How to Build your Own Race Plan
Written By: SportsShoes
For all runners, the key to achieving any goal is following a good training plan. There are literally thousands of race plans out there, from 5K through to marathon, and while these are generally a great guide, a one size fits all approach doesn’t always suit every runner.
An off-the-shelf training plan doesn’t take into account factors such as your schedule, personality or propensity to injury, all of which can significantly impact on your training. With that in mind, some runners prefer a more personalised approach. Sound like you? Well here’s what to consider when building your own training plan.
Set Your Goal
Every race plan needs an end goal. Firstly choose your distance. That might be a new 5K PB, breaking a sub 2-hour half, or transitioning up to full marathon. Once you’ve decided on distance, you can then start to schedule your plan - starting from race day and working backwards. So, for example, depending on variables such as your current mileage, you would be looking at something like a 16-week lead time for a marathon, and 12 weeks for a half.
Next, if you’re also gunning for a new PB, you’re going to need to train to pace. There are plenty of race time predictors and pace calculators online that can help you not only determine what finishing time you’re capable of, but also the pace you’ll need to be racing at to ahieve it.
Choose Your Event
Your plan, your rules. That means rather than going along with the crowd, you get to choose an event that you really want to run. So, if you’re after a new PB, choose a flat, fast course. If stunning views float your boat, opt for a scenic trail race. If you hate training in the summer heat, opt for a Spring instead of Autumn marathon… or if you love to travel, why not combine racing with an overseas city break? The list goes on…
Keep It Structured And Consistent
The danger of following your own bespoke training plan can be a loss of structure, which can ultimately lead to a lack of consistency – and as all runners know, consistency is the key to success. Your plan must be disciplined if you’re going to make it to 26.2 or smash a personal best - and only having a vague plan in your mind is a guaranteed road to failure. Get it scheduled, written down, and pin it up somewhere visible, like the fridge door or next to your desk at work. To make progress you’ll need to be running a minimum of 3 times a week - come what may.
3 Key Weekly Sessions
All training plans should generally incorporate three key weekly sessions as part of your mileage to build strength, speed and endurance. These are: a tempo session, speed or hillwork and your long run. Include these on a weekly basis and your plan won’t let you down.
Your weekly long run should be progressive and help you gradually build towards your race goal, building strength and developing endurance. Always build steadily, and follow the 10 percent rule, never increasing your weekly mileage beyond this line.
Also known as the lactate threshold run - running at a comfortably hard, faster pace helps train the body to clear lactic acid more efficiently from the bloodstream and boost performance. The tempo run can be performed at a continuous pace, or in intervals - and incorporating this session weekly into our training helps us to run harder, longer and faster.
Speed or Hillwork
Incorporating speed intervals or hill repeats builds leg strength, power, increases running efficiency and builds endurance. Alternating periods of intense effort with jogging or walking, weekly speed and hill sessions are an incredibly effective tool for almost all runners.
No matter how motivated you are, life can get in the way of the most committed training plans. The great thing about creating your own training plan is that you can pro-actively take steps to mitigate any factors that might compromise your training by personalising your schedule. Know you’ve got some late nights coming up at work? Schedule a 6am run and get it done before anything else gets in the way. Likewise, if you’ve got a holiday coming up and you know you’re likely to miss a few sessions, add extra time onto your training plan to account for it.
Factor In Time For Rest And Cross Training
Forget your rest days and you’re heading for fatigue and injury. Make sure not to cram all of your sessions into a few days, and make sure you’re scheduling enough time for rest, repair and recovery. Hard sessions should always be followed by either a rest or easy run day. Also try to schedule in cross training on no-run days where you can to help boost overall conditioning, strength and fitness with minimal impact.
Don’t Forget To Taper…
The taper is a crucial part of any training plan for longer races, and yet runners frequently forget about it when scheduling their plan. The taper helps us to arrive at the start line with fresh legs and replenished energy supplies. You should start to gradually taper your mileage from around 3 weeks out from a marathon and two weeks for a half – always account for this as an important part of your plan.
…and Recovery Is Important Too
Runners tend to go one way or another after a race. Some runners feel super-motivated and can’t wait to lace up their running shoes again – this type of runner is likely to do too much too soon without allowing adequate time for recovery and often winds up injured. Others lose motivation with no goal to focus on, and struggle to rediscover their running mojo. Scheduling in a post-race recovery plan will help to maintain motivation without doing too much too soon after your race.
Factor In Race Day Conditions
Recreating these conditions in training will help you perform better on the day. So, if the course is hilly, include hills as a key part of your training. If the race is in the morning: run then. Training like this will also give you time to experiment with and plan your nutrition strategy.
Have A Contingency
Sometimes, even the best laid plans can go awry. Injuries, unforeseen life events and other factors beyond our control can seriously knock our training off course, no matter how well we plan for them. Factor in a couple of extra weeks so that if you do succumb to injury and need to take a week off from training, you’ve got time to make up for that missed mileage. There’s nothing to make you feel more unpleasantly pressured than a tightly scheduled training plan – make sure to give yourself some breathing space in case of things going wrong.
Learn From Past Experience
Use what you’ve learned from previous races and training plans to help shape your own personal plan. If you know that generally you just don’t feel like running after work, then schedule early morning runs or time your session to coincide with a running club meet. If you’re predisposed to injury, build up more slowly, add more weeks to your schedule and take extra special care with hill and speed work. If an easy run works better for you than a rest day, schedule it in. If a 3 week taper makes you lethargic, make it a two week taper. This is all about utilising your experience to build a plan that works for you.
It’s About Who You Are
Lastly, it’s important to combine the discipline of a training plan with the unique factors that make up you, your life and your personality. If you’re not confident in building your plan from scratch, take a typical training plan to guide you, and adapt it and personalise it to you. This helps to ensure that you’re incorporating enough mileage and the right training sessions, while also ensuring your plan works for you. Good luck!