How to Plan your Training Routine

By Neil Cooper

Having a well-structured training plan will always result in better performance than ad hoc training. And training before your walking, running or cycling holiday is worthwhile: good fitness gives you the freedom of variable pace and the comfort of arriving at each stop with plenty of energy still in the tank.

How do you create a training plan?

There are three options, each with benefits and drawbacks.

Find a plan in a book, magazine or online

Pre-made plans are cheap or free, a real low-hassle option. There are lots available, too, aimed toward different outcomes.

The drawback is that these will be generic plans. They won’t be tailored to your fitness level, schedule or goals, and they won’t adapt to cope with any issues that arise, such as an injury.

Get a coach to write a bespoke plan

A coach can tailor your training plan to you. They’re even able to monitor your fatigue levels, provide bespoke advice on training-related issues, and adapt your approach around emerging issues. Knowing someone is monitoring your training can be a great motivational boost, too!

The drawback is that it is more expensive, and it can be difficult to find a good coach (although Lakes2tri would be delighted to help you plan your training).

1 (2).jpgWrite your own training plan

This approach snags a lot of the benefits of a coach with few of the costs. The plan will be written to fit in with your lifestyle, schedule, fitness levels and goals. You can adapt it to cope with any changes or issues. It provides real control over your own training.

The biggest drawback stems from the limitations of your own knowledge of training and planning. But the following might help.

How to plan your own training routine

First, you need to pick a format for your schedule. Nothing technical here! This is the choice between numerous apps and websites, spreadsheets or the old favourite: the paper plan affixed to the fridge.

When I first started coaching, nearly every athlete went down the fridge route. Now, they get a daily text or email reminder.

2.pngOnce you’ve committed to paper or digital, it’s time to work out the schedule. There are certain rules that I apply to every training plan.

The 10 golden rules of training plans:

  1. At least one rest day every week.
  2. No more than a 10% increase on the longest training ride/run each week.
  3. Every fourth week is a recovery week with reduced intensity and volume.
  4. Long efforts are slow efforts.
  5. Include strength and conditioning work every week.
  6. Include mobility work every week.
  7. Test performance every 12 weeks.
  8. Never have two hard, high intensity sessions on consecutive days.
  9. The plan should have lots of variety to keep it fun.
  10. Every session should have a specific goal!

Long sessions should be slow efforts

One of the key sessions each week will be your long session, and the pace of your long session shouldn’t kill you. When Eliud Kipchoge ran a sub two hour marathon, he ran 4:35 per mile. During training, his long runs were considerably slower, some even starting at 9-minute miles.

Lots of 4-hour marathon runners will do their long runs at a similar pace to their marathon pace, but this is a mistake. Your pace needs to be comfortable.

As a good gauge of pace, ask yourself: can you breathe through your nose while running, or hold a conversation?

You want the answer to be yes. Long training sessions should not take too much out of you. They are all about the experience of spending time training. Numerous sports science studies have shown that most top level endurance sports men and women do 80-90% of their training at this pace.

There is a lot of debate around how long your longest training session should be. Those training for a marathon may do 25-mile runs or more. If a 4-hour marathon runner does a 20-mile run at 12 minute miles, then that would be a 4-hour run, which is more than enough without taking too much out of the body.

The burst: high intensity training

If 80–90% of your training sessions are easy, then the other 10–20% should be faster. These can be:

  • Tempo runs
  • Interval sessions
  • Fartlek

These sessions are vital to improve your running speed. To write an interval session, you need to think of the duration of the interval, the intensity, the recovery time and how many intervals to do.

The duration can be distance or time, depending on the goal of the session. If you want to increase your speed, it may be 100m, but if it’s speed endurance you’re after, it may be a mile.

The intensity is how hard you are going to do the interval. This will obviously depend on the duration. Clearly sprinting a mile would not be realistic.

The recovery time needs to be sufficient for you to maintain your effort level throughout the session. Sports science suggests that two minutes or less is optimal.

The number of intervals needs to be realistic. It should be based on the duration of the interval and recovery times.


Test your progress

There’s no greater motivation than witnessing the improvements you’ve made as a result of your training. That’s why it is good to test your progress.

I tend to test every 12 weeks. This could be as simple as doing a Park Run, or for cycling, you can use the 1-hour time trial. This follows the same route and measures how far you can cycle in an hour. There are plenty other tests to choose from, such as ramp tests or FTP tests. Find the one that suits you and make sure to include it in your training plan.

In conclusion: training success

Most importantly of all, remember that this should be fun.

A training plan is like a set of directions. Don’t worry if you decide to take a slightly different route.

If you miss a session, don’t worry about it and definitely don’t try to catch it up. Listen to your body. If you feel sore or excessively tired, take an extra day off.

Enjoy your training and you will have an even better active holiday.

Neil Cooper

Running Coach

Neil Cooper is the head coach of Lakes2Tri.

Read more blogs by Neil Cooper

Originally published 08/07/20

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