It seems that now is the time of year when everyone starts nailing down their racing schedules for the spring, summer, and fall. While the snow might still be on the ground and it feel a little early to start thinking about summer running, training plans will have you back at it in the next few weeks.
Many runners come to me wondering just what type of plan they should be using. Some people want a customized plan. Others want to find a free plan online. Both can work well for just about anyone, but there are many factors that you should take into consideration before choosing the best fit for you.
Pick your race and then decide on a goal. Is your goal just to finish? Or do you have a time in mind? Basic cookie cutter plans are typically a great way to go if you are looking to simply finish a race or try a new distance. However, if your goal is to PR or qualify for another race, you might need to consider a plan with specific speed training based on your goals. A coach can also help you determine what paces you should be using for different types of training runs.
What can you commit to realistically with your schedule? Running and training for races takes up a lot of time. Work, family time, and social activities require time. Be realistic about how much you can actually commit to training. If you know that you only have three days per week to train, don’t try to cram in 5-6 days. You will quickly become frustrated and feel as if you are failing.
What level runner are you? If this is your first race, don’t select an advanced training plan. While this might seem like a great way to meet your goals, if your body is not already accustomed to this amount of mileage, you are running a recipe for injury. Don’t rush your training. There will be many more races. Start out slow and build your way up.
Know your limits. I used to think that I needed to run 70 miles per week to be at my peak. The reality was that anything over 60 miles per week caused overuse injuries. I know my limits and keep my training mileage for marathons at around 50-60 miles and my non-training mileage at 40-50 miles. While it might seem that 70 miles would make me stronger and faster, that certainly won’t be true if I am injured. Instead, it is important to know your limits and train smart within those boundaries.
Don’t fall victim to recycling plans. Just because a plan worked well for you once, doesn’t mean you should just repeat that plan over and over. Every race has different conditions and elements. Chicago is flat while NYC is full of hills and bridges. Following the same training plan for both races might not give you the same or best results.
Also keep in mind that as we continue to train, we change as runners. We get older. Sometimes we get faster. Our goals change. Our needs change. Listen to your body, your goals, and the race and then make changes accordingly.
Understand what the race your training for will be like. If you are training in the winter for a summer race, you might want to do some indoor runs on the treadmill to simulate warmer conditions. If you are in a flat area but training for hills, you will want to look for hills or find some inclines. You might also consider some cross training to build up strength in your quads as declines can really wreak havoc on these muscles.
Keep in mind that no two plans are perfectly alike. Do your research. Speak with a coach. Most coaches are happy to give you a free consultation to discuss what you might need and expect. Never settle on a plan and always be willing to make adjustments when needed.
What is your best advice for finding the right training plan?