The best running schedule is the one that’s easy to follow and fun — and the one you stick at.
If you were to stop three people who have run the same fast time at the end of a race and ask them about their training, it’s very likely that they will all have followed some kind of plan for a set period of time? But isn’t it also possible that each of them will have done a different amount and a different type of training to suit their lifestyle, their physique and their goals?
Whether it’s 5K or marathon running, there really is no one-size schedule that fits all, however, there are some basic principles that do work for all: having a long-term goal (for example, a weightloss target or a race); being consistent in training; and making running a non-negotiable. After that, it’s a good idea to try to vary the pace you run at least once a week, and to shake things up every six weeks or so.
With this in mind, let’s look at how schedules are put together. Running coaches ‘periodise’ training. The first part is the ‘macrocycle’, i.e. the length of time for the whole plan, for example four months for a marathon. Julie Creffield (@Fattymustrun) from toofattorun.co.uk, a group set up for plus size women runners says that she plans training by, “deciding what race I’m going to do then working backwards.”
Next, plan the medium term ‘mesocycle’ part of the schedule, usually six to eight weeks, where you’ll focus on improving different elements of running fitness, for example endurance, or speed. This doesn’t have to be complicated — it’s just a case of refreshing your training and shifting the emphasis of your runs.
Finally, you get to the ‘microcycle’, which is usually a week. When putting together a weekly schedule you will need to consider F.I.T.T. ‘F’ is for frequency of training — i.e. how many times a week you can run. ‘I’ is for Intensity (i.e. long, intervals, threshold, easy). ‘T’ is for the length of time, for example an hour. And finally, ‘T’ is for the type of session — are you going to cross train, go to classes, or is it all running? It really is a case of deciding how often you’re going to run, how you’re going to mix it up, how long you’re going to spend doing it — then doing it.
It’s the ‘I’ that causes the most debate when it comes to running schedules, i.e. striking a balance between volume (slow) and intensity (fast). However, before worrying about this, it’s worth bearing in mind that the general consensus is that most recreational runners make the mistake of running too much in the ‘grey’ area, i.e. too fast at one set, flat, ‘moderate’ pace which inevitably leads to boredom, as well as ‘flat-lining’ in fitness terms. It doesn’t have to be complicated, slow down on your slow runs and speed up on your intervals. And remember you’ll improve your overall performance and are more likely to stick to your plan if you change your focus every six to eight weeks.
Don’t Push — Make it Fun
Julie Creffield was 20st when she first started training and admits inconsistency and unrealistic targets were her downfall. She applied a yo-yo diet approach to her running, doing a long run on Sunday then taking a week to recover, in other words it wasn’t sustainable. After some false starts, she learnt that joining a club and running with others, and getting into a flexible and varied routine, running for time, not distance, made a difference.
Complicated schedules with intervals that resemble mathematical formulas can feel like extra pressure. “I felt like running schedules were written for someone else. And that I wasn’t part of that world,” she says.
“If you are worrying about the schedule, and not sticking at it, it’s counter-productive,” adds Julie. “Do make a plan, but give yourself plenty of flexibility and make it realistic. If I see I’ve got a 40thbirthday party on Saturday, I won’t plan a long run on Sunday,” she adds.
In an age where our lives are punctuated by schedules, it’s important that we keep running stress-free. “Running can be poetry in motion,” says former international marathon runner, runner and blogger, Julia Chi Taylor. “We still need to put in the hours and practice but sometimes a schedule can cause tension. The essential practice is to work with the body rather than against it, to stretch yourself rather than push, and to trust that if you listen to it, your body knows what is needed,” she adds.