If you’ve recently completed your first 5k or your seventh half marathon, you will know the importance of following a well-structured training plan in achieving your running goals.
The satisfaction of reaching a new milestone in your running journey is something to behold.
Every runner loves progress!
By using a clear, well-structured framework, you will go a long way to achieve your running dreams.
But it takes consistency and patience in order to become a better runner.
You need to put the work in from day 1 to improve your performance.
If you’re wondering what’s included in a training plan and what it takes to create a training plan, then this guide has got you covered!
We’ll look at:
- What is a training plan?
- What are the benefits of following a well-structured training plan?
- How to create the perfect training plan
What is a training plan?
A training plan is a structured and organised schedule that details your running workouts and activities across a specific period.
It helps you achieve your running goals, whether it’s running a specific distance or improving your speed, endurance or overall performance.
You can think of a training plan as a blueprint or roadmap for success and becoming a better runner.
What are the benefits of following a well-structured training plan?
A well-structured training plan offers several benefits, including:
#1 Helps you achieve your running goals
A training plan helps you stay focused and motivated to work towards your specific running goals.
It sets out exactly what you need to do each week in order to run a specific race or event.
#2 Helps reduce the risk of injury
A properly designed training plan will include adequate rest and recovery in the form of 1 to 3 rest days each week, depending on the intensity of the training plan.
Rest days reduce the risk of overuse injuries like runner’s knee, IT band syndrome and shin splints.
They also help to reduce the risk of burnout and overtraining.
#3 Helps to improve performance
A training plan will help you target different aspects of your running, whether that’s increasing your speed or improving your endurance.
Your performance goals will be unique to you – so make sure you are setting goals that are realistic for you, your fitness levels and running experience.
#4 Allows you to prepare for a specific race
A training plan allows you to fine-tune your performance for a specific race, ensuring you’re fully prepared for its unique challenges.
How you train for a half marathon, for example, will be different to how you train for a 5k.
It’s important you find the right training plan for your specific event.
#5 Makes you accountable
It feels so satisfying knowing that you have completed all your training runs each week.
Having a training plan in place helps you stay accountable, motivated and consistent with your workouts and runs every week.
#6 Designed for long-term progress
Running is a marathon and not a sprint (excuse the pun!)
Training plans are designed for long-term progress, ensuring you continue to improve over time.
How to create the perfect training plan
Now that you have a better understanding of training plans, it’s time to put this knowledge into practice!
Here’s a step-by-step guide on creating your own training plan:
#1 Set your goals
The first step in creating an effective training plan is setting clear and realistic goals.
- What are you trying to achieve with your running?
- Do you want to run a faster 5k, complete a marathon or simply enjoy a healthier lifestyle?
Your goals will shape the structure of your training plan.
When setting goals, my recommendation is to use the S.M.A.R.T goal setting framework.
This way any goal you set is realistic and attainable for you.
#2 Choose your event
Select a race or event that aligns with your goals and gives you a clear timeframe to work toward.
If you want to run your first 5k, for example, Parkrun is a great event to work towards.
Whereas if you’re training for your first half marathon, choose an event that is good for beginners.
#3 Determine your training period
Establish the timeframe available for your training, which will depend on your chosen event as described in the step above.
If you’re training for your first half marathon, you’ll want to set aside at least 12 weeks (3 months) for training.
Whereas a marathon will take between 16 to 20 weeks to train for.
#4 Design your training plan
Break down your overall training schedule into the following specific phases:
- The Base Phase
- The Build Phase
- The Peak Phase
- The Taper Phase
You will want to allocate specific weeks to each phase as they each have their own focus.
Let’s break down these four phases:
- The Base Phase: The phase is the foundation of your training, focusing on building endurance and improving your aerobic capacity. During this phase, you’ll engage in lower intensity, longer duration runs for several weeks, allowing your body to adapt gradually.
- The Build Phase: This phase introduces more variety and intensity into your workouts to enhance specific running skills. You may incorporate tempo runs, interval training or hill workouts to develop speed, strength and anaerobic power. During this phase, you’ll start to see significant improvements in your performance.
- The Peak Phase: This phase is all about fine-tuning your performance in order to prepare for the specific demands of your race/event. You’ll reduce the overall training volume but increase the intensity and specificity of your workouts.
- The Taper Phase: In this phase, you will reduce your training volume and intensity to allow your body to recover and be in peak condition on race day. Tapering also helps to reduce fatigue and ensures you’re well-rested for your event. The tapering process typically starts 7–10 days prior to the main competition.
#5 Confirm your weekly mileage and workouts
Outline your weekly mileage, types of runs and workouts and rest days for each phase.
It’s important to strike a balance between hard workouts and recovery to prevent injury and overtraining.
80% of your total running volume should be performed at low intensity throughout the training cycle.
In fact, according to research, the volume of easy running in a training plan has the highest correlation with performance.
Common types of runs and workouts include:
- Easy runs to build your aerobic fitness
- Long runs for endurance
- Tempo runs for speed and lactate threshold improvement
- Interval training for anaerobic power
- Hill training for strength and power
- Cross training and strength training for aerobic fitness, strength and power
#6 Use the principle of progressive overload
Progressive overload is the principle of gradually increasing the demands on your body to improve performance.
Gradually increase the intensity, volume or duration of your runs and workouts throughout each phase.
This will challenge your body to adapt and get stronger over time.
The general rule of thumb is to increase the duration and/or intensity of your runs/workouts by no more than 10% each week.
So if you’re running 25 miles a week now, you can increase that to about 28 miles the next week, then 31 miles the next week and so on.
You should also plan to take a down week every third or fourth week where you decrease the overall volume by about 20% for that week.
#7 Schedule rest and recovery
Rest is just as important as training – neglecting it can lead to burnout and injury.
Schedule rest days or light recovery runs to prevent overuse injuries and allow your body to recover, heal and adapt.
#8 Track your progress
Keep a training log to monitor your performance, make adjustments as needed and celebrate your achievements.
It’s really satisfying to see how far you’ve come in such a short space of time!
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