So really running isn’t hard (okay running is always a little hard but that’s why we like it, right?) if you are consistent and put some work up front to set yourself up for success (aka finding a training plan). People always ask, how do you train for Dopey?, and I half-jokingly reply, “By running a lot”.
But really that’s the magic of running. It’s simple. Want to run longer? You have to start running longer. Want to run faster? You have to train faster.
This over simplifies it but as long as you are building incrementally in speed or distance, that’s really the whole thing. Running is magical because it’s simple.
One of the best ways to ensure success is to find the right plan and to stick to it, so let’s talk about how you can do that.
How many days a week do you want to run or workout?
Nothing is worse than choosing a plan that seems awesome but really isn’t realistic considering your other commitments or physical ability. For example, one time I chose a training plan that had me running 6 days a week and I quickly found that it was leaving me worn out. It probably wasn’t the running, it was my lack of ability to make time for the stretching, sleep, and other things that needed to happen to make that plan successful but ultimately I stopped following that plan and went back to 5 days a week.
So here are some quick questions to get started:
Do you want to run and do other cardio?
Do you want to exercise everyday or do you need complete rest days?
How many days a week do you really have capacity to run or workout?
Similar to how you balance a budget you need to look realistically at your time and see what capacity you have or can make. Also, there are the things that “fill up your cup” and make you a happier person like other workouts you enjoy doing or maybe Sunday is family day and you can’t commit to that long run.
The most successful plan is one that makes you happier and you can fit in, not one that overly burdens you.
How much time do you have to train?
Along with how many days, is how much time on those days do you have?
For me, I know running more than an hour before work will really push me. Can I do the odd 8 miler before work during a build up? Sure. Will I be happy doing that regularly? Not at this point in my life.
Maybe you work from home or have some flexibility during the week to get some longer runs in but less time on the weekend for extremely long runs so something like the Hanson Method would work for you. Maybe like me you are more of a weekend warrior and doing more volume those days when you have more capacity would work better.
What ever you choose, again make sure you aren’t signing up for something that isn’t realistic.
What is your current fitness level?
This is the biggest one. How does this plan match your current fitness level and also your goals?
If you goal is just to finish your first 5k, 10k, halk marathon, or marathon then find a plan that fits that goal. Trying the couch to 5k (C25k) or a run/walk plan (runDisney has some great plans) may work best for you. Going too hard if you are just starting out is the quickest way to ensure you will burn out or worse get injured.
If you are trying to improve your personal best, then you need to find a plan with more mileage and more speed workouts. Look for plans with 400m or 800m repeats and tempo run (where you run part of your run at race pace or faster). You have to run faster to run faster, that’s part of the magic.
Where do you like to train?
Do you like trails? Do you like the treadmill? Do you live close to a track?
These are important to think about as you choose a plan. If you like treadmill running, find a plan with workouts specifically tailored to get the most out of that equipment. If you don’t live near a track or near somewhere that allows for lots of flat repeats, maybe find a plan that incorporates more effort and time based interval training rather that distance based.
Again, you want to make sure the plan can really set you up for success instead of you trying to figure out how to make the plan successful. The less barriers the more likely that you’ll be able to commit and have better outcomes.
Do you prefer time or distance goals?
This one is actually a question I go back and forth on. I’m usually a distance goal kind of runner but there is something that mentally shifts for me when I focus on running for a certain amount of time.
Let’s do a thought exercise.
If you are running at an easy pace how far do you think you’ll go in 45 minutes?
Now think to yourself to things:
Today my goal is to run (that distance from above)
Today my goal is to run 45 minutes
Which felt better? Which way of framing (what will be a very similar run) felt better? For me thinking in times makes it feel more finite than thinking in distance. If I’m having a rough day, I know I just need to run for 45 minutes ran than suffering through the miles.
However, while time goals feel less burdensome usually what I’m tracking is a weekly mileage goal so setting distance goals ensure I get to that number so that’s why I usually stick with distance goals.
It’s weird but it works for me.
Set it, commit to it, and go!
This is vastly oversimplifying it but for the 90% use case, this is how you will proceed. Choose your plan, put it the info somewhere that’s easy to reference and track (I have a google sheet that I can access from my phone and computer), and then just keep checking off the days.
However, even the best laid plans can be modified. Life events, travel, sickness, weather, and a whole host of things can make sticking to your plan difficult and that’s okay. As long as you aren’t just making excuses and are making an honest (to yourself) effort to stick to your plan then let life happen and modify accordingly. The only person who cares if you follow your plan is you, be honest with yourself because at the end of the day that’s the only person who cares (unless you decided to use a coach, they might care).
If you are just starting off I wouldn’t try to do too much shuffling of your training days since you are still getting your body use to running. Moving a run so you run two days in a row when you’ve never done that might do more harm than good compared to just skipping a run and picking up where you left off.
When I’m looking for a new training plan I like to start in a few places:
Hal Higdon – my first training plans came from him and I continue to use a modified one as my build up to Dopey. Before runDisney started posting their own plans, Hal’s Intermediate II was the go to for Goofy since it lays out back-to-back long runs. https://www.halhigdon.com/training/
Runners World – Some great free plans here: https://www.runnersworld.com/uk/training-plans/
Boston Marathon – https://www.baa.org/races/boston-marathon/enter/boston-marathon-training
Bolder Boulder 10k – https://bb10k.bolderboulder.com/general-information/training/
NYC Road Runners Free Training Guides – https://www.nyrr.org/train
Rock n Roll Series – https://www.runrocknroll.com/Events/Nashville/News-and-Promotions/2018/04/04/10/20/Get-Race-Ready-with-These-Training-Plans
Nike – https://www.nike.com/running/training-plans
Women’s Running – They do not have a consolidated page so google “Women’s Running Training Plan” and you’ll see a bunch!
Find a Run Coach – If you feel like it’s time to make te investment, get a coach! I used a coach for a bit and it finally got me to my Boston Qualifying time. For me it was about accountability and having someone push me to do workouts that intimidated me. There are lots of different types of coaches so I’m sure you’ll find one that can fit your need!
Also, as you get more aware of yourself as a runner, don’t be afraid to look at other plans and mix-and-match. in 2018, I was really focused on improving my mile time and ended up really liking some of the track workouts so I incorporate those into my marathon training with modified pace goals.
Here is a great resource that just happened to get posted as I was preparing this post: https://www.podiumrunner.com/training/ritz-on-running-personalizing-and-adapting-your-training-plan/
So those are my thoughts on running plans. Really don’t overthink choosing a plan too much (easier said that done) because as long as the end goal of the plan aligns with your goal they should all get you there. Don’t get stuck in decision paralysis!