Training plans - A Help or Hinderance

by Graeme Hilditch

Training plans - A Help or Hinderance

Over the years, I have spent hours locked away in my office, designing training plans for my books and a range of running magazines.

I’ve lost count of the number of 8, 10, 12 and 16 weeks training programs I have written for events ranging 5k through to marathons, for both novice and experienced runners.

When writing a generic plan for magazines and books, ultimately my aim is to design a plan which is:

  • Suitable for the reader.
  • Realistic for their level of fitness.
  • Practical to follow.
  • As kind as possible to the body to prevent injuries.

However, for someone whose training plans have been followed by well over 50,000 people in the UK alone, I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a huge sense of responsibility for the hopes and dreams of runners all over the world who are hanging on my every word.

Every training session I suggest they run in order to achieve their goal is 100% my responsibility and if my advice is wrong - I’m the one who is accountable.

Or am I?

Me, Myself and I

Ask any running expert, who has trained dozens of different people how to get in shape for an endurance race, for a “generic” 12 week half marathon training programme and watch them roll their eyes.

Why?

Surely it can’t be that difficult to give a novice runner a general idea what sort of weekly training distances they should be running?

The truth is, to offer quality and specific advice to any runner running any distance, it is very difficult to come up with a general training plan without knowing absolutely everything about them.

Just a few of the details I need from people when I train them remotely are:

  • What’s your exercise history
  • Do you have any injuries/ have you had any operations
  • How heavy are you?
  • What are your aspirations?
  • Are you competitive?
  • What’s your resting heart rate?
  • How many sessions can you run a week?
  • I could go on and on……………

Without knowing the answers to these questions, it’s impossible to provide a runner with an accurate training plan and guarantee it will help them reach their goal.

How to Follow a Training Plan

Despite their shortfalls and “generic” nature, training timetables can be incredibly useful for runners of all abilities – provided you know how to follow them and adapt them to suit you.

In an ideal world, every runner training for a marathon, half marathon or 10k would have a bespoke plan written for them, but sadly it’s the world is far from ideal.

So, for the majority of runners who don’t have the luxury of a having a personalised training plan written for them, the following tips should be followed to ensure you get the most out of a generic plan.

A good training plan will slowly increase your weekly mileage, whilst at the same time include a series of “threshold” and “hill” sessions to really give your legs and lungs the fitness boost they need to help you achieve your goal.

Before you jump headfirst into such a training plan, here are a few things you should bear in mind.

1. Remember your Goal

If you are only interested in finishing a race and have little interest in how long it takes you, do not feel pressured to incorporate the high intensity interval training sessions often included in plans.

That’s not to say that they wouldn’t be useful to you or that I’m suggesting you go out of your way to avoid them, but if time is limited, do not worry if you’d rather substitute one of these sessions for a slow, easy jog instead.

On the other hand, if your goal is to break a PB, or break through the magical times of four hours and two hours for the marathon and half marathon respectively, it’s vital that you DO include these higher intensity sessions into your training regime.

Without regular interval, tempo or threshold training sessions, it’s very unlikely you’ll achieve your goal.

2 . Listen to your Body

I included a chapter “Listen to your Body” in “The Marathon and Half Marathon: A Training Guide” for good reason.

Whichever timetable you chose to follow, it doesn’t know you from Adam, so it has no way of knowing if your legs are still fatigued from your previous run or if you are as fresh as a daisy and can handle a hard session.

So, if a plan suggests a particular session but your legs feel like they need an extra day’s rest – then let them rest.

We all recover at different rates, with some people needing more rest than others, so listen to your body and adapt the training plan accordingly.

3. Know the Why’s?

Knowing why the plan is suggesting you run up a hill several times for thirty minutes or why it’s telling you to take a day off is essential if you are to adapt it appropriately to suit your race ambitions.

For example, knowing that recovery from hard sessions is as essential as the running itself is vital if you are to encourage your body to adapt to the training process.

By not understanding this principle, it becomes easy for you to run too far, too fast, too frequently – leaving you over-trained and exposed to everything from viruses to injury.

If necessary, read other blog posts on this website (or others) to learn some fundamental principles of endurance training, so that you can learn more about the why’s of training, thereby helping you make more informed decisons about how to best follow your training plan.

Have you had any interesting experiences - good or bad - of following a generic training plan?

Leave a comment below if you have any pearls of wisdom you can pass onto fellow runners.

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