By Jenni Morris”
Here we look at Training Plans, how each runner has a different approach to them and how to find the right one for you.”
As the training season is in full swing I see a lot of people panicking, stressing & worrying about their plans. Life and injuries can get in the way of you sticking to a plan 100%; here I aim to put your mind at ease that it’s ok to stray from the plan and I hope to provide some guidance as to the different plans on offer and how you find the right one for you.
During a #ukrunchat hour Martin Yelling was asked how to choose a training plan & his advice was “One that feels achievable. Promotes confidence. Progresses slowly. Do research to find one that fits.”
I ran a twitter poll recently to see what people use for their training & was surprised at the results:
Stick to a plan: 15%
Get a plan & adjust: 37%
A personalised plan: 20%
No plan: 28%
I was surprised at the amount of people who don’t use a plan at all. I thought I was in the minority but it appears there are quite a lot of us.
The Different Approaches To Training Plans”
For me personally I don’t follow a plan. When I first got into running I did a couch to 5k plan and that is the only one I’ve ever stuck to. After that I just found it hard to stick to one plan as my work schedule doesn’t really allow for that. In a build up to a race I tend to look at a few and then I’ll give myself a LSR plan each week (but I tend to stray from that too). I asked a few people with different approaches to tell me about their training plans to get the range of opinions and different ways of doing it.
“When I started running 2 years ago, I followed a generic website beginners plan for a half marathon. The main purpose was to get me to run regularly rather than specific half marathon training. After completing several halfs I decided to take on the challenge of an ultra. As I had no idea of what an ultra training plan should look like for an inexperienced runner I paid for a custom plan from Running Adventures. Although there were several beginner plans available on the internet, due to facing the unknown, I wanted to talk to and have regular contact with an experienced ultra runner. Paying for a plan allowed me to have this support resource. In addition to the online support, I also found that I could concentrate on my running and not think about what I needed to do next or think about my goals. The pressure of formulating a plan was removed. This was extremely beneficial for me as I work in a high pressure environment with weekly working hours often in excess of 60 hours per week. It was a great feeling to leave the majority of the training decisions to someone else – a much needed break for the brain! It should also be noted that paying for a custom plan allowed me to successfully train for an ultra around my work schedule. If my work load increased further, my online coach was there to suggest adaptations and provide reassurances. Again, this reduced any pressure normally felt when I first started running using a generic plan. Due to the success of my 1st ultra, I paid for another years worth of personal training plans. “
I had a running coach for Berlin, albeit a virtual one as Beth is in the US. She would feed me 4 week bite size chunks of plan that would best suit my aims and progress. Given improvement isn’t linear and I had certain time goals Beth crafted a plan for me at the end of each month with specific time and running targets. Personally giving me a 15 week plan up front would massively demoralise me and I so I think her idea of sending me the next month was perfect. Getting her to personalise a plan was a good thing as she could move certain runs and exercises around my existing race calendar and preference at the time to parkrun on Saturday. Would I recommend this as a method over a coach or a generic plan, such as the ASICS ones? Probably. You cannot say where you will be 12 weeks into a 15 week plan and so it needs to be adapted to your progress.”
I ran my first 3 marathons in 2015, and for each one I searched training plans online and made my own by putting together 3 or 4 to suit me, ranging from 16 down to 10 weeks in length. I like to be flexible in my running so even though I had a plan, I only used it as a guide and tweaked it as I went, ran at a different pace, basically did my own thing! This was helpful as I didn’t stress out if I ran shorter than planned, or missed a run due to illness or injury, which for marathon 3 was good as I missed about 70% of my last 5 weeks running before the race due to injury. Running to a tweaked and changed plan I achieved 3:54 in Brighton, 3:43 in Chester and 4:23 in Lanzarote.
I decided to get a personal plan made for me for Manchester 2016 for a couple of reasons. Coming back from injury, still suffering slightly, I felt I needed the expert opinion in order to train smartly, not overdo it and get back to full fitness quickly. I had already missed a couple of weeks of my original plan so it was a good opportunity to start a fresh, and I wanted to improve my times. I had speed work on my plan but from previous experience, I never really did it so I’m hoping as this plan is tailored to a specific pace, based on my ability, I will follow it and get the results I want.
I have a 5 month plan to take me past Manchester and up to Liverpool RnR marathon. I get a month at a time, but after each week compare the plan with actual and make changes if need be. It isn’t stuck to specific days, I can move the sessions round if need be, which is good for me. I’m only one week in, but so far so good!”
As a running coach, I always advocate using a personalised training plan, because you can have a goal, but without committing to specific action you’ll struggle to really achieve your full potential. It’s possible to train for events without a plan, but it’s easy to lose focus and a plan really helps you push your own boundaries and get the best out of yourself. Imagine if I asked you to drive to a specific location without a map or sat nav. You would probably arrive there eventually, but not in the most efficient way. If you have been there before (ie run a certain distance before) you’ll probably be ok, but in this case you’ll be driving on autopilot so turning your brain on and challenging your body with a specific training plan will still be beneficial.
The key word here is “personalised” however; I see many people using off the shelf plans and pushing through training sessions when they feel tired or ill. I would always advise speaking to a running coach, and drawing up a plan to your own individual circumstances, but listen to your body! If you’re tired, and the plan says do a threshold session, just take the evening off and resume training the day after when you’re feeling well again and remember it’s ok to have a rest day.”
Advice from Personal Trainer Matt Bucker
How do people get back on track if they miss some of their plan due to life/injury? Should they make up for missed workouts?
If you’ve had a period of time out through injury then you need to be careful when returning to running, you need to carefully build your mileage back up and take things slowly until you are 100% sure that you are clear of the injury.
If you have missed the odd session for any reason, don’t stress about making it up, simply cross it off and continue with your plan. If you try and make it up then you may risk overdoing things and either hurting yourself or jeopardising the rest of your plan.
If you find yourself constantly missing sessions then you should take a look at your plan as it clearly is not working for you. Make sure your plan is realistic and you have time to do it.
Should people worry about losing fitness levels whilst taking forced time out?
You won’t lose fitness if you miss a couple of sessions, or even a week or 2, any more and you may start to lose some but it won’t take you long to get back to where you are. If you are injured then consider other ways to keep fit, swimming or cycling are often an option depending on what injury you have.
Do you have any other tips/ advice for training plans?
Make sure your plan is realistic and is achievable around any other commitments you may have. There is no point having a plan that causes you to miss a couple of sessions a week because you don’t have the time. Plan accordingly around other commitments you may have make sure you make every session count.