Not everyone is interested in a running coach. Sometimes you just want to figure out what basic half marathon training plan (or other distance!) will actually work for you.
There are a million free running training plans out there, I mean I provide a ton of them around here! But they aren’t customized and that often leads to runners following it for a few weeks then falling off.
Sometimes you want to make your own running training program or customize an existing one you’ve found online but just don’t know how.
That’s where this guide comes in! It’ll teach you what factors to consider when creating your own running training plan. From the basic building blocks, to amount of time and other important considerations for your next goal.
All of this applies to walkers, intermediate runners, beginners and anyone in between. So let’s get started!
Factors to Consider When Creating a Running Training Plan
If you’ve ever asked yourself the question of what makes a running training plan good, it all depends on if it’s the right fit for your life. Longer runs don’t have to be on Saturday just because most plans do it that way. What they do need is to be separated by a few days from any hard workout.
By taking the time to consider personal factors when creating a running plan and schedule, you’ll have something you can truly stick with. And that’s where the magic happens!
Here’s what your good running plan should consider:
1. Your Current Fitness Level
The first place to start is to realistically access your current fitness level. Are you a complete beginner and a novice runner? Or would you consider yourself an intermediate runner?
How often do you run?
If you regularly run currently then your body will already be conditioned to a certain extent, making it easier for you to jump into a relatively more challenging plan than someone who hasn’t run a mile in their life.
What other physical activities do you currently partake in?
Do you enjoy swimming on the weekends or do you love your Sunday morning bike ride? Or better yet, do you regularly hit the gym, attend yoga classes or do pilates? If you’re already currently doing some other physical activity apart from running, then you can incorporate that into your plan as cross-training. Always remember that if you enjoy your running training plan, you’re more likely to stick to it
2. Your Past Performance
It’s great to know where your fitness is right now, but what has your training historically looked like? Answering a few key questions might help you better understand the needs of your body.
What was your past performance?
Is your current goal wildly optimistic compared to past performance? Calculate the paces needed for your goal time and start trying to hit that for even a few minutes in your speed workouts. Gauge how you feel and adjust your goal.
What things have kept you from sticking to past plans?
Knowing the answer to this will help you set up things that prevent those excuses from coming up again and ensure the plan is one you’ll enjoy. That’s right you should ENJOY training.
3. Your Tendency to Get Injured
You’d think I’d add this under past performance, but how prone you are to injuries, or how often you have gotten injured in the past needs a dedicated section. Remember that you can only run as much as your body can take, and respecting it is important to stay injury free. So ask yourself:
Are you someone who frequently gets injured?
If yes, you might need to start off with less speed work. You may need to shorten 1 or 2 runs to make time for pre-hab hip, glute, and IT band work.
You may find that doing a lower mileage plan with higher volume of cross training is actually more beneficial. You’ll need to play around with this.
4. Your Personality
Now you know how your body functions, but what about your brain? That’s right it’s a key player in hitting your race day goals.
Understanding your personality and how that affects your running is key to making a training plan that fits you and will also suit you.
Do you hate speed workouts?
I do. So I had to find ways that didn’t involve the words 400-meter repeats to improve speed.
Fartleks, tempo runs, that use effort as a gauge are far more effective for me. Maybe for you, the key is to always do speed workouts with a group, so you join the weekly Wednesday group run and set that day as your speed.
Do you love variety or prefer consistency?
Repeating the same workout will allow you to quickly see progress, but if it bores you to tears then you won’t do it. Find ways to switch up the number of repeats or the distance each week, maybe alternate between hill repeats and sprints each week.
Do you need a group?
Can you hold yourself accountable to get in daily workouts simply because you thrive on a goal or do you need a partner? If you need a buddy then it’s time to recruit a great friend for the journey or find a local club to join a few times a week.
5. Your Life and Schedule
A great chat with friends this weekend reminded me how easy it is to get sucked into the idea of a race when the reality is it doesn’t fit our lifestyle.
Are you taking extra classes to finish an MBA? Focused on enjoying tons of time skiing this winter? Figure out if it’s really the right time for a big race goal.
Do you have a busy family life? Job? Want more time to socialize?
