run on Sunday.
- The faster plans integrate speed work, and many suggest cross training.
- There is always a long run day, and it’s usually planned for the day of the week of your actual race.
- There is tapering (gradually getting smaller and smaller) during one to three weeks from your race.
- Many (and it’s a point that I highly suggest) focus on building strength from cross training, hill work, and sprints at the first half of your training, and then focus on speed in your second half from tempo runs and maybe even a measured race where you can go all out.
3. Adjust for your goals. You know how fast you are. Be realistic about what you can and can’t accomplish, but set goals that you need to work for. Take a look at the hardest and easiest weeks. The hardest week may seem impossible today, but if the easy weeks seem easy, push yourself to take on this level of work -load. One tip: follow plans that include minutes of running instead of distances. We all run different speeds, but the amount of effort should be consistent with the guide.
4. Start putting it together. This can be done in 3 steps.
- First training week – This one is easy. Following your new structure, prescribe yourself a week of training that is only slightly more difficult than what you currently do comfortably. Add in the different types of workouts that you feel necessary. This will be the weekly structure that you’ll follow.
- Your peak week – This one should fall 2 to 4 weeks before your race week. It should be brutal. This is where all of your training comes together.
- Race week – Taper. Look at training plans for advice on how to continue running to keep your energy metabolism and muscles functioning, but an easy week that has no risk of injury or exhaustion.
5. Fill in the dots. From here, you can see how you’re going to build up to your peak week. This doesn’t mean a linear growth to your peak week. Every 3rd or 4th week should include a little bit of recovery. Remember to focus on strength as you start and speed as you finish. Keep in mind holidays/events where you may be busy and adjust it to be how you like.
6. Plan it with a pencil. This is one of the most important parts. You’re going to learn a lot during the course of your training; both about your body and about how to train. And life happens. It will be fantastic if nothing goes wrong, but you’ll probably need to make adjustments to for injury, illness, or anything else. Maybe you’ll even find it’s too easy for you and you will want to step up your training. Changing course halfway is fine. Better to change course halfway than steam off in the wrong direction.
7. Get running! Running isn’t about making spreadsheets. It’s about listening to your body and enjoying being out there on your feet. The most important thing is that you’re enjoying yourself and the changes your making to your body. Don’t overthink it. If you feel good, step it up. If you feel awful after a few days, consider editing. But most of all: have fun. Happy runners train harder and run faster.