Let’s Talk About Running: How To Make A Training Plan

In this LTA post, I talked about the different parts of a training plan: long slow runs (LSRs), speedwork (tempo runs and intervals), and easy recovery runs. Today, I want to cover how to use these pieces to build a training plan that will help you improve. There are lots of places out there that will give you a training plan – I linked some in the previous post and a google search will bring you tons more – but for people who want to build their own plan, or to better understand how to construct something on their own, I want to share what I’ve learned to try and help.

There are almost too many resources out there, and when you start a training plan there’s a lot of fear in it: will this work? am I wasting my time? Since Healthefficiency is all about the value of your time and how best and most efficiently to use it, I think understanding how to build a plan is valuable — because if/when you realize how all the pieces come together and understand how they’re working for you, you gain trust in your plan. Worry less; run more; train happier.

Before I start in on the plan stuff, though, there are a couple things I want to state upfront.

The first is a basic rule: You aren’t going to get any better/faster unless you run more.

This might sound obvious, but really, you need to understand this before you launch off into any sort of training plan: you aren’t going to get better or faster unless you run, you run more, you run harder, you run more. You have to do the workouts and push yourself and keep changing up that speed and increasing that mileage. You have to stick to it. With running, you get out what you put in. And the result is, if you keep putting in the same thing, you’re going to get out the same thing.

Let’s imagine you have a friend who is a runner; I have a good handful. But let’s think about this: let’s say I’ve got a friend, ‘the’ friend who struggles with her running. She constantly bemoans the fact that she’s slow: she’ll never get faster, she’ll never improve, no matter what she does she doesn’t get faster, she’ll never be as fast as other people. Now, on one hand: there are always going to be people faster than you; being slow sucks, I get it. I’m an asthmatic runner: I’ll never be as fast as many other people, either. And seeing no improvement is really disheartening.

But when I look at her workouts, her “training schedule”, and I see her running the same 3 or 4 miles each time, at the same speed, on the same trail or over the same path. She doesn’t run with any consistency – some weeks she’ll run that 3 miles thrice; others she won’t run at all – and she doesn’t run with any goals: there’s no long slow run to build up a base, there aren’t any targeted speedworks, there’s nothing. She’ll complain to me, “I even did intervals and it didn’t work” — as if doing an interval workout once makes you immediately faster on your next run out. Her interval workouts aren’t a part of anything — she isn’t going anywhere with them, and she doesn’t know how to make them more useful. Overall, it’s still that same 3-4 miles on that same path with that same low frequency. To me, this is the definition of “health inefficiency” — I mean, yeah, she’s running, and that’s awesome in itself, and good for her, but: she isn’t going anywhere with it.

It’s really frustrating to me, as a friend and a runner, to watch that. And when I as a friend offer to help build a training plan or send resources, the answer I get back is always, “I don’t have the time for that.” Ignoring my arguments to the contrary, the point here is: you won’t get better unless you run more. If you don’t have the time to actually train, don’t expect significant improvements. If you want to get faster, make some time. It doesn’t actually take that much time to get better if your workouts are designed and targeted, and you’re dedicated to consistency.

The second thing I want to point out before we launch in here is who my target audience is. If you are just starting to run – if you’re on the beginner side – I welcome you to keep reading to educate yourself, but I would also suggest you start somewhere like Couch to 5K, because there are a lot of really awesome beginner training plans out there and I’m aiming for people with some running experience already. On the other side of things: if you already run like 50 miles a week and you do 6 marathons a year and you regularly do “quarters” and “doubles” and your long runs are like 30 miles — I’m not really aiming for you, either, because you probably know all this. That doesn’t mean you aren’t welcome here! Just, this is a blog about efficiency, and if you’re too new or too experienced, this stuff isn’t going to be the most efficient use of your time.

I’m talking to people who are running their first 5K and want to train for it. Or maybe they’ve done a 5K and want to train for a half marathon. Or maybe they’ve done a couple 5Ks casually and want to get faster. Or maybe they’ve been puttering around running for a few years and want to start training more concretely. That’s the genre of running I’m in, and that’s the level I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about here is “standard procedure”  type stuff. I’ve done a lot of research and read a lot of opinions, so what’s here are general “rules” you can follow to put together a plan which will help you get faster but not push you so hard you injure yourself or just crap out. If you feel like something different will work better for you, feel free to work it in; I’m just trying to compile information to give you a general idea of how this goes.

I’ll be using myself as an example as I talk about putting together a training plan. I haven’t run consistently in a while, so it makes a good reference. When starting a training plan like this, I’m assuming you can run at least 3 miles / 5K without stopping, at a decent clip, and that you run a couple times a week and are hitting maybe 8-12 miles a week as a rough start. If you aren’t there yet, you can still use this info, but you should build from where you are to about there before you start pushing yourself in other directions too.

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