Odds are that most runners, especially those preparing for an upcoming race, are using some form of training plan to help structure their running and to meet their goals.
Free training plans abound on the internet and personalized coaching is a great way to get a second (expert) opinion. However, creating your own program is an easy and effective alternative which can go far in helping you ensure consistency, accountability and to achieve your running goals.
Choose a goal. Whether it’s running a particular race or distance, running a set number of days per week, getting faster and fitter or losing five pounds, it’s essential you have a goal to work towards. Working towards a specific race or building up to complete a particular distance are common goals for which a training plan is used.
Establish a time-frame. It’s essential to set a clear timeline in which you pursue your goal. Four weeks is about the minimum amount of time in which to reasonably expect to see improvement and three or four months is the longest you’d want to go before motivation begins to wane.
Take it one step at a time. Break up the larger timeline into shorter, more manageable sections. Setting mini-goals for each day and week are often the most effective.
Add the major details. Whether you run, cross-train or take a rest day are the important details to decide. Decide what you plan to do each day and write it down.
Pencil in the hard efforts. Workouts and long runs should be a part of any running program. They don’t need to be overly detailed or exact, but you should make time to include them in your plan. Add an interval, hill, tempo or fartlek session at least once a week as well as a longer run to build endurance.
Increase slowly. Your plan shouldn’t call for the same thing over and over. It’s important to gradually add a stimulus in which to adapt and improve. Make your daily run a bit longer. Add a bit more intensity. Run one more day of the week. Every week should call for something that is faster or further than the week prior.
Don’t forget to rest. You can’t run and train hard every day. Take easy or recovery days between hard efforts. Use this time to cross-train or do nothing at all. Also be sure to scale back every month or so in order to give your body and mind a mental break, recover and adapt even more.
Be flexible. On any given day and over the course of your plan, things will happen that mean you need to make changes. Try to limit how often you deviate from the plan but don’t get upset if and when you do.
Review. As you carry out your plan, reflect and review upon what seems to be working and what isn’t. Do try and improve on your weaknesses while also using your strengths to gain confidence.
Celebrate your accomplishments. It’s not all about the end goal. Every day of the plan is part of the larger goal so celebrate the little successes along the way and enjoy the process as much as you can.