How to Create a Training Plan And Stick To It

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In this post you’ll learn:

  • How to find time for running
  • The anatomy of a good, personal training plan
  • How to create your own training plan
  • FREE Bonus: Cheat sheet on how to stick to your training plan

They are easy to get and often a helpful tool: Prepared training plans for different running distances and levels. Even I’ve put together 30+ free training plans from 5K to the marathon distance you can download here.

But in this post I wanna provide you with the tool and know-how you need to create your own personal training program.

But why am I doing that if I already prepared training plans for every distance and level?

The reason is that I’m not a huge fan of prepared training plans after all. Every runner and every body is different and even the best designed training plan won’t work for anyone.

Often when someone downloads a training plan and stick to every single workout for 8-12 weeks, chances are that you don’t succeed or even worse: get injured.

Only you can read the signals of your body, listen to them and adapt your training accordingly. So consider also my training plans to be a rough guideline on what you can achieve with what amount of training volume.

With the following step-by-step guide I want to walk you through the process of creating a training plan yourself.

Let’s dig right in!

Step #1: Analyze Your Situation

This first step is very important and it’s crucial you got this right. It might sound easy but you need to be dead honest to yourself. If you overestimate your capabilities, you risk creating a too ambitious plan and thus overtraining and/or injury.

Underestimating oneself isn’t too bad but the better you know yourself, the better the room for improvement in the coming training block.

This analysis you should conduct before even starting to work on a training plan, isn’t only about how much training your body can handle and to figure out your current fitness levels. Also think about your lifestyle and other obligations in your everyday life.

Take a notebook and reflect on these things:

  1. How long can you run straight at 70-75% of your maximum heart rate
  2. What is your 5K or 10k PB
  3. How long since you started running
  4. What is your weekly training volume
  5. How much time can you spend for training each week
  6. Do you have support of family and friends
  7. Any injuries or problem zones (knees, achilles tendon, hips, etc.)

The first four point of this list help you to know the level of performance you’re currently at in respect of endurance (#1), fitness or aerobic capacity (#2) and how well-trained your locomotive system is (#3 and #4).

Points five and six help you determine how your personal environment and lifestyle support your decision to strive for more in regards of your running.

And finally number seven is important to know what kind of health supporting things you should include in your training program. For example should you strengthen your quads because you often have knee issues or should you focus on your immune system because you get sick all the time.

Once again, take some time for this step and do it seriously and thoroughly. This is where you set the basis for the success or failure of your personal training program.

Step #2: Set Your Goal

Now that you know your current fitness level and how much time you can spend for running it is time to set a realistic running goal.

In my entire running career I let my goal setting for a single training block be guided from a very ambitious long-term running goal, or better – my running dream.

This running dream is more a vision where you wanna end up as a runner than a specific goal. If you have this vision in place, you should define milestones along the way. For example if you want to run a marathon, start by training for a 5k, 10k, then half marathon and only if you master these distances, try going for the marathon.

A training block should be between 8-12 weeks. When creating a training program I would not plan further than three months ahead. Around ten weeks is perfect to set a specific training focus.

The most important thing when setting a goal is that it suits your abilities and life situation. There’s no point in creating a sub 3h marathon training plan right after you finished your first 10k in 60+ minutes.

So be realistic and if you’re not sure, tend to be rather conservative for your next goal. Again, you can check out these training plans to give you an idea of the goals you can set with your current abilities.

If you want to know more about goals setting, check out this article.

Step #3: Search Time For Running

In the first step you also had a look at your lifestyle and the time and support you have for your running life.

In this step I want you to dig a little deeper and search for time you can spend for running in your weekly schedule.

Don’t just think about your weekends and how many evenings you can use for a post-work training run. Running is something you can do almost anytime and anywhere. So maybe one of these things work for you:

  1. Wake up early and run before you go to work
  2. Go running in your lunch break
  3. Run commute
  4. Run errands

A while ago I’ve written a post all about training planning for busy people. It also includes a toolkit that helps you in the time finding and planning process. You can check it out here.

Learn some tips and tricks to keep you motivated and stick to your training for good!

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Step #4: The Big Picture

You have a realistic running goal that suits your fitness and endurance level and works within the constraints of your lifestyle with all the obligations it includes. You also have an idea of how much time you can spend and when to put in your workouts. Time to get planning!

Let’s first take a birds-eye perspective and have a look at the big picture of training planning. As I already mentioned, a typical training block should be planned for an 8-12 week period. That will give you the opportunity to reset your training focus 4-6 times each year.

Usually my key races are in summer which is when I want my performance to peak. For the last three months of the year and the first three months of a new year, I have 12 week training blocks and in the summer half-year training blocks are shorter depending on how far apart my races are.

