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Choosing the right training plan

Ok, the new year has started and we’re back at work. Perhaps you’re also having a bit of a detox, and I can bet you’re going to train better than ever to hit that special goal for 2017.  With all this new found motivation and energy, it can be difficult to know where to start. Getting the right training plan is probably top priority, and we certainly don’t want our running plans to go the way of most new years resolutions:


Instead we need to make sure our plans are sustainable and achievable. So read on to learn how to pick a training plan for your next race.

First off, before we go any further, step 1 is to commit to a plan. Pick a plan you know you can stick to, and make sure that you stick to it except in case of injury or illness that would deem it not sensible to run.

Great, so we’re going to stick to a plan… What next?

Google probably… or a book, or possibly a magazine.  

You will find lots of options. Probably too many, so how do you choose the right one.

Firstly, do me a favour and promise me that you’re not going to start a running plan without including some regular strength and mobility work, right?


Now my mind is at ease, what should you look out for?

Well, in the fitness world we have this very poor acronym which is FITT. And you should use this to decide what level your training plan should start at. FITT stands for Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type.  We’ll assume that you are going to follow a weekly training schedule, so from week to week, only one of those 4 things should change. You either increase the frequency, the intensity, your time working out, or the types of workout.

What that means, is that if you’ve been running 20 minutes twice a week for the last month, then a sensible week 1 training plan could either be:

–  3 x 20 minute runs (frequency) instead of the 2. OR

–  2 20 minute runs and 1 cycle (type), OR

– 1 20 minunte run and 1 30 minute (time) run OR

– 1 20 minute run and one interval running session (intensity).

You don’t go from 20 minutes twice in a week, to 5 runs in a week that includes an interval session, a 2 hour long run, a tempo run, and HIIT training.  Make sense?

Ok, as well as increasing one element of the FITT acronym each week, what else do you need to look at?

Read on for the 5 key elements of a sensible and sustainable training plan that you need to look out for.

Checklist image1)Does it have step back weeks?

You have probably heard that fitness improvements are made when we recover, and not whilst we’re training, which seems counter intuitive, but it isn’t really.

This means after a period of increasing intensity or volume, we step back the volume to allow our body’s to absorb the training and recover.

2) Can I realistically fit each session in my schedule?

Back when I was a corporate worker, I knew I had to do my hardest training sessions at the weekends, and that it would be a struggle for me to do more than 2 runs during the week. I found a training plan that suited me well, as the most important runs were on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. There were other runs on Tuesday and Thursday, and I set out my training to best help me do these.

Tuesday’s run would be done before work – it was early in the week, so I knew I would rarely be so tired that I couldn’t get up that early. Wednesday’s run, which was a bit longer was done after work in London, and I then used my commute to do things like eat and catch up on email, so once I got home all I had to do was have a shower and go to bed.

Thursday’s run would be after work but this time back home, and this was the run that was least important. I was allowed to miss it if work got in the way – Thursday was often a night to take clients out for dinner etc.

Or, if I was just that tired. I always had the option to wake up early on Friday to do it, or just miss it completely, knowing I would get straight back on the plan on Saturday.

This worked well for me because I made it work with my lifestyle.  There were other plans I might have been able to follow from a fitness perspective, but it just wasn’t realistic for me at the time to do workouts lasting more than 45 minutes more than one week day in a week.

3) When is the peak week and is that realistic for my life?

So the peak week is usually 2 to 4 weeks before the race. This is the highest volume training week, and it will really push your limits. So, if its the same week as a wedding that you’re a bridesmaid in, you’re probably going to struggle. It needs to be at a time when you are able to create some space and flexibility in your life. If not you may need a different approach.

I have worked with clients where we have purposefully peaked early, knowing that they wouldn’t be able to train hard during a busy period at work which would have been the optimal time for peaking.  They were training for the London marathon, so instead of peaking toward the end of March and early April, we peaked in February, knowing that her work schedule was going to get super busy at the end of March until May.

4) Does it taper?

Some people love to taper, some hate it. My personal belief is that a lot of people (not necessarily their plans) over- taper, myself included. But it is a very important part of the race preparation practise, and particularly if it is your first attempt at a certain distance, you will need a decent taper.  You can learn more about the taper in this post I wrote last year.

5) Does it look fun?

Some people dread the idea of speed work, others hate running easy each week or each session. If either of those things is going to stop you going out altogether then find a plan that suits your sense of excitement too.

Do the sessions look suitably challenging without being too intimidating. If you’ve never done speedwork before, having intervals every single week may be a bit too much. Back when I was working in London, I really got scared of speedwork because any injuries I had sustained were always associated with this increase in intensity. I still got quite hefty marathon pbs without having speedwork in my plan, although now, its a session I really enjoy and look forward to.

My Recommendations

Given its a few months until the spring marathon season begins, I imagine a lot of people reading this will be working toward marathons or half marathons in the next few months, so with that in mind, I wanted to give a few of my recommendations.

Firstly, working with a coach like me is going to get you your best results, as I will give feedback and support that a static training plan just can’t give, so if you want to find out more about online coaching you can LEARN MORE HERE.

Some other plans I’ve used in the past that have worked well for me.  The Hal Higdon plans for marathon runners are absolutely fantastic for beginner marathon runners, and in fact, that was the plan I followed when I was working in London – the mid-week mileage was low enough that it was possible with my commute.

More recently I have used the Runner’s World sub 3:45 and sub 3:30 plans which both work on a 5 day training week but introduce a bit more intensity.

The plans in the Pfitzinger and Douglas book, Advanced Marathoning are often well liked amongst runners, and whilst you will get exceptional results with them (if you survive them and do the strength work and regular mobility work), most people I come across just do not have the time to reach the level of mileage they recommend – up to 80 mile weeks in some cases. However, if you are of the faster disposition, where a 10 mile run isn’t going to take you much longer than 75 minutes then they might be a great plan for you.

Good luck in choosing your training plan for your next race, and if you want to save the hassle of having to choose one and want one done for you instead, as well as coaching and accountability, learn more about online training that will work for you, no matter where you are in the world HERE.

ALSO FREE WEBINAR THIS SUNDAY – I’m hosting a free live webinar this Sunday which is all about goal setting to make 2017 your best running year yet! Make sure you sign up to learn the exact tools and techniques I used to train my mindset so that I could take over an hour off my marathon pb to qualify for the Boston Marathon. SIGN UP.

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Angela Isherwood

Angela Isherwood is the founder of I Run Success
She is a REPs Level 3 Personal Trainer, a Run England Running coach, and a multiple marathon runner. She is a London Marathon Good for Age runner, a Boston Marathon Qualifier, a parkrun Run Director and Trainer for Goodgym Colchester.

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