What type of training plan do you work from? As runners gain more experience many shift to a cloud plan where there is no hardcopy or physical paper plan. The only plan is in their own head. I have done this and had great success. I have also had written plans and had great success.
Having a plan is critical for less experienced runners because it gives them a map to follow to get to their goal. It puts in place incremental steps that are more likely to avoid injury than just running. It keeps them accountable while they are reaching new goals. You also get to check off each box as you complete each workout which is quiet satisfying. You could even use a gold star or other sticker if you would like.
Another thing you can do with a hardcopy is create a line below each week that allows you to put in comments after each workout. This makes your training plan your training log as well. Keeping notes about how you feel and anything else you think might be important in the future, is very helpful the longer you run.
You can go back and look at what you have done in the past and then create new plans using that information. You may find that you get the most adaptation when you do hills rather than speed work. You may find that you really only need to do back to back long runs every other weekend to get the same benefits come race day.
The one thing you want to be aware of when you have a hardcopy plan is that it is still adjustable. If you feel like you are stretching yourself too thin or a certain workout is needs to move to a different day once or even permanently do it. Don’t be afraid to adjust things. You want to keep all the same elements and the progression but workouts can move around.
When you are using a cloud training plan, you are basically working off your experience as a runner and creating the plan as you go. This gives you a huge amount of flexibility. The biggest drawback, is you may not remember what you did when you are successful or feel that it was a great training block or you may not remember what you did when you found yourself injured.
Cloud training plans still follow a basic outline or structure. The runner knows what types of workouts need to be completed for the week. They have them planned out in the mind early in the week and then make it happen from there.
I have used both types of plans and had a lot of success. It is very freeing to use a cloud plan. It is also very satisfying to check off boxes and to not have to constantly make decisions about what to do each run or each week. It’s all there. You have all the elements required to be successful.
Runners new and runners old, use training programs. I think the big difference is that more experienced (old) runners know how to tweak theirs to make it the most beneficial for where they are at and where do you want to go. These are both big questions to ask yourself when you are either looking for a training program someone else has put together or building one for yourself. It takes a little honesty and a lot of introspection. Some runners like to have a written plan and others have a mental plan. Both are useful at certain times but I’ll cover that in a different post.
Where are you?
To create an effective training program for yourself you need to know where you are starting from. Do you have any injuries? this could be a current injury that you are recovering from or it can be something that is a reoccurring issue for you. What are you doing now to train? This takes into account your current fitness including your strength, aerobic fitness, and what you are running now. What is your life like? Think about how much time you have to train, what stressors you have or will have, and also other obligations you have to the world around you. These questions are not in any particular order and I could go on and on but these are essential things to know to build a training program that is going to start you off right.
Current and past injuries are relevant when creating a plan. The current injury is obvious because you need to continue to allow it to heal before you put too much stress on it. I’m a firm believer in active recovery, but it should be gentle. You should not be doing so much training that you leave your body without enough energy to heal.
Past injuries should be taken into account because you don’t want to repeat them. These could be things that have happened one time or they could be an issue that pops up every so often. It could also be a mild chronic issue rather than a acute injury you are healing from. If you have injured yourself doing certain types of training or by building your miles too fast, you know you should build slower or avoid some types of training.
If it’s something you can’t avoid, you need to do a better job preparing your body for it by building a foundation. To build a foundation thing about the different elements that you need to successfully complete the skill. Do you need some extra flexibility in a muscle or tendon? do you need more strength in supporting muscles? There might be a workaround as well. Some runners get injured every time they do speed training. If this is you, instead of doing 800s on the track, find a hill that is steep enough and long enough for you to do hill repeats.
Before you begin creating a plan, don’t change anything you are doing and really get to know where you are during your training. How do you feel? is it challenging? is it fun? are there things you think are missing from your training? What you are presently doing is where you want to begin unless you are already over doing it. If you are tired all the time, lack motivation and are grumpy, you may want to reduce your load for a couple weeks before you begin to build.
What your life is like has a huge impact on your training program. It places time constraints on you and it uses up energy. You may need to reduce training at times when you know that it’s going to be a stressful week. This can’t always be planned for but for things you know about, take them into account and reduce your training that week. By being proactive, you will make reaching your goal fitness easier. If you just push through everything, you will decrease your gains because you will either get injured or be too energy depleted.
Where do you want to go?
Many runners are training for something. Most often, it is a particular event. It can also be to reach a certain level of fitness such as be able to run continuously for one hour or run a 6 minute mile. Whatever your goal is, you need to build up to it.
If your goal is a certain fitness level, begin by thinking about the steps needed to improve what you are working on. Possibilities are strength, endurance, agility, and speed. Once you know specifically the elements you need to consider to reach your goal, start thinking about each one in both incremental and approaches terms. The key is to build up at a rate your body can handle. If you don’t know, keep it easy at first and then push a little more as you get to know your body. As far as approaches, this just means that there are different ways to approach a mountain (goal).
To build strength, you can go to the gym and lift heavy but low repetitions or light and high repetitions. You can also use your body weight. Are you going for overall strength or do you want to have fabulous biceps or glutes? The type of weigh you use changes the way your body builds muscle. Do some research and make sure you are doing what is going to get you where you want to go.
Endurance can also be hit using different types of exercises. Your passion may be running but sometimes it is good to cross train to reduce the impact and still build endurance. You can choose things that will enhance your running: elliptical, stair master, hiking, walking. You can also choose things that will give you a break from running such as swimming, rowing, and cycling.
