Top 5 Training Challenges: #2. I Don't Know Which Plan to Follow
Over the course of the next several weeks, we are going to talk you through five common challenges our runners face in the context of training for half and full marathons. We’ll provide tips and tricks on how to combat these challenges to make your next training cycle the best one yet.
In this second installment of ‘Top 5 Training Challenges’ we are breaking down the complexity of training plans to make sure you’re choosing a plan that best suits your individual circumstances. If you haven’t already read the first post on Motivation, be sure to check that out too.
Whether you’re training to run your first half/full marathon or your 101st, the process of planning your training should always be thoughtful and deliberate. In an age where we have infinite resources at our immediate disposal, the ability to filter through the “noise” and find a training plan that is right for you can be a struggle. So, we are going to highlight three of the key factors you should consider when evaluating the appropriateness of a training plan for you.
The first question you need to address is Frequency: how many days per week can you realistically run? The best way to evaluate this is to treat the period leading up to the beginning of your training cycle as a trial. Determine how many days you can reasonably fit into your life, accounting for whatever conflicting demands you might have (job, family, other activities, social life, etc). Besides the time constraint, you also need to learn to start taking signals from your body as to what frequency it can tolerate. Some runners thrive on running every day, while others need days off in order to appropriately recover and adapt to the training stimulus. In our training group at RacePace, our philosophy is predicated on and encourages six days of running per week. Importantly, half of those days are done at a very easy effort so as to promote recovery in between higher intensity days. A strong aerobic engine is critical for success in endurance training. And running consistently through stress (workout) and recovery (easy) cycles will yield the best aerobic development. That said, if a runner is not responding well to that frequency (fatigue, aches/pains, etc), our coaching team has a feedback loop in place to adjust and refine their plan to best suit their needs and abilities.
The second key measure you should use to inform your training plan selection is Volume. While closely related to the frequency discussed above, volume refers to the weekly mileage that you will run over the course of the training cycle. Most plans will start at a baseline weekly mileage, build progressively over the course of the cycle, and taper in the closing week(s) leading up to the race. In general, as with frequency, volume is highly dependent on the time you can commit to running as well as the ability for your body to tolerate a given amount of weekly mileage (without risking injury or burnout, both big topics for future blog posts). When considering your own weekly volume, you’ll want to use your previous training (if relevant) as a starting point and evaluate how your life and body might respond to deviations from what you’ve done in the past. For example, if your mileage peaked at 50 miles per week for your last marathon cycle and you felt lethargic and run down by the time you reached the starting line, then following a plan that prescribes 60 miles per week (all else equal) might not be the best move. If you’re training for the first time, you should err on the side of conservative and ramp up volume very slowly to gauge what ultimately is best for you. At RacePace, we prescribe volume based on a targeted questionnaire we have all our runners complete prior to the program orientation. We take into account (among other things) prior experience, prior race times and race goals. And, as with frequency, we have checkpoints along the way to ensure the volume is appropriate (and not over- or under-loading the runner physically or psychologically).
The third and final key element to consider when choosing a training plan is its Flexibility to cater to you. Some plans are very rigid in their prescribed structure based on the underlying philosophy or training methodology. Conversely, many plans will offer modifications based on experience level (beginner? advanced?), level of performance (recreational versus competitive) and race objectives (“just finish” versus setting specific time goals). The more you can adapt a plan to your specific circumstances, the more likely you’ll be to adhere to the plan, which ultimately will maximize your likelihood of a positive training and racing outcome. If you’re a beginner, finding a plan that is designed for less experienced runners will ensure you don’t ramp up too quickly or expose yourself to more stress than your body can withstand. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’ve already raced countless marathons and are looking for a way to modify your previous training approach in the interest of progress (maybe trying for that BQ?), then finding a plan that can consider that prior experience will set you up best for success. At RacePace, we have runners of widely varied experience and performance levels, from beginners just looking to finish their first race to highly seasoned, competitive runners. And while the underlying philosophy of everyone’s training plans is consistent across the training group, the details vary significantly if you’re training for your first half-marathon with us versus if you’re extremely experienced and trying to take another minute or two off that PR.
As you embark on your next training cycle, be thoughtful about planning that training. And a critical step in that process is selecting and committing to a training plan. As you evaluate the endless options out there, keep in mind the training frequency and volume you can accommodate and tolerate, while also seeking out a plan that is flexible enough to cater to your unique circumstances. As important as choosing the plan, is then continuously checking in with yourself (or your coach / training group) to provide feedback on how your training is going with respect to the plan and deciding if/when it makes sense to adjust (which is very normal throughout a training cycle). At RacePace, the constant communication we maintain between our coaching team and our runners ensures that they are running at a level (and volume and frequency) that simultaneously challenges them while also keeping them healthy, engaged and motivated.
Looking for some guidance on planning your next training cycle? Join our run fam today!
Have questions or comments? We’d love to hear from you.