You might do better on a plan with only 3 weekly runs that are all high intensity.
Have more free time?
Then dive into increasing your weekly mileage which is what the pros have shown works well to increase endurance and speed.
Feel stressed already by life?
Maybe the Low Heart Rate running plan will work for you since it doesn’t stress the body the same way many traditional plans do.
6. Your Realistic and Supersized Goals
We all have some dream goals. You may secretly be hoping to qualify for the Boston marathon someday, or maybe you’re looking to cross the finish line for the first time.
What are your supersized goals?
Dreaming big is sometimes really important because it helps us runners know where we want to ultimately go in our running journey. Whether it’s running longer races such as a marathon or even an ultramarathon or setting a PR, identify what those supersized goals are.
What are your realistic goals?
Next, figure out what your realistic goals are considering your current lifestyle, fitness level, and skills. Finding a middle ground that keeps challenging you but doesn’t overwhelm you is incredibly important to build a solid running training plan.
How to Build Your Own Training Program
A running coach is going to help drill down into each area for you. If you want some guidance with pre-made plans, scroll down and use them as a base to build from.
But if you want to attempt this process on your own, I’ve been there and done that so let’s help you learn how to build a running plan.
It’s one of many reasons I began reading so many running books and trying to figure out what worked best for my body over the last two decades of running. Following are my best tips for designing a training plan that will work for you.
- Pick a goal race and register! Setting concrete goals will help you build a plan that’s designed for it.
- Work backwards up to 24 weeks for a first marathon, 16 weeks for a half, and 12 weeks for a 10K.
- Understand your why for when it gets tough because sometimes it will.
- Set a general weekly plan (i.e. Monday is a rest day, Tuesday is for speed work, Wednesday is for strength training)
- Consider the terrain of your race and ensure you are adding in trails or hills.
- Make your hardest week 2-3 weeks prior to the race (highest mileage or most goal pace miles)
- Take into account any travel or family obligations that may require moving around key workouts
- Each week should generally consist of time for a long run, a speed workout, time for pre-hab,cross training, and then the other runs will depend on the below ideas.
- PLAN REST AND RECOVERY – this often gets overlooked, but it’s the time that will keep you progressing and injury free
Now that you have the general guidelines to make your own training schedule, let’s look at the basic plan builders that’ll help make sure you’ve got it all covered.
Basic Running Plan Builders
Making you sure have a balanced running plan that covers everything you need for a solid foundation is absolutely key. Let’s look at the different components that should be a part of your weekly schedule:
Easy runs are an important part of every training program and are done at a conversational pace. These types of runs help you build endurance and help increase your mileage without the stress of speed work.
By incorporating them into your training plan, you’ll be able to safely progress to other types of training to become a better runner.
Including speed workouts in your training plan will help you become a better runner by making you step out of your comfort zone.
They teach you how to mentally handle the physical discomfort that comes with running, and will mentally and physically prepare you for those difficult last few miles on race day.
These workouts include intervals, tempo runs, hill repeats, fartlek, and understanding what these are and how to incorporate them into your plan can make the biggest difference!
These are long-distance runs that you do at a moderate pace, that’s tougher than an easy run but still within your comfort zone.
This is what will help you build up those miles and prepare your body for what’s to come on race day. What a long run looks like for a beginner will look different than that of a more experienced runner, but in general, they should be about 20 to 30% of your weekly mileage.
In general though, never increase mileage more than 10 percent from one week to another to avoid any risk of injuries.
This is often overlooked, but rest days are an essential part of EVERY training plan. Your body needs time to rest and recover, so whether resting means laying on the couch, or going for a light walk with your partner in the evening, give your body the rest it deserves to recover and keep you strong.
For many novice runners, this might not seem like the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of a running training plan – I mean strength training is completely unrelated, right?
Wrong. Strength training is extremely important for every runner, regardless of age, skill level, or sex, because you need to build strength in other parts of your body to reduce muscle imbalances.
And that’s not even the only reason why you should include strength training in your training plan because it’ll also help reduce the risk of potential injuries and even help you become a faster runner.
Check out my free and complete strength training guide for runners to add a day dedicated to it to your weekly schedule.
