Running a race and achieving a goal in running is pretty easy, right? You just put together or download a done-for-you training plan, do exactly what is in there and then there’s virtually a guarantee that you’ll succeed. Pros do it with the plans of their coaches and amateur can do exactly the same.
Well it’s not that easy!
When I started out running, I did exactly that. Take a training plan from a book and start training by it. And I still believe there are some reasons why predefined training plans are useful: For example to see what a next goal can be. Or approximately how much training is need to achieve a certain goal. And as a rough guideline of course.
For these reasons I’ve also put together over 30 free training plans for you to use that you can get right here.
But training plans are limited, especially for us amateurs.
So in this article I will first discuss the limits and problems with training plans. I’ll show you why they fail for most runners and I will give you a different, more sustainable and promising system.
Let’s get started.
Generic training plans don’t grasp your life situation and the uniqueness of your body!
Have you ever downloaded a prepared training plan, did exactly what was in there week after week and end up running the exact time that the training plan was designer for?
If yes, lucky you!
For most runners it doesn’t work that way. Normally one of these things happen:
1. At one point life gets in the way and you can’t follow every workout of the plan.
2. You get injured or overstrain your body and need a training pause.
3. You followed the training plan and end up being faster than anticipated.
The major issue generally speaking with training plans is that they don’t grasp your specific life situation and the uniqueness of your body. Therefore training plans are designed to work for most without any guarantee that they work for you.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into the issues of predefined running training plans.
Most people work at a place where one or more bosses tell you what to do. As an employee you might be independent to a certain degree but still there is someone a step higher in the organisation that makes the plan how you should work and what you should do.
You might like that or you don’t, after all it’s your job. And you bear it because it pays for your living.
But running isn’t work. Running is a hobby and supposed to be fun and providing you with better health and great feelings. And it’s your body that’s on the line here. So you should take matters into your own hands.
See, you’re the only one you “work” for when running. You set the goals and the main focuses. You know how much your body can take. You decide how much is enough within your own, personal needs.
So as for running it’s way better to trust yourself rather than a plan someone created. It’s about your spare time and not some company’s goals.
Running is fun, not work!
We cannot subordinate everything to running!
If you’re reading this, chances are that you are not a pro athlete. And there are things that distinguishes us amateur athletes from professionals.
As a pro athlete you have to make some compromises. You subordinate everything to success. Yes, even your health sometimes. To peak at the day of your most important race is your main goal. And maximizing training time and efficiency by following a training plan created by your coach for your specific needs, is absolutely key.
However things are a bit different for us amateurs. We spend so much time with things other than running. Work, commuting, time with kids, family and friends. We cannot subordinate everything to running. And we don’t want to and of course we shouldn’t.
So training for amateur athletes needs to look completely different. Training plans cannot be predefined and static but need to adjust dynamically to the changing conditions of our everyday lives.
Running is “just” our hobby, as important as it may be to us. It’s not (yet) our profession.
Most training plans have a specific training goal in mind. Of course they do, after all that’s what a training plan is good for, right?
However training plans don’t address some of the real issues runners have. A typical training plan is just a collection of workouts distributed on several weeks.
But the most important thing in running, especially for amateurs, is not the main objective of predefined training plans: Consistency!
If you’re able to run on a regular basis and keep training consistently, it’s guaranteed that good things will happen.
But there are two things that keep many runners from being as consistent as needed:
So if you focus on a training plan that’s hanging on your fridge and you get injured midway through the program, the training plan has failed. Or if you, injury or not, lose motivation along the way, the training program failed as well.
So the main focus in your training should be consistency and avoid all the things that keep you from running, especially injuries.
Let’s have a look how this is achieved.
So training plans are not the best way to keep you training towards achieving your goals. But what is? Should you just stop planning your training at all?
But don’t rely completely on a fixed training plan. Train by a system instead that focuses not only on performance but also respects all the other things going on in your life and most of all: your health!
Make health and injury prevention a key focus in your training!
For your motivation and to be able to keep running on a consistent basis, it’s key to stay healthy. It’s a bad choice training like a maniac for some weeks and being sidelined with an injury for a couple of weeks.
So it’s crucial to make health in general and injury prevention a key focus in your training regimen.
