A blog by runners. For runners.

Choosing a running training plan

how-to-pick-a-training-planThe hardest part about training for a race is … well, training for the race! All of those speed workouts and long runs require a lot of hard work, motivation, and time. But choosing a training plan is no walk in the park either.

Why you need a training plan

It doesn’t matter if you’re a new runner or a seasoned racer or if you’re training for a 5k or an ultra-marathon, most of us require training programs.

A training plan is essentially a prescription to race well. Training programs are detailed plans with specific workouts on set days that last for a certain number of weeks, culminating on race day. Following a sound training plan can help you:

  • Achieve your race goals. An advanced, detailed training plan will tell you the exact pace to aim for on training runs so that you run a certain time during the race.
  • Reduce your risk of injury. Set rest days and gradual weekly mileage increases can lower the chance of getting injured.
  • Stay accountable. Who doesn’t love checking off completed workouts?
  • See what works. I always save my training plans, note my race finish time, and review it when training for other races. I love seeing exactly what I did leading up to PR races.

What to consider when choosing a plan

Keep the following factors in mind when shopping around for a training plan:

  • Your goals. Is your goal to finish your first marathon or set a PR? Beginner training plans are best for newbies, and intermediate or advanced ones are better for runners with multiple races under their (fuel) belts.
  • Length. How many weeks do you have until your race? Most marathon training plans are around 16 weeks, but others are shorter or longer.
  • Days spent running each week. Some plans call for six days of running per week while others only require three.
  • Mileage peak. Check out the total number of miles in the peak week – usually three weeks before race day. Marathon training plans can peak anywhere between 40-100 miles.
  • Flexibility. Certain plans will note “easy run or off” on certain days. If you have a busy schedule, a flexible plan may be key.
  • Pace goals: Training at specific paces can help you set a PR. Some plans are personalized based on your previous race times and detail set paces for each run.
  • Cross-training days: Do you want to do yoga, biking, or strength training as part of your plan? If so, make sure you choose a program with time reserved for cross-training days.
  • Rest days: Any good training plan should have at least one day of rest per week. But you make require more days off from running.

Where to find a sound training plan

There are a variety of training plans available online — for free and for purchase — and one of them is bound to be your route to a successful race day. Popular training plans include:

What’s your favorite training plan?

Written by Jen Matz