Designing a running training plan

I like to run. I run a lot, and I've found myself running every day of the week with little focus on what I want to achieve. Every day is the same 4-8km with a longer run on a Sunday. It's quite hard to progress myself, and measure my progress when I've been doing this because it all stays the same.

  • Monday - Run 4km because my legs are tired
  • Tuesday - Run 6-8km
  • Wednesday - Run 6-8km
  • Thursday - Run 6-8km
  • Friday - Run 6-8km
  • Saturday - Run 5km - Probably a Parkrun
  • Sunday - Run 25km maybe on a hill and tire out my legs

Exciting. Not much! There is no progression and it's flipping boring! And running the same distance really limits the different routes you can run. I need a guide to help me!

As I think about this more there are key things that I want in a guide:

Progression towards a goal

You'll know your progressing if you move towards your goal! This first part of progression is about building out the distance I can run in a single session. At the time or writing I do roughly 30km on hilly terrain (500m altitude gain). The second part is to build up the total distance I run on a weekly basis - currently around 60-70km a week with about 1000m altitude gained. The aim is to train for an Ultra (50km + ) on mountainous terrain (3000m+) in 6 months! 😱

I could easily see myself just running up more hills for longer each week to achieve this but at some point I think that I would exhaust myself without a rest day and if every day is the same then my legs never get a rest!

Variation from day to day

This is where variation becomes useful. The aim of variation is to switch the types of muscles working on each day. Muscles have slow and fast twitch muscle fibers. Slow are great for endurance but suck at speed, whereas fast are great for a sprint but only briefly! By adding variation to my routines the plan is to train each type in turn and give the other a rest. That means doing longer slow endurance paced runs to work the slow twitch on one day, and on another day fast running to train the fast twitch fibers. There is also Aerobic and Anaerobic zones to take into consideration at this point but for the sake of simplicity (at this point) I will keep with fast and slow running - endurance and sprint.

To run fast first you must run slow

There is also the consideration to actually have a day off exercise completely and a day to do some non leg based work (eg swimming, yoga, weights or core). These are important for me to be able to rest my legs but also in the case of the cross training - build up other muscles and fitness. If you have a day off you can push much harder they day after!

A plan for a plan

With the above general concept it would seem that the best plan for me follows a simple pattern which is less boring than the first one:

  • Monday - 0km Rest
  • Tuesday - 6km HIT day (eg Sprints)
  • Wednesday - 12km Easy day - not fast or slow
  • Thursday - 4km Specific day (eg Hills)
  • Friday - Other exercise day
  • Saturday - 5km Easy day - not fast or slow
  • Sunday - 30km Long day

There are quite a few existing training guides from Hal Higdon, Hal koerners, Jack Daniels, FIRST and Runners World, which are excellent and follow a rough week like this, however they don't fit my ideal plan. Some are too beginner and others are too specific or single minded. They tend to progress in steps: 5k -10k, 10k - Half marathon, marathon - ultra etc... Each has elements that I like and dislike but nothing fits right now. They cover the basics of what I want to achieve but either start in the wrong place or don't push where I want to which gets me thinking about what I want to achieve with my plan.

The biggest thing I want is to make it adaptable to my current goal. I might be training for hills now, but next year it might be for speed, or trails or road. Each of the plans covers an aspect of this but they are not interchangeable. I could just find a plan for that each time, but where is the fun in that!

Of course this is a very basic overhead to what I want to achieve with my plan, and I am at step 1. There are a lot more dynamics around the plan length, plateau weeks, tapering and race week that all need to be considered.

Part 2. Coming soon...