Mini Blocks

So let’s look at the structure of a typical training block of 12 weeks.

In my opinion recovery is one of the most important things in training. So you should plan recovery as seriously as you plan your intense workouts. As far as structure I usually go with a 2-1 pattern, two weeks of hard training, one week of recovery. So within a 12 week training program you have four of these mini training blocks.

To have constant improvements, each of this mini block should include a higher training volume and/or intensity. The general rule of thumb is to increase training volume by no more than 10% each week. The more running experience you have, the closer you should get to the 10%. If you are new to running or had a longer break, I recommend you to be more conservative to protect your locomotive system and prevent injuries.

Your weekly mileage for a 12-week training block will look something like this:

Example training block

Plan Backwards

Ideal is to set the date when your training plan should end, which is usually race day. From this date plan backwards with the training structure outlined above. The last week of course should be recovery or tapering when it’s the final week before the race.

In the next two steps we will have a closer look, how a training week and a recovery week look like.

Step #5: Outline a Training Week

Let’s start with the training week.

The first thing here is to define how many training runs you do and place them in the time slots you detected in step #3.

When I trained for my first marathon I was training only 2-3 times per week. No matter the distance, I recommend you to train at least three times. Also if you are not very experienced I recommend you to have at least two days off running.

Basically I distinguish three types of training. Try to do each of these in every training week. The first two are a must if you want to train both endurance and speed:

  1. Long run
  2. Speed work
  3. Moderate runs

Plan your days off right after the days with a long run or speed work. So a typical training week should look like this:

A typical training week from a 4h marathon training plan

Step #6: Plan Recovery Seriously

So let’s focus on recovery weeks and several habits you can include also in training weeks to recover well and get through training without any health setbacks.

In recovery weeks you should reduce your training volume by about 30% or even more compared to training weeks. That should also free up your time reserved for running by the same amount.

But you can still use this time for working towards your goal by including recovery activities. Try to do one of these once each recovery week:

  • Get a massage
  • Go to the Spa
  • Extended foam rolling session
  • Active recovery (cross training)

Recovery in Training Weeks

Recovery weeks are great to give your body time to adapt to the training stimulus you set in the two training weeks before. But recovery is also very important in the training weeks themselves.

Each hard workout, whether it be a three-hour long run or a one hour speed workout, puts quite some strain on your body. If you’re doing things right your locomotive system should be strong enough to handle the pounding.

However your muscle will take a ton of mini injuries and most probably are pretty sore after a tough training. That’s why you should always have some recovery habits in place you can do to recover as fast as possible and prepare your body for the next session. These habits include:

  • Proper refueling: Fill up your hydration level and carbohydrate storages right after your training. Eat enough protein to provide your body with what he needs to fix up your muscles. Also have an eye on minerals and vitamins.
  • Stretch after tough workouts: I usually stretch calves, quads, hamstrings, inner thighs, glutes and hips
  • Sleep enough: Yes sleep is crucial and also something that is very individual. If I’m not working out, 6 hours a night are enough for me. After a three-hour long run I feel more like 8-9 hours. A general rule of thumb is to sleep 30 additional minutes for every hour you were working out.
  • Massges: Get a massage, massage tight muscles yourself, foam roll or use electrostimulation like Compex to increase blood flow to your muscles.

There’s much more you can do to recover from a hard run. But the four things mentioned above should be enough for most amateur athletes.

Step #7: Add Dietary Hints

I don’t want to go into too much detail here, because nutrition is a very controversial topic and everyone has a personal take on this.

However I recommend you not only to plan your workouts and recovery but also your nutrition.

How to fuel your body is crucial as you put yourself to more and more training. And it’s easy to be a little bit too rewarding and eat way more than you should. Yes, you burn a lot of calories with running but it’s not a carte blanche to go all in.

If you’re like me and not go into any extreme like low-carb, vegan or something like that, just make sure you keep a balanced and healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.

After intense workouts eat more proteins than usual and plan proper refueling after long runs. Also figure out a good pre and post run snack for each workout and what you take with you on longer workouts.

Bonus: How to Stick to Your Training Program

Planning is always the easy part. You can follow a script like the one I gave you in this post. But planning doesn’t make you a stronger runner, does it?

At a certain point it’s time to take action an actually get out there and work out. The start of it all is mostly the hardest, but many runners have issues sticking to regular running and their training program.

Often the result is procrastinating and sitting in front of the screen and start planning all over again.

So as a bonus and a help for you to take action, I prepared a few tips and tricks that help you to stick to the training plan you created.

Learn some tips and tricks to keep you motivated and stick to your training for good!

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As always thanks for reading and I would appreciate if you share this post with your friends if you like it!

Also you can always send over your feedback and critique. Just drop me a mail.

Happy running,

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