When it comes to training plans, in the most basic of senses we know that if we’ve got one, we’re more likely to see improvements. If we’ve got a race at the end of one, then we’ve no excuses when it comes to preparing to achieve a peak of fitness or indeed that target goal – sub 40 minute 10k, sub 2 hour half marathon or even a run that you can simply get around in one piece and still be able to tackle the stairs the next day.
Starting a plan
So this plan, is it just a case of building up the mileage week on week, the short answer being ‘no’, in which case where do we start? Well start with a realistic goal in mind – if it’s a race in a set time, it’s easy, you know when and where it is that you’re aiming for so tailor your plan around that – simply date, distance and time – nothing much else at this stage.
Pacing your plan
Depending on what your ultimate goals are means the plan in itself may be very different. For instance:
Peaking for a familiar distance – say you run the ParkRun week in week out and you’ve seen your times falling. How are you going to maintain this? When are you going to achieve and Age-Grading of say 60%? Is there a time when you’re PBs will run dry?
If you’re simply training for Park Runs by doing them, then yes, absolutely you’ll see a plateau, so instead introduce intervals or fartlek into your other runs – meaning periods of time where you’re running faster than you aim to on ‘race day’. The more you get used to these, the quicker you’ll be able to run these parts of your session and obviously the easier you’ll then find your planned ‘race-day-pace’.
Peaking for a longer distance - same goes for any distance really but for truly longer distances than what you’re used to running, such as the marathon, it’s more important to get used to ‘pacing’ and feeling your way through a run. If you’re likely to be on your feet for a number of hours then that’s what you need to get conditioned to – you should be able to run a lot faster for a mile than you plan to run for a long distance race, but doing that for mile 1 isn’t going to help you in mile 19, 20 and beyond – so it’s as much about discipline, in long runs especially, than getting quicker.
Equally, as with getting quicker for short distances, building up your pacing strategy is about getting that ‘even paced’ run nearer and nearer what you plan to do on race-day, with the ultimate aim of being able to do 80-90% of the distance at race pace in training less 10%. (i.e. for a half marathon in 8:00min/miles you should aim to be able to complete 10 miles in around 8:45 pace in training, for a marathon in 8:30s thats 20 miles+ in 9:20s or so) This will then give you the ‘time on feet’ training you need to cover the distance.
You know what distance you’re running and what time, you know when it is, so you just work backwards right? Yes, sort of – that big long lead up is your ‘macrocycle’ or grand plan and should last between 12 – 20 weeks. From the grand plan you don’t just work backwards in one linear progression, the best plans look backwards in chunks of time or ‘periods’ of training ‘mesocycles’ or mini plans. Each mesocycle will be roughly equal in length (e.g. 3 – 8 weeks) with an easier week at the end, and each will have a specific goal.
Whether you’re training for 5k or a 50 mile Ulramarathon, without a solid base of running behind you, throwing fancy stuff at your body is just gonna be one big risk of injury. So in the first few weeks of your plan, plan to just run. Varying the distances and the rest you have between sessions will make it slightly more taxing and interesting as would the addition of different terrain, road, trails, grass, sand – which will also help to build strength in your lower limbs, but stay off the hills if you can – you’ll attack them later.
Within this time you’ll also be looking to build on your weekly mileage by around 10% a week and the same for your longest run of the week – great to push it a little further, but no more than 10-15% at a time. Remember to have a lighter week at the end, you’re gonna need it for next week.
Phase 2 – strength building - get yourself tough
This means doing the things which test your mental toughness as well as your new found endurance. For this phase you’re looking for long intervals at race pace or just over maybe 20-50% or your race at a time. Or long hills of 5-10%+ of the distance/time you’re covering – so if it’s a 10k in 40mins you’re looking for a hill of around 400-600m to challenge at least or one which takes you 2-4mins to cover, nothing something that’s over in 30 seconds – which will make you quick out of the blocks, but not necessarily strong.
For these sessions it’s time to keep relaxed and you should be looking to be able to sustain your pace right through to the end with good form in your arms and legs – cautiously quick and controlled.
Mileage wise – stick with the same principles as the previous phase and aim high, but no higher than 10% increases at a time.
You’ve got the endurance of the Duracell Bunny, you can conquer a hill better than an Arctic Warrior in lycra and you’re feeling super confident with pacing. Time to turn up the heat and gets those wheels turning over faster than Road Runner. It’s time for speed.
By now the race is in sight so it’s time to start to feel like you’re racing and find out how far you can get your legs going under that race pace – so quick, short, sharp hills that you attack explosively or short intervals 10% of your race or so with full recovery. It’s a good idea to do some of your longer interval work if you can, but avoid trying to keep everything going at once – you’ll burn out and the speed work should be taking it out of you enough that you don’t feel the need to keep pounding out miles in between.
Good rest and nutrition is essential in this phase – it’s time to now jump in the ice bath and get yourself a few massages and up the protein if you’re going to repair quickly and get the most out of your sessions.
Phase 4 – preparing your body for racing - taper time
The training is in the bag now so it’s a case of wind down. Stretch to keep loose and gradually decrease the intensity of your sessions – in terms of distance covered, not pace. And your weekly mileage and longest run can come down too. Prepare your head mentally and you’re ready to cruise your way to the finish.