What to look for in a training plan

Lets’ face it – there are loads of training plans out there for runners, absolutely loads. Whatever it is you want to train for, be it your first 5K or your twentieth ultra, the chances are you will be able to find a plan that claims to be able to get you to the finish line. But many of these plans have one feature in common that many runners are not aware of – they are based on an approach to training that suits young, fit men. Whilst some women, and some older women, may be able to use them well, if you are going through menopause, they may well not work for your body. Too much hard or fast running, too little recovery time and not enough focus on the strength work that your body needs may result in fatigue and injury for you, and that finish line becoming out of reach.

So how can you find a training plan that might work for you? Here are some things to think about as you look for the ultimate plan:

  • Remember that the main aim of a plan is to help you get to the start line of your chosen event in as healthy and fit a state as possible, so rule out any that will definitely be too much for you. If you know you only have the energy, or time, to run 3 times a week these days, choose a plan that’s based roughly on that. Be realistic about how much training you can do, and, more importantly, how much recovery time you need
  • Look for a plan that is based on training by effort (or heart rate) rather than pace, because this will help you to keep much tighter control over how hard your body is actually working. Likewise, find a plan that is based on running by time and not distance. That way you know exactly how long you’ll be exercising for rather than wondering how long you’ll need be out to cover 5 miles, and how much that might take out of your body
  • Be prepared to be flexible. Listen to your body and swap things around within the plan if you need to. Consider carefully which days you do the runs on, keeping the longer and harder ones for the days when you feel pretty good, and saving the shorter easier ones for the days when you don’t
  • Take extra rest if you need it. If you plan gives three rests days but on some weeks you need four, take four. Remember, it’s always better to be slightly undertrained than to be overtraining, risking injury and burnout
  • If you can’t find a plan that you think might work for you then put one together yourself, based on what you know you can manage, or ask someone to do it for you. Having a coach tailor one to your goals and needs can be a smart move

Most of all, remember that a plan is just that – a plan, a plan for how things might be done. It’s not set in stone, but rather there to guide you along the way, giving you suggestions as to what you might do to achieve your goal. Adapt it, tailor it, and never be afraid to rip it up and start afresh if it’s just not working for you.

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