When training for a specific race, or even just running to maintain fitness, it can feel overwhelming to search for a training plan. With seemingly endless options all of a slightly different variety, it’s hard to find one that truly suits your lifestyle.
Which is why many runners end up designing their own running schedule.
Building your own training plan has many advantages, but it’s often tricky to know exactly where to start.
Do I need to run X amount of times each week?
What if I can’t fit in as much mileage as the training plan online?
How will I know what workouts to include?
These questions and more usually leave runners feeling overwhelmed and lacking confidence in their own designs.
However, even without a degree in exercise or any professional coaching certificate, you are ultimately the most qualified to create a running program for yourself.
No one knows your body or ability levels better than yourself.
Building your own running schedule allows you to tailor your mileage, rest days, speed workouts and cross training to best suit your current fitness levels, goals and schedule. By creating your own running training plan, you’ll set yourself up for long term success with a program that you can maintain for life.
If you’re thinking about designing your own running program, here are a few guidelines to help you get started and create a running schedule that you can stick to for life.
7 Guidelines for Building Your Own Running Training Plan
Schedule at least one complete rest day each week.
One of the most important, yet often neglected, components of any running schedule is regular rest days. Many runners get so caught up in planning their training runs and workouts that they forget to incorporate rest and recovery.
However, rest and recovery are two of the most critical elements to include in your running training plan. Every runner should schedule at least one complete rest day each week, and many choose to include two or even more.
If one rest day does not provide enough time for your body to recover, try adding some active recovery activities to your training plan. Include things like yoga, foam rolling or stretching to speed up the recovery process and enhance your training each week.
Plan for strength and cross training.
When creating a running training plan, it’s also important to make time for regular strength and cross training workouts. Planning to run each day may sound like a great idea, but this leaves little extra time for any strength training.
The key to building a running schedule that you can maintain for life is making sure you have enough variety in your training plan to avoid both physical and mental burnout.
Cross training activities provide an excellent source of variety in any running schedule and will help you build strength throughout your entire body. In addition, strength training exercises will help keep your body strong and prevent injuries that could occur with lifelong running.
Be intentional about planning your running schedule each week, and know whether you’ll dedicate an entire day to strength training or split it up with a few exercises after each run throughout the week.
Decide how many runs you can handle each week.
An element that differs between all training plans is the quantity of runs each week. It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong number of times to run each week – and running less or more doesn’t necessarily mean you will lose or gain running fitness.
Every runner is different, just as every training goal is different. Learn what mileage and frequency your body responds best to and be confident about scheduling this in your running schedule. Some runners are able to train for marathons by running just 3 days a week, while others need 5 or 6 days of running to feel prepared.
Deciding how frequently you will run each week will help you determine how many days are left over to dedicate to rest, cross training or strength training. If you are building a running schedule that you plan to maintain for life, be sure not to overdo things or plan so much that your body will burnout from overtraining.
Mix up your speed workouts and paces.
Designing your own running program means that you are directly in control of just how easy or difficult your training will be. While the difficulty level you choose will likely have a great deal to do with the goal for which you are training, it’s important to mix things up with a variety of workouts no matter what your goals may be.
Becoming a lifelong runner means that you will need to plan a variety of different runs and workouts to keep things interesting and avoid monotony. Each week, be sure to include a speed workout in your training plan and mix things up with a variety of different paces.
Try to vary your workouts between those that include short intervals, random bursts of speed, sustained efforts and race pace miles. Try some 200, 400 or 800 meter interval workouts, fartlek runs, hill training, pyramid workouts, tempo miles and short sprints. Make sure to include at least one “speed” workout each week, no matter how short or long it may be.
Plan long runs for the weekend.
If you’re building your own running schedule and want to maintain it for life, make sure you are realistic with your initial expectations. It may be tempting to increase your mileage during the week when you are feeling especially motivated, but once life gets busy that mileage might be difficult to maintain.
Create a realistic training plan by scheduling your longer runs for the times when you are usually the least busy – which is most often the weekends. Plan for weekend long runs if you are training for a distance race. If you’re training to maintain fitness, schedule your highest mileage runs on the weekend.
Weekends often bring a bit of extra help with the kids, more time on the agenda for recovery, and the flexibility to move runs around if need be. No matter how tempting it might feel to schedule a long run after work in the evening, stick to weekend long runs for the best chances to maintain consistency over time.
Focus on quality workouts over quantity.
When creating a running schedule that will last you for life, it’s especially important to focus on quality over quantity. Building a schedule that is maintainable, yet provides plenty of opportunity for progress is key to long term success.
In order to do so, you’ll need to focus on the quality of your workouts instead of the quantity. Life has a way of getting busy when we least expect it, often meaning that our workouts and runs are forced to become less of a priority. To prepare for this, be sure to schedule only quality runs and workouts in your training plan.
Look for higher intensity cross training workouts that will help you reap the same benefits in a shorter amount of time. Focus on hitting goal paces in speed workouts that are shorter in mileage, but packed with intensity.
Make the most of your long runs and easy runs each week, but try to avoid scheduling in a bunch of extra junk miles with no purpose. Be sure that each day in your training plan has a clear purpose to avoid adding unnecessary stress when life gets busy.
Look ahead each week to adjust based on schedule.
No matter how meticulously you plan your running schedule, remember that you’ll likely need to tweak or adjust it throughout different seasons of life. Build your own training plan to use as a guide, and stick to it whenever possible.
However, when things get especially busy or special seasons occur, remember to look ahead. Check out the upcoming week and adjust your training schedule as necessary.
A weekend out of town might mean that you have to fit your long run in after work on Tuesday night, or plan to complete it on your trip.
The Christmas season might involve a few more family gatherings than usual, which might mean that you’ll need to shorten the length of your usual cross training workout.
Taking the time to design your own running schedule is a great way to set yourself up for long term success with any running goal.
Ultimately, no one knows your running abilities, desires and struggles more than yourself. Creating a running training plan as a guideline to follow for life will help you maintain consistency, avoid burnout and continue to improve.
More tips for building a running schedule:
- How Running Lower Mileage Has Made Running Feel Easier
- How to Make Time for Running: 5 Tips for Busy Runners