Seeking to run faster and farther than ever before? One of the best ways to improve as a runner is to follow a training plan that adds structure and purpose to your running. 

RELATED: Complete training plans from Canadian Running magazine presented by Final Surge

A plan helps you prepare specifically for the event you’re training for and incorporates a number of important elements. But how do you know which plan is the best one? We break down the most important aspects of any training plan and offer considerations to help you pick one that’s right’s for you.

Length

The first question you’ll need to consider before starting your training is how much time should you commit to preparing for your goal. In general, you should devote at least 4-6 weeks training for a 5K; 6-8 weeks for a 10K; 8-12 weeks for a half marathon and 12-16 weeks (or more) for the marathon. Those with greater experience and who have already developed a solid aerobic base may need slightly less time to adequately prepare, while those new to running or without sufficient fitness may need more time. Regardless of the distance you’re training for, be sure to find a plan that includes enough time to train for your goal.

Running mileage and frequency

This refers to the total amount of running you do each week, month or over the course of the whole training plan. Mileage is often presented as total kilometres run each week (E.g. 50K a week) and in general, the longer the race you’re training for, the more mileage you should expect to run. In addition to choosing a plan that includes the right mileage for you, you’ll also want to choose how many times a week you’ll run. Three days is probably the minimum you’ll want to commit to your training–regardless of goal race distance–while four or five is typically the norm for half and marathon training.

RELATED: How much should I run – A guide to appropriate mileage

Workouts and harder efforts

The majority  of your running will fall into one of two categories: hard or easy. Workout and long runs are the most common type of hard run and are designed to stress the body and stimulate future growth and improvement. Workouts can take on many forms but are designed to increase speed and strength. Speed workouts are usually run as short repeats of a few hundred (100-800m) or longer intervals of 1K, 1M, 2K or longer with short easy breaks in between. These are run at or even faster than goal race pace. Strength workouts include longer tempo runs (continuous runs at a hard but comfortable pace) and hill repeats. While some object to calling it a workout, the weekly long run, where you run 20-30 per cent of your weekly mileage, is also considered a hard effort given its duration and importance for developing endurance.

Usually a training plan will call for one or two workouts a week plus the weekly long run. Be sure to choose a plan that includes a variety of workouts and harder efforts.

RELATED: Go long to be strong

Easy and recovery days

Just as important as the hard days are the easy ones in between. These short and slow runs are key for allowing the body (and mind) to rest, recuperate and make the adaptations stimulated from the workouts and long runs. Depending on the number of days you plan to run and your mileage targets, a few easy and recovery runs can be added before and after harder runs to help speed the recovery process and safely build mileage. Non-running days are also an important component of a training plan and allow the body to fully recover from the stresses of running.

Cross training and supplemental activities

The final component of most training plans will be non-running activities– in other words, cross training. These can be other aerobic activities that are non-weight bearing such as swimming, spinning and cycling which provide a break from the monotony of running yet still provide a similar aerobic stimulus. Non-aerobic activities like strength, core and flexibility training are also a good way to supplement one’s run training and play an important role in preventing injury.


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