How Runners Can Choose the Right Training Program

Whether you’re targeting a 5K or a marathon, you’ll want to ask these questions before committing to a program.

Runners have no shortage of popular training programs from which to choose for their race preparation. You can go online and read about the specific features associated with the various programs. Undoubtedly, there will always be new ones developed, but the primary features have many similar aspects. Most of these programs offer beginner, intermediate and advanced levels of training.

Some programs will have more appeal to a novice runner and others more attraction to a veteran runner. Some require more time and commitment than others. So how do you decide? Consider these questions when evaluating the features of a training program to help choose the best program for you.

How many kilometres per week are you currently running? What is the base training needed to start this program?

A training program that begins with more miles than you are currently running may increase your risk of a running-related injury.

A novice 5K program may start with walking and introduce running with 1-minute walks.

A veteran marathon training program commonly begins with 40 to 64 kilometres of weekly running.

A base of 25 to 40 weekly kilometres is typically recommended to begin most marathon training programs.

What is the total weekly mileage of the program?

This will vary from 25 to 40 kilometres per week for a 5K program to 40 to 120 kilometres per week for marathon training programs.

When is your target event and how many weeks is the training program?

Training programs can range from 12 to 30 weeks. Some of the length depends on whether you have already established base training.

Modifying a training program to fit your race schedule may influence the effectiveness of the training program.

What is the distance of your longest run in the past 3 weeks?

If the distance of the long run in the first week of the training program is further than one of your most recent long runs, perhaps a few more weeks of base training would be wise.

You want the training program to improve your current running fitness, not wear you out.

What is the longest run included in the training program?

A 5K program may include a long run of five to 10 kilometres.

Marathon programs generally include long runs of 25 to 32 kilometres.

How many of these long marathon training runs are included in the program?

Some will build to one 32km run. Others may include a weekly long run of 32km every other week.

A few marathon programs have long runs that exceed 32 kilometres.

Does the training program include speed training?

What type?

• Track repeats? Specific distances and paces usually run on a measured track or path.

• Fartlek? A recommendation of interspersing some fast running into one of your regular runs.

• Tempo runs? Running at a prescribed pace or perceived level of exertion for 15 to 30 minutes.

How many speed workouts are there per week?

Some programs include no speed workouts, and others might have two per week.

How many days per week do you have available to exercise?

For a training program to be effective, you want the program to use your available training time optimally.

If you are able to exercise four days per week, then a five-day-per-week training program may be frustrating.

How many days per week of running?

Training programs vary from three to seven days per week of running.

Does the program include cross-training?

What type?

• Cycling, biking, rowing, elliptical trainers, stairclimbers, others?

• Do you have access to the types of exercise included in the training program?

How often?

• Recommendations vary from 1 to 2 days per week.

Does the program provide intensity recommendations for each workout?

Are the recommendations general – hard, moderate, easy?

• Some programs designate the intensity of the workout by your perceived exertion.

Are there specific time targets for each workout?

• Some programs indicate a target time or pace for the workout.

• Are your target times realistic? Attempting to complete workouts at paces faster than your current fitness support will increase your risk of a running-related injury.

How are the target times determined?

• Some programs use your fitness level as determined by a specific workout time, a recent race time, or a goal race time for selecting your target workout times.

• Some programs base target times on goal finish times. There are pitfalls to this approach.

Does the training program include nonrunning workouts?

Are there recommendations for resistance training?

• Some programs are just running workouts. Others emphasize strength training as part of the training program.

Are there recommendations for stretching?

• Some programs include specific stretches with guidelines for their inclusion in the training program.

These questions will guide you in evaluating whether a program fits your current fitness level and goals. They will also help you assess whether the time and energy demands of the program are compatible with your responsibilities and interests.


Adapted from Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever

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