So you’ve signed up for your first half marathon, marathon or you are starting out towards your first ever 5K. Wherever you start, whatever your goal, the likelihood is that you have looked at a training plan as somewhere to begin. There are some fantastic training plans out there from the brilliant Couch to 5K plan from the NHS: getting you out of the starting blocks with a walk-run plan that takes you from not running, to your first ever 5K; up to advanced training plans from the likes of Runners World and Asics that can push seasoned runners out of their comfort zones and up to that all important PB. Most running magazines offer a staple running plan every season towards a particular distance that are geared towards first timers, improvers and those chasing their best ever time. Let’s not forget the training plans in the back of Running Free of Injuries by Paul Hobrough that have been tried and tested by runners of all abilities.
All training plans were not created equal. Not every training plan can be picked up and used successfully by every runner. The pitfalls are common and with experience they are obvious and have the same sometimes negative effect. Here are some of the things to keep in mind when you start a training programme.
- Consider your lifestyle before you start. What do you need to sacrifice in order to do this properly? Marathon training plans in particular require a great deal of focus, mileage and time spent on your feet. Make sure you have the support of your family before you start if it is going to impact on their lives too.
- Be prepared to swap things around. Not everyone can run on the same days, at the same time. It’s ok to move things around if it doesn’t work for you. Speak to fellow runners or a coach about the sessions you can change or move.
- Think about cycles of training rather than a week at a time. Sometimes approaching a training programme works better if you split the schedule into fortnight blocks rather than a week at a time.
- Go for quality over quantity. Long slow runs are really important for long distances but that’s not to say you should skip your shorter, faster sessions. Try to get a good mix of quality running sessions; mixing up speed work, long easy runs, short slow runs to allow your body to recover and those strength-building hill runs. They all really matter!
- Don’t let your plan dictate what your body is trying to tell you. If you feel unwell or you have an injury niggling, take a break from the plan and jump back in when you feel better. Always ask for advice from experienced physiotherapists if you have an ongoing injury- don’t ask Facebook forums first! Thrashing sessions out just because they are on the plan can lead to negative results.
- It’s not all about the running! Give yourself time to do some strength and conditioning exercises regularly to prevent injury and breakdown when your mileage increases. Think of it as prehab, keep it in your control. There are great prehab exercises in Running Free of Injuries that I would suggest you do at least twice a week when you are running regularly.
- Build massage into the plan. Regular sports massage from a good therapist can help to aid your recovery, iron out niggles in tired legs and refresh your body after long or hard runs. As a general rule I would recommend sports massage around every 4-6 weeks so book them in and write them on your plan. Treat them as part of the process.
- Have a goal, but don’t let it be the only thing that drives you. Embrace the process along the way. Inevitably you will have weeks where things don’t go to plan but they are all part of the process and the only way you can really learn about yourself in a cycle of training. Allow yourself to be just as much process-driven as you are focused on the end goal, whatever that is for you.
CiRF Running Coach
Anji is an experienced running coach and leader. Anji is available at Physio and Therapy UK for running technique assessment, 1-1 coaching and bespoke training plans by appointment only.