But can you still have athletic goals with having a health focus? Can you still crush your PBs and discover new distances and take on crazy running challenges?
Of course you can! But maybe not within that three-month period that a generic training plan conveys.
Just know where you wanna go. The direction your heading is more important than an exact goal.
So you wanna achieve a goal, let’s say run your first marathon. That’s great and having a goal is absolutely key to stay motivated.
But when you set your next goal in running it’s time to be dead-honest to yourself. Are you ready to run that marathon yet? Have you enough time for training and can your body handle the workload needed?
There are some pieces of advice I’d like to give you when it comes to goal setting:
Often goals come with some agreement among friends. “Let’s do a marathon next spring!” or “Who can run a 10k in less than an hour first?”.
These are in my opinion not great reasons to improve.
Why? It’s too specific and puts on pressure. It’s ok to be a bit fuzzy with your goals. I’m going to run a marathon within two years (no specific date) or I’m running a new 10k PB next year (no specific finishing time). These are better than overly specific goals. Just know where you wanna go. The direction your heading is more important than an exact goal.
If you get too specific or fix a date too early, it happens easily that you train too hard and get injured along the way. I can’t stress it enough: Take your time!
Focus on recovery not running? Really? But why should I improve my recovery instead of my running?
Because it’s actually the same!
Studies showed a strong correlation between a body’s ability to recover from a workout or a race and the actual aerobic performance level of athletes. Bottom line: If you can recover faster you can run faster.
But there’s another thing why I think a recovery focus is beneficial. If you wanna achieve as a runner and be able to run further and faster, you need to train more. And wanting to put in more training is a great thing. But you shouldn’t rush it!
In order to have a good next training, you need to recover from the last workout. If you can recover faster, your next workout will be sooner. A great incentive to learn how to recover as fast as possible!
After all that’s what supercompensation is all about and why it’s so important to understand this principle. To learn the timing when to do the next tough training run. This is something nobody can exactly tell you. You have to get to know your body and learn by experience.
But if you succeed at this and speed up recovery and know when the perfect time for your next workout is, then the door is open to fast and consistent improvement.
Rather than planning every workout for 8 or 12 weeks, it’s way better to know which type of workouts get you closer to achieving your goal.
If you wanna improve pace, you need some speed sessions, if you wanna gain endurance you need long runs. Want to improve your downhill trail running, go and do repeats on a technical downhill. Or if you need to get better at power hiking steep uphills, go do that in your training.
Define two workouts (three if you’re advanced) you wanna do every week specific to the goal you have in mind. And try to do them week after week.
Sure you have to know first which workouts can be done to improve the aspect of running you want to. But this is not the big difficulty. Have a look into this post or that post or have a look here.
And after all, everyone is different. Analyze your training and do the workouts that work best for you.
Ah yes, last but not least the week-by-week mindset. This is the most important part in your dynamic, health-first, consistency optimizing training system.
Don’t plan the entire 12-week training period ahead!
Take week after week. Sit down on Sunday evening and look back at your training week. How do you feel? What was training like? Did you get enough sleep? What about your pre and post-run meals? What was great and what can you do better?
And look at the week ahead. Can you go all in with training again? Or do you need a recovery week. Any body part that needs special attention? And what about work or family life? How much time for running (and recovery!) do you really have the week ahead.
Don’t just follow a generic 12-week training plan. Conduct your key workouts week after week, focus on recovery and reflect on your training week once it’s done. Get to know your body and what works regarding food, sleep, time management and so on.
Seven days are great mini training blocks. But also don’t be to strict with that. If a workout was tougher than expected, start your five-day recovery period, or how many days you need, right away.
This should be the key takeaway here: Don’t be static with your training planning. Be dynamic and react to what’s happening!
What I outlined above is pretty much how I have trained for the past couple of years. Constantly, without injuries and always new, crazy adventures and achievements.
I’ve started with half marathons and now run 100k+ mountain races and all with motivation, fun and great health.
The system described in this article is what made it all possible for me. And I hope it helps you as well with achieving your running dreams.
But I’m always eager to read about your training and what works for you. Do you succeed with training plans? Or do you have a completely different training system in place? Let me know in the comments or drop me a mail!
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