The Basics for Designing a Training Program

Designing a training program on your own to properly prepare you to meet your running goals does not have to be a complicated task. While there are countless free training programs available in books and on the net that you can use, learning to create your own program makes perfect sense. Firstly, nobody knows you and what works best for you better than yourself. Secondly, building your own program allows you to constantly build and modify new programs for new running goals without having to research what’s out there to figure out what works best for you. So, whether you use existing programs such as those available on this or another site or start from scratch, here are the basic training program elements that prepare you for physiological demands of various running goals. These are in the suggested order in which you use these training elements when you’re designing a training program for your next goal.

Training Program Elements

  1. Determine length of program – you’ve set your next running goal. Now, count back the number of weeks to today. As a general guideline for proper preparation, for shorter distances such as a 5k you should have a minimum of 4 weeks when your goal is to simply complete the distance and 8 weeks or more if you have an aggressive time goal. For longer distances such as half and full marathons, about 12 weeks should be your minimum for completion and allow up to 24 weeks for very important and/or aggressive time goals.
  2. Acquire a calendar – any calendar will work.
  3. Write your event date on the last day of the calendar (usually a Sunday).
  4. Add a taper period – look at a taper/recovery period of at least a week for shorter distances and up to 3 weeks for a marathon. Most marathoners need and perform better after a full 3 week taper even though they may not think they need one. To do this for example, for a marathon count back 3 weeks from your event date. That Sunday will be your peak training run.
  5. Determine what your peak distance training run will be - typically, there is no need to go the distance of your event in training if your goal is simply to finish. For aggressive time goals however, distance and occasionally over-distance training should be considered. For example, for a half-marathon distance which is 13.1 miles, you should look at running a peak long run of 11 miles if your goal is to finish, and over distance your long run (16 miles) if you have an aggressive time goal. Refer to the training program sections to help you determine how far you should go to train for your event.
  6. Once your peak training run is in, count back each week and place the rest of your long runs in by subtracting approximately 10% each time. Every fourth week, drop by approximately 25% as you need a recovery ‘step down’. Here is an example of how you would do this building a 16 week half marathon program: Week 14 - peak long run = 16 miles Week 13 = 14.5 miles (16 x 10% = 1.6 miles less) Week 12 = 13 miles (14.5 x 10% = 1.45 miles less) Week 11 = 10 miles (13 x 25% = 3 miles less) recovery day Week 10 = 11.5 miles (13 x 10% = 1.3 miles) Week 9 = 10.5 miles (1.1 miles) Etc.
  7. Add a recovery/rest day after every long run in your program. Some runners do better with a 3 mile trot rather than take the day off completely. You be the judge.
  8. Add an easy run/rest day before every long run. Something of a short distance.
  9. Add spice! When you’re designing a training program, now is the time to place your higher intensity speed work. Start with a good hill workout every second week, and mix in intervals or a fartlek workout every other week. If you're designing a training program yourself and have basically completed the previous few steps, you should have 4 days to play with. The general rule of thumb is not to exceed 1 hard day of speed work if you are a new runner and two if you are a veteran.
  10. Whether you have 2 or three days left, fill those days with general aerobic workouts. That is, runs that contribute towards your aerobic development. Check out the following target heart rate chart to determine what this intensity is. Feel free to add another rest day or cross training day after your speed work if you think you might benefit from this more than running that day.
  11. *If you think designing a training program is too tricky or risky feel free to use or adapt one of the many tried and tested training programs here or if you need running help of any kind, feel free to contact us below with your questions!

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