Choosing a Training Plan


One question many new runners ask is, “What’s the best training plan for my (insert distance) race?”  I wish it was as easy as guiding them to a specific book or website, but choosing a training plan is a bit more complicated than that.  The plan you choose should take into account a number of factors.  You need to ask yourself WHY you want to run. Are you running for fitness?  Do you want to meet a certain time goal?  Is your primary objective to cover the distance without regards to time?  What motivates you to lace up your running shoes and hit the pavement? How much time do you want to (or can you) devote to training?

Answering these basic questions will help guide you to a training plan that is right for you.  I can’t answer those questions for you, which is why the training plan that works for me may be the exact opposite of what will work for you.  That being said, there are a few guidelines that will apply to most runners when choosing a training plan.

  1. Choose a training schedule that you can manage.  If it doesn’t fit into your life it simply isn’t going to work – or it may just make you miserable.  There’s no point in creating a training plan with runs five days a week when realistically you can only do three.  Take into account time to change, drive to your running location, etc., too.  For some, a 60-minute run may actually take 90 minutes with warm-up, cool down, stretching, etc.
  2. Select a training plan that you can stick with without getting injured or burning out.  Remember the Rule of Toos: too much, too fast, too soon will undoubtedly lead to a not very happy runner.
  3. Think back to that question about why you want to run.  If you are training to be competitive, your training plan will look much different than if you are training for fitness.  If you are training with a specific race distance in mind, you will need to follow some type of race-specific plan, be it Jeff Galloway, Hal Higdon, or one of the “Own It” or “Finish It” plans from McDowell and Dimity in Train Like a Mother.  There are a number of competitive vs. non-competitive plans in Magill, Schwartz and Breyer’s book Build Your Running Body as well.
  4. Build Your Running Body emphasizes the need to “train with the body you have” and “train with the fitness you have”.    Unless you are a naturally gifted runner, you probably aren’t going to be running 5 minute miles right out of the gate and trying to do so is only going to lead to frustration and injury.  The same applies with training too hard for your current physical condition.  Most beginning runners would not do well with doubles (two runs on the same day) whereas doubles could be very beneficial to an experienced runner.  Stay consistent and your fitness will improve, but unless you really are a Kenyon, you probably won’t run like one no matter how hard you try.
  5. Shoot for a well-rounded plan that also includes some cross training (swimming, biking, hiking, yoga, zumba, etc.) and strength training.  Runners who only ever run are setting themselves up for injuries and muscle imbalances.
  6. Respect the rest day and keep it holy. Everyone – brand new runner to experienced Ultrarunner alike needs rest days.  At least 1 day a week should be devoted to rest.  You can still move, but keep it low impact to no impact.
  7. Whatever race plan you choose should hit on at least 3 different runs per week – usually an easy, shorter run; a speedwork or hill run; and a long, slow distance run.  Add in cross training and strength work on your off days and you’ll be on your way to meeting whatever goals you choose.

Sources for training programs can be found easily online (or click the links above), but make sure you adapt them as needed for your particular goals and fitness level.

Happy training!

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Bari is an avid runner and sometime triathlete, learning the importance of training smart but also having fun. She loves to share a good beer with friends and has been known to host virtual toasts on Twitter. When she isn’t running, biking, swimming, or trying to lift heavy things, she’s playing on her phone or trying to figure out how to pay for college for her twins who graduate in 2015. Bari lives in West Michigan and loves to encourage new runners and triathletes to reach their goals.