Putting together your own training plan
While there is a lot to know, it’s actually not that difficult and, like everything else in running, you might have to experiment to find what works best for you. My best advice is to follow Rule #1: “Listen to your Body”, know your limits, and be realistic with your goals. If you feel the goals you’ve set for yourself are too big, don’t just chuck them, find the stepping stones that will eventually bridge the gaps – THEN you’ll be ready to go after the big Kahuna!
Once you have a (realistic, attainable and challenging) goal, pick your starting and end dates for your plan. Remember too that any good plan is basically building you up to a single day where you will perform at your peak fitness level – make this day your race date, and write it down! Make sure that your chosen race date is far enough in the future that you have at least 8 solid weeks to train. You might need more or less time depending on several questions:
- How fit are you currently?
- Not very? Add more weeks!
- Pretty fit! Keep it at 8 or shorten it a bit!
- How big is your target race?
- Super long? Add more weeks!
- Walk in the park? Keep it at 8 or shorten it a bit!
Next step is to write out your “Peak Week”. This will be the hardest week toward the end of your training and right before you “Taper”, or cut back your weekly mileage pretty drastically two to three weeks leading up to race day. For longer distances, the most challenging workouts will consist of long runs and possibly Tempo runs in the middle/late weeks leading up to the peak week long run. Additionally, with Marathon training specifically, having two 20 mile long run weeks can go a long way in helping you succeed in your marathon. For 10ks and Half Marathons, focus on making Tempo runs your hardest workouts and Intervals are awesome for 5k training plans.
Now write your first week of training. This one should be slightly more mileage than you are currently running week-to-week. If possible, add weeks at the front end to make sure you have a good base-mileage built up for the race you want to train for – if your target race leaves you with some extra lead-time, consider that a bonus! That way, you can hit the ground running with your speed workouts in week 1 and build from there – just remember Rule #1: Listen to your Body!
From here, you just need to connect the dots. From week to week, moving forward, increase your mileage and intensity and every third or fourth week (four is probably better for beginners or those with a questionable base), schedule a “Down-Week” to give your body a break and a chance to heal and rebuild going into the next building cycle.
Now you have a plan but remember two more things – if things don’t feel right, take time off! Also, I left out HOW MUCH to increase each week because I want you to incorporate the flexibility that works for YOU! In other words, maybe you want to increase slowly at first and exponentially later. That might look like a 10% total mileage increase each week for the first 4 weeks and then 20% the last 2 weeks before peaking and tapering. You could also just keep it even and steady with the regular dips of the down-week all the way through. The point is, different plans and different people will find benefit with different things. For Marathons and maybe Half-Marathons, 1 week easy followed by 2 weeks hard and 1 week spiked before resting again might be best to get that “POP” workout simulating the final run. Others might get injured doing a heavy “POP” week and do better with gentle climbs punctuated by down weeks. Listen to your body!