Cross training for runners is any other alternative complementary workout or exercise that’ll improve your running performance, including activities such as swimming, hiking, cycling, etc.
If you already enjoy doing one of these activities, then adding it to your plan will reduce injuries, and improve strength and flexibility as well as your range of motion.
To cover all your bases, I have a complete guide to understanding cross-training for runners as well that I encourage you to check out.
Other Things to Consider for Your Overall Running Training Plan
Now that you understand the basic building blocks of any running plan, there are some other things to consider as well. Let’s look at what they are:
Race Specific Training
If you’ve signed up for a specific race (or plan to), it’s important to really research the route to understand the terrain. You’ll need to make sure you add different elements of training that can help you train for that terrain.
Another factor to consider is the weather conditions you’ll be running in on race day. It’s important to train in the same conditions you’ll be running in, or to try and do it as much as possible.
This means that if you’re expecting it to rain on race day, train to make sure you know how to run in the rain safely.
Although it’s not specifically part of your ‘training schedule’, your gear is one of the most important things you’ll need on race day and also during training. It’s important to mimic race day conditions, which includes training in the gear you plan to wear on that day.
And, yes you guessed it, the most important running gear is your running shoes. Make sure you have the right fit and know when and how to rotate them so that they’re ready for race day.
You could have the best plan in the world that’s absolutely personalized for you that’s designed for the race you plan on running and you might even have the best running gear, but if you neglect nutrition and hydration none of it will matter on race day.
As a runner, your body needs more than the average person to refuel, recover, and build strength and endurance. Understanding nutrition for runners and what constitutes a runner’s diet is crucial, so don’t ever neglect that regardless of your goals, plans, or schedule.
Free Pre-Made Running Training Plans
Looking for a free pre-made running plan that you can then customize with the tips and tricks mentioned in this article? Then here are a few you can get started with:
- Couch to 5K training plan
- Couch to 10K training plan
- Couch to half marathon training plan
- First half marathon training plan
- Sub Two Half Marathon Plan
And of course we have a team of running coaches available in Run Club to answer questions and provide additional plans!
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Awesome! I actually took 1 training plan and adapted it to fit my needs. I'm also going with how my body feels to try and not injure myself. Hoping that will all help me complete my first marathon. :)
Jennifer @ Fit Nana
I love following plans! I like to see it all spelled out. I’m a planner by nature so being able to see what’s coming up and when is super helpful for me. I’ve never actually used a running coach (other than Hal Higdon, of course. lol) but, would totally consider it once I’m back to running.
This is so useful, thank you ! Personally I try to build my own training plan based around a rough template, but often I don’t take important factors (like injury) into account. I should! I’m pinning this post for future reference :)
Yes, I have worked with a Coach…YOU!! And highly recommend it!!
And yes, I LOVE ….super fluffly heart LOVE to follow a plan!!
Susie @ SuzLyfe
Creating a training plan is so much more than just throwing together miles. SO much more! One size does not fit all, and those plans must also be flexible once put into action.
Laura @ This Runner's Recipes
My fitness personality prefers variety over repeating the same type of workouts, so I definitely need that variety in my training plan – which is why I usually write my own. I also tweak my plan often – you can’t predict where your training will be 12 or 16 weeks from now!
I signed up for my first 15k this spring. The most frequent advice I see is not to increase running by more than 10% weekly. But…I don’t know what that means! 10% of what? Mileage? Time? What if you’re starting at zero miles? How do you increase from there?
Ha this is a great question! It depends a bit on how long you’ve been training, but ideally say you’re at 10 miles this week, you wouldn’t want to jump to 13 next week. So the general rule is mileage, which keeps you focused on only adding a mile or two each week initially.
From 0, I’d say really go check out the couch to 5k https://www.runtothefinish.com/beginner-running-tips
I loved everything about this post. I think with most people, they set goals that are too low for themselves because they don’t know how hard they can really push themselves yet. Then, after a while, they change their goals to something higher.
That’s the hardest part, in my opinion, is setting goals that are high yet realistic. When you do this you either sell yourself a little too short or too big. Finding that middle ground makes training and establishing your routine much easier.