How to Build a Run Training Plan

When it comes to building a run training plan, one size does not fit all.

What works for one of my clients may not work for another.

This is why I always like to take care of all the minor details because, to me, details are very important and they are what sets my plans apart from the generic training plans.

Although a more generic training plan is designed when I do small group training, I still give people the option to make minor adjustments to it in order to best accommodate individuals’ needs.

When designing a training plan, below are the things that are important to take into consideration:

1. Current Fitness Level: this determines the difficulty of the plan. It has to be both challenging and manageable at the same time. Therefore, I can’t tell a beginner (who hasn’t completed their first 10k) to start out with doing 30km long runs.

2. Schedule: how many times a week you can realistically commit to running given your current obligations such as: work, family, social life, etc.

3. Time before your target race: Ideally, the more time you have before a race, the more elaborate your training plan will be. You will also be able to spend more time on each of the following: aerobic base development, strength training/hill training, and speedwork while still incorporating recovery weeks into your schedule. The more time you have to train, the more likely you are to reach your goal and do so uninjured because you are allowing for a more gradual build-up to race day.

4. Injuries (current and past): If you have dealt with injuries, you must proceed with caution which often means setting a different type of a goal (such as finish the race without re-injuring yourself) and implement other training into your program (to stay strong and to defend your body from injuries). If you are clear to run, give yourself plenty of time before you begin training for your target race so that you don’t run the risk of re-injury. See my previous post on how to prevent running injuries  before you proceed with a training plan.

5. Other training you do. This will affect the amount of days in any given week you can dedicate to running. Although other training is encouraged, it’s very important that it’s complementary to running. As I found out in 2013, it’s not very fun to train for a fitness competition and a marathon at the same time because they both require different types of training (although I still managed to survive). However, If you strength train (specifically for running, rather than for bulking up) or bike or cross country ski, for example, then your running will be complemented by that training.

6. Goal: your running plan will be tailored specifically to your goal and it’s very important that you set a realistic goal based on your schedule, time before your target race and current fitness level.

Once you have established where you stand with the above, it will be a lot easier to design a plan that works for you and your life (which is why I refuse to just copy and paste training plans and send them out to clients).

Every training plan has the basic elements or phases. Every good coach will be able to answer the main question, which is “why” we do what we do when we do it. Every workout has a purpose and that purpose must be known.

Below are some basic rules that should be considered when building a run training plan:

1. You can’t build a pyramid without a base. A pyramid without a base will fall over. Aerobic conditioning is the foundation that allows you to handle the hills and the speedwork that will come later in your plan. Without it, your plan is just an upside-down pyramid. We have to teach our bodies how to use oxygen efficiently in order to achieve peak performance.


Above: This is what the ideal Lydiard Peak performance pyramid looks like. I even got it from the material that was given to me when I took the Lydiard coaching certification course. Note that it calls for 24 weeks to peak performance. Given that we don’t have 24 weeks all the time, the aerobic conditioning phase can last between 4-16 weeks. The Hill Training phase lasts between 2-8 weeks and the anaerobic development stage (aka interval training) lasts between 2-6 weeks. Then, you are at the coordination/integration stage where you are well-developed aerobically and anaerobically so you can combine the previous phases. Finally, you taper leading up to race day (taper lasts between 1-3 weeks), in order to feel recovered before your race.

2. It’s response-regulated. At the end of the day, it’s all about how you feel and how your body is responding to the training. If you are suffering physically and mentally as a result of the plan, then the plan is not right for you and changes must be made. On the other hand, if you are finding the plan is too easy and you’re not being challenged by it at all, then your plan also needs some adjustments.

3. Don’t do 2 hard workouts in a row. Never schedule back-to-back hard interval and hill sessions. Those types of sessions take about 48 hours to recover from and you should not overdo them. Doing more interval sessions throughout the week will not necessarily make you faster and could lead to disaster (if you burn yourself out).

4. Increase your weekly mileage gradually. Going from 30km a week to 100km a week is like asking for injuries. Your weekly mileage increase should not exceed much more than 10% compared to the previous week.

5. Sequential development. The training plan must be followed in the correct order. First, you start with increasing volume at low intensity to develop aerobic fitness and then you do higher intensity but lower volume when you get into hill and interval training. The order is as follows: aerobic conditioning, then hill training, then speed training and then taper.

 6. Understanding what your body is telling you. You must learn to distinguish between good sore vs. injury pain. You must also learn to recognise the difference between tired from training vs. overtired from overtraining.

7. The majority of the long runs in your aerobic phase should be easy. Don’t try to hammer out a long run at your desired race pace. You should be able to maintain a conversation during your easy run.

8. Don’t spend more than 20% of your training time in the Red Zone in any given week. After all, 80% of all your weekly volume should be done in the Green Zone (aka aerobic) or slower. This means that you should be able to pass the “talk test” for about 80% of your training week.

9. Pay attention to the total distance of the fast portion of your interval workouts. If you are training for a marathon, the sum of all the fast segments of your interval workout should not exceed 7km. If you are training for 5 or 10k, then the total sum of all the fast segments of your interval workout should not exceed 5k.

10. The run training schedule is a guideline. At the end of the day, nothing is ever set in stone and “it depends” is the answer to almost everything. The most important thing is understanding the principles rather than just blindly filling in some numbers and hoping it will work.

11. Don’t overdo it on the workouts in the 2 weeks leading up to race day. This is where you gradually decrease the workload, also known as taper. It will allow you to feel recovered going into race day rather than burnt out.

Please note that there is so much more that goes into building a running plan than what I’m able to cover in this post. If you have something to add or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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