Category Archives: Training Plan

A tale of 3 runners…

Sooo, three people arrive at the Phoenix Rock and Roll Half Marathon. One girl flew in on Friday, hit the expo and an NBA basketball game downtown, then shopping and a Coyotes game Saturday. Her goal was to have fun with little expectation of a finish time. She beat her expectations and was only a few minutes off of her September PR, so it was a great day and weekend (back home Monday). Another girl wanted to PR by a minute and set her training goal accordingly. During training, she hit all her training marks on most every workout and was at the starting line confident. She was worried that she didn’t work hard enough during the workouts, but I had said “Trust the Plan”. During the race, she stayed on-pace for the first 9 miles and had a finishing kick for the downhill section to the finish. She bettered her expectation and PR’d by two and a half minutes (performed better than training paces). She was very excited about her results and was not too beat-up for the next few days (happiness minimizes the pain…).

The guy arrived at the start line with a lofty goal of PR’ing by 3 minutes from a September race (which was a PR). Training was just ok with him struggling to hit the faster training paces on the tempo runs (those are near planned race pace, but shorter durations). Most of those workouts did not go well… On race day, he still was going with the pace plan for that lofty PR and was fairly confident he could hold it (disregarding the failed tempo runs and the advice of his wife…). The gun goes and everyone is flying out of the gate on a downhill section. First mile was on-pace, miles 2 through 5 started a slight uphill so the pace slipped by 10 seconds and the effort/breathing was a bit pushed. Miles 6 through 9 was a struggle to even hold that pace of 10 seconds off goal and slipped to 15 to 30 seconds off per mile. Then there was a short steep hill and then a long downhill section – if he can just push that hill and fly down the backside, he might be able to be close to his PR.  He labored up the hill and was not able to fly down the backside at all… Today would not be a PR day nor close to a PR. The hip flexor started to flare up and it was now just a slog to the finish. It ended being two minutes slower than September’s PR. The beer after did not taste quite as good.

Take-aways from the day: Even a coach needs a coach, or just enough smarts to heed the advice of his wife (has that ever been said before? Well, maybe never written… by a guy). J   So if you are self-coached, talk about your plan to someone that knows you and will give you some honest feedback. Set a realistic goal that won’t be easy, but achievable on a good day. Plan your training based on your current fitness with test points to ensure you are on-track towards the goal. Remember that training is not racing and it should never be full-out. Expect to make adjustments during the training because life happens. Finally, a bad race-plan is most always followed by a bad day racing and a bunch of time to stew about it. Don’t be “That Guy” (or girl).

Can I shuffle my workout days?

Yes, but carefully. Good training plans incorporate multiple cycles. Weekly cycles (microcycles) will balance harder workout days with easy or rest days to follow. The fitness response/benefit happens during the recovery after a workout. Likely, 48 hours is the sweet spot for recovery, but everyone is unique and needs to factor in the usual suspects (age, fitness level, propensity for injury, stress, fuel, rest, sleep, sleep, and sleep). The real recovery comes during deep sleep [video] [article].

Longer cycles (mesocycles of 3 to 6 weeks) will have a gradual build up and then a lighter week for recovery for both the physical and mental aspects of long-term training. This is where you schedule your tune up races or vacations/travel.

The big picture planning (macrocycles) considers your running year where you schedule one or two “prime” races or events along with family and work commitments (this makes for interesting discussions). This prioritization is a key element for successful running and planning.

Yes, you can swap the days you schedule your tempo runs with your speed workouts and/or your long runs – but maybe not stacking your hardest workouts too close together. For you, maybe 36 hours is all you need after your long run on Saturday morning so you can do your speed work on Monday night and then tempo run on Wednesday morning. On a monthly scale, you can move your “easy” week to match your vacation. On an annual cycle you might take a 12 week plan and fit it into 13 weeks with a break (for vacation or a small taper heading into a tune-up race).

Why speed intervals?

If you feel the need-for-speed, you obviously need to train faster to race faster. Short bursts of speed (never all-out) can improve your physical performance in many areas including:

  • Muscle capacity.
  • Heart function.
  • Oxygen delivery.
  • Running mechanics.
  • Coordination of body parts and muscles.

More importantly, speed workouts can improve your mental performance as you see yourself as someone who:

  • Can continue when tired.
  • Can handle any setback.
  • Can improve.
  • Can overcome physical barriers.
  • Can become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  • Has confidence and a positive mental outlook on running (and life).

However, speed workouts increase the risk of physical injury (if you try to do too much, too soon, too often) and mental injury (if you let your ego or negative emotions takeover).  The only way to prevent these injuries is to listen to your body and mind … adjust the workout if you feel physical pain or are experiencing negative self-talk.

Strive to find enjoyment in every speed workout … especially the tough ones! There is nothing more satisfying than “nailing” a speed workout session.

I just started “running”. Now what?

If you are between the Learn to Run program and the Marathon club, you have some options for the next step. If you just enjoy running and have no urge to “race”, then just enjoy running. Be mindful of changes to your running intesity and volume by not doing too much, too soon, or too often. A good rule of thumb is to limit your changes to 10% per week (how fast, how often, and how many miles).

If you want to improve your running:

  • Set a running goal such as entering a race, keeping up with a friend/spouce, or running faster than your dog or 10 year old.
  • Choose a training plan that incorporates your current fitness abilities, running goal(s), and a strategy on how to fit this into your busy calendar.
  • Consider joining a formal or informal running group that meets your specific training needs.
  • Attend running clinics or camps to learn more about proper running technique and drills.
  • Read running books, magazines, and online resources for inspiration and training strategies.

For assistance with any of the above, consider the services of a personal running coach.

How to select a training plan for running success

If your running goal includes setting a PR (personal record), then you need to make changes to your previous plan – if you had a “plan”. Most runners will see progressions early, without much planning or structured training due to starting at a PR of “zero”.  You should see quick gains from your body getting efficient at moving at a faster-than-walking pace through muscle and limb co-ordination. Then expect some advances in your cardiovascular fitness with regular outings. At some point, you will likely plateau and to “get faster” you will need to add some structure to your running efforts – things like speed intervals, hill repeats, tempo runs, and the long slow distance runs. Most off-the-shelf training plans that include 3 days per week of structured running will take you to the next level of PR.

To advance past this intermediate level of running, which may be getting you into the top 5 of your age group in local races, you will need to step-up to “training with a purpose”. This is where every workout has a purpose to create a training-effect on your body. The key is to prescribe the “effective dose” of training without pushing past your limits towards injury. To balance between loading and over-loading the body, the right amount of recovery/rest needs to be inserted. All of this is unique to you.

So how do you get there? First, you need to understand your current fitness level and abilities. Set a realistic goal based on your expected fitness gains and lifestyle. You also need to understand your safe-load-level (training miles per week and running/rest days per week) along with the type of workouts that are easy for you and the ones that are a challenge. Add to this, strategies for improving the “weak links” in your running to become a better athlete.

Please contact me to be a strategic partner in your running success.