If you are a trail runner, agility should be something you think about. I would encourage you to add some form of agility training to your program. For agility training, you can use real experience by finding a rocky section of trail and doing some repeats. Start with something flat before you add in the downhill. An agility ladder is also a great way to improve your foot work. Another, less well know strategy, is leg turnover. This really focuses on quickly picking up and putting down your feet. Spinning can be a good way to increase your leg turn over.
Speed training is something I love to hate. There are so many different types of speed training. You can do intervals of different distances. The most common are 400, 800 and one mile. You will want to take a recover lap or 2 minutes between each repeat. You can do random time sprints by adding in 30 second or 1 minute of fast running randomly through a run. You can do a pyramid by starting with an 400 then you go up and down: 400 rest 800 rest 1 mile rest 800 rest, 400 cool down. You can do a ladder by starting with 400 then you go up, 800 rest, 1 mile rest 1.5 miles. Another fun one is diagonals. Find a square or rectangle field. Run along one side at an easy pace and when you reach a corner you sprint diagonally to the opposite corner. Run/jog/walk along the side as a rest and when you reach the corner, sprint diagonally to the opposite corner. Here are some links to my prior posts on speed.
If your goal is a particular event, you will need to break it down into elements or the particular skills you will need to complete it successfully. It may have so many elements that you can only choose one or two as focus points. If you try to incorporate too many things into your training program you will plateau or over train or get injured. None of which you want. Possible elements to events are distance, ascents, descents, heat, cold, eating and mental training. All of these could be it’s own post. Lucky for you I have written them and linked them here for your enjoyment.
Perceived effort is a scale of 1 to 10 used to determine how much effort you personally are putting into a run. This means you’re not running to meet a specific time goal such as a 8 minute mile or completing 10 miles in 90 minutes. Perceived effort means how much effort you feel you are putting into a particular run. What each point on the scale means is different for every person and for each run.
If you have a hard workout, your perceived effort will reflect that in the next days run because a pace that is easy for you will be more challenging to maintain. This is normal and in fact if it’s now happening you are either exceptional at recovery or you are not pushing yourself hard enough in your hard workouts.
Why do we use perceived effort to measure how difficult a run is or how hard we should be pushing on a particular day? it is more personal and therefore more effective for you as an individual runner. If you are working with a training program you pulled off the internet, it doesn’t account for you as an individual. It is made to work for a range of people. Perceived effort let’s you adjust on the move and from day to day.
If a workout is supposed to be hard, you know what hard feels like on that day and you can push yourself to that level. Hard workouts should be competed at a 7 or 8 on the perceived effort scale. There are few times you want to push all the way to 9 or 10, maybe the last quarter mile of a run or a race. Easy runs should be completed at a 3 or 4. Tempo runs should be done at a 5 or 6, hard but maintainable for 6 to 8 miles.
Running based on perceived effort helps you ensure that your training is going to have the intended impact. If you are always running at a high level, you don’t let your body recover. No recovery means no progress.
Is running by time rather than perceived effort useful? yes, in small doses. It is a good way to see how you are progressing in your training. Mostly running by time should reserved for races.
We all get stuck in a rut, but it can be really easy to do with your workout routine. I know I’m guilty of this on multiple occasions, with both my running and with my strength workouts. There are a few problems with the rut: first, you don’t make any progress; second, you lose motivation; third, it’s boring!
The first is the most important for runners who want to improve. Not all runners want to improve. They are content running their six miles four days a week at a comfortable pace. That’s not me. I want to get better and I like to see progress. Even if improvement isn’t your think, staying motivated to get out there and not being bored the entire time should be enough for you to want to change things up every few weeks.
Many runners work through their training in blocks. Blocks can be four, six or eight weeks long and during each block you focus on a different aspect of your running. That doesn’t mean you drop other aspects of training, they just aren’t the focus point. Other runners switch things around by every other week. And still others, do a rotation over a ten-day period.
Strength Blocks: Starting a block rotation with strength is great because the number one goal of strength training for runners is to reduce risk of injuries. There are three types of strength training typically used by runners. First is body weight. This uses light weights or no weights with high repetitions. The idea is it builds strength and stability without the mass. Second is plyometrics. Plyometrics are explosive movements, such as jumping and springing. These are great but need to be implemented in small dosages especially at the beginning. Third is heavy lifting. Heavy lifting is low repetitions and max weight which strengths your connective tissue. Lifts should be done very slow and controlled. You’re runs during a strength rotation should be lower in intensity because you’re kicking up the intensity with strength training.
Speed Blocks: during your speed block you’re going to have an intense speed workout once a week and then throw in some fartleks during your long run. For your weekly intense session, choose different types of work outs. Don’t just do 800s. There’s nothing wrong with doing a week of 800s, just don’t make it an every week thing. Use pyramids, tempo runs, ladders, or 400s.
Hill Blocks: during your hill block you will have one run a week dedicated to running hills and then you’ll throw in extra hills for your long run. You can run hill repeats or find a long steady climb to conquer. If you’re doing short repeats, walking the downhill is fine, but you’ll have to find some longer downhills to practice downhill running. Downhills will tear up your legs if you don’t build them into your training.
Build Blocks: As endurance runners, especially at ultra-distances, your long run is going to stay in the weekly rotation. However, if you’re not doing a build phase, you’ll only do one long run a week rather than the back to backs. You can also choose to run one long run and then the next day a ten-mile run. But if you’re not in a build block, you’re not increasing the miles on that second day.
The important part is that you are changing things and challenging your body in new ways. Using the same workouts doesn’t get you more of the same results. It gets you a flatline.