A training plan is much like a diet plan. If you stick to it, it will work. The big question is “can you stick to it”?
If you type ‘running training plans’ into a search engine, you will be greeted by pages of different plans. There will be free plans and plans that you have to pay for before downloading. Most of these plans will be generic plans that are for a set timeframe and a set distance target. Each will be slightly different to the other, so how do you choose which one to follow? Which one is going to be the best one for you?
Firstly, you need to decide on a few things and I suggest writing these down.
What is your target? Is it to complete a certain distance? Is it to run a particular time or run at a certain pace?
What are your barriers to running? This is important if you have a family or work to consider. What days of the week can you run and how long can you commit to each day? Will you be able to run regularly without it causing issues at home or with work? Work on minimum time and then anything else is a bonus.
Where are you with your running at the moment? If you can currently run a 5k in 30 minutes, setting yourself a target on running 5k in 20 minutes within two months is unrealistic. Make it a challenge but be honest with yourself.
How injury prone are you? If you often suffer injuries when you get to a distance of 10 miles, why is this and how will you cope when you need to run over this distance? Do you also need a strength or mobility plan to supplement your running?
Once you have all of these things in front of you then you can be more specific with your searches. For example, if you want to complete your first marathon, search for “beginner marathon training plans”. If you are looking to run under 40 minutes for a 10k then search for a “sub-40 10k plan”.
The next step is to download a load of plans. Work back from your race or target date and look at what mileage the plan would have you doing now (or at the start). Is that realistic for you? If you can run 5 miles at the moment and the plan says you have to run 10 miles next week then it is not right for you (delete it!). Does the plan fit in with your life and the days you can commit to? If not, can the runs be moved to fit without changing the structure of the plan? If not, delete it! You will hopefully end up with at least one plan that looks right for you.
The next thing to do is make sure you understand the words on the plan and how you do it. For example, on Facebook I saw a question a runner had with a run on their plan. The run was “Tempo 3 miles 2×8 on4’ “. She had no idea what that meant and the answers she got varied from “3 miles warm up and then 2 x 8minutes at tempo pace with 4 minutes recovery” to “2 x 8 minutes at 4 min mile pace which should be 3 miles”. You can see how people would get confused. If you do not understand the plan then it is not for you (delete it!).
Can you mix and match plans? This is possible if you know what you are doing and that the changes you make to each doesn’t render it useless for your targets. Training plans are written to get harder over the course of the plan to enable you to be at your fittest or fastest on race day. If you change the balance of the plan it may be that you do too many miles or too much speedwork, for example, and get injured, or too few and you don’t make the improvements you want.
The final thing to think about is what will you do if you get ill or injured. Most improvements are made after training for a minimum of 8 weeks but realistically the longer your training plan the better. That means that if your plan covers 16-20 weeks and you suffer an illness or injury and have to miss two weeks of training, how do you then adapt your plan? Do you start back at where you were and hope you can catch up later, or ignore the weeks you’ve missed and start back to where you would’ve been had you carried on? Get this wrong and you will be overreaching with where you start back from or trying to adapt your plan later by making bigger jumps in the mileage that the plan was designed for. This can have a negative effect on your confidence and increase the risk of injury.
There is another way, a personalised option. Most runners, from a novice to someone aiming for a sub-3 marathon or quicker, will benefit from having a coach. A coach will write a training plan personalised around your lifestyle that will take you safely from where you are to where you want to be. The plan should be easy to understand and if not, the coach should be able to clarify the run before you do it. The plans should only be written on a shorter-term basis, usually monthly and be adapted by the coach when needed. Want to run with friends? No problem. Can’t run today? Just a small tweak to the rest of the week and all is ok. Doing better than you thought? The goals can be adjusted as you go along. Last minute race you want to enter? A quick change of the plan and advice on how to run the race and it all works.
For a small outlay per month all of the time and effort that you invest in training and improving yourself can be used far more efficiently and effectively. A good coach will provide you with feedback as your progress, so that you know how you are doing and not guessing by looking at a piece of paper with a load of runs on it. A good coach should also act as a sounding board, mentor and be there to hold you accountable.
It can be a scary thought if you’ve never considered working with a coach. A lot of runners don’t believe a coach would want to coach someone like them. Maybe you’re a novice, maybe you think you’re too slow, maybe you don’t have a specific target race? I have coached a very wide range of runners to meet their personal goals – including to ‘complete’ a marathon, to run under 3 hours for a marathon, to run their first 5k, to run a 5k under 16 minutes and a 60 year old to complete a 24 hour race. More importantly, I’ve helped a lot of people to keep running and improving through lockdowns, even without the focus of races.
Remember, the best running plan for you is one that you will stick to. It is that simple; if it fits around your life and you can follow it consistently you will improve.
Please have a conversation with a coach before you commit and pay any money. All good coaches should offer this as they will be confident that having that conversation will reassure you of what they can offer you. Make sure you feel comfortable with them as a person and what they are offering is what you want. Find out what other clients think about the coach. Here are a few reviews from my own clients who have benefited from my personalised coaching approach:
“Thank you Martin. Without your support and advice I wouldn’t have achieved my dream of running a marathon, and running it all, no stopping or walking. I’m still on cloud nine!”
“I enlisted the help of Martin to write me a training plan for running the London Marathon. I had a conversation with Martin about where I was with my fitness, my aims and end goals for the marathon and my availability for training days. Once I commenced my training plan, every month I received a tailored program for the month ahead. From my feedback on each training session, and by reviewing my Strava, I received weekly detailed feedback from Martin which was a great aide for keeping me motivated during the training. Martin was available for extra questions and support whenever I needed it. Thanks to the training program written, I was achieving PBs at races throughout my training as well as achieving my end target of completing the London Marathon in a time that I never thought was achievable for me. Martin is a great trainer with a brilliant insight in to racing at all distances. His personal approach makes it worth every penny.”
“I had a strange idea that I might be able to achieve a Good For Age time at Vienna Marathon and Martin gave me the belief, the tools and the confidence (not to mention the speed) to not only achieve that time, but smash it by 9 minutes. He understands that my time to train is limited, given my busy family and work schedule and the training plan was entirely suited to meet these needs. He helped me through an injury that laid me out for 3 weeks, despite my confidence crisis and insistence that it would stop me achieving my goal. A genuinely nice guy, really supports you and understands what is going on in your head as well as your legs. And really wants you to do well. Thank you Martin, you helped me achieve what I didn’t really think I could – and got me to enjoy it at the same time.”
“Can’t recommend Martin as a running coach highly enough! I’ve been training with him (virtually rather than in person) for just 5 months and have a new PB at every distance including nearly 40 minutes off my marathon time. I’m officially faster in my 40s that I was in my 20s, and I enjoy running so much more now. Everything he advises me is evidence based, he can explain reasons behind his training programs and always has a good answer to my endless questions. Truly life changing – thank you Martin”
I hope that you can take something away from this blog. I would love to hear your thoughts and I’ve set up a very supportive free Facebook Community where like-minded people can share their experiences of life and exercising. Please feel free to join and invite others you know who may be interested.
I also have a Facebook Club for runners where I post two weekly workout videos, host a live weekly Ask The Coach question and answer session plus a monthly live webinar on a host of running related topics. This is ideal for those who use free plans but want to have access to a coach and ongoing information. You can find more information and join here.
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Running Coach & Personal Trainer Leicestershire