Why You Should Make Plans (And Stick to Them)

Thumb through any running training manual and you’ll find a selection of plans designed to help you achieve your goals. You’ll start to see these plans are based on some core training principles – that apply whether you’re a newbie or a 10-time marathoner. Understanding these will give you the confidence to start tweaking these plans to suit your needs.


I run for 30 minutes, three or four times a week. Why do I need a training schedule?

Eventually you’ll reach a point where running the same distance and duration doesn’t make you improve. You need more stimulus to get better, and to achieve this you should focus on adding quality workouts to your routine – rather than just going for a run, you have a specific goal or purpose for each workout. And that’s where the value of a balanced running schedule comes in.


What are the typical components of a running schedule?

The following are the so-called ‘quality’ workouts (so named because each has a specific purpose).



These sessions (also known as speedwork) help improve the rate at which your body can use oxygen. You run faster than your usual pace, but it’s hard to sustain this for very long, which is why the workout is broken down into a number of repeats and rest periods. Rest between efforts enables you to amass a greater volume of training than if you run full tilt to exhaustion.



Also known as lactate threshold runs, these stimulate your muscles to utilise lactate, which is produced when they break down carbohydrates. They are run at a ‘comfortably hard’ pace (faster than your regular pace, but not as fast as intervals) for a certain period of time. Judging pace is key – if you go too slowly, you won’t create a build up of lactate, while if you go too fast, you’ll grind to a halt before your body has had a chance to be challenged. Over the course of your training plan, you can build up your tempo runs to 20-30 minutes.



The longest workout of your week (whether in terms of time or distance) builds physical and mental endurance. Build up the distance gradually, and run them at a slower pace than you normally run to stimulate your fat-burning systems. Most people prefer doing them at weekends because there’s plenty of time to rest up before and to veg out afterwards – but if Wednesday mornings work best for you, then that’s fine.


Should these be spaced out?

Because they’re more demanding than easy runs, you should try to spread your quality workouts throughout the week, scheduling cross-training days or easy runs before and after where possible to allow your body to recover. Build recovery in on a large scale too, scheduling an easier week once a month by reducing your total weekly mileage by a quarter. It will give your body the chance to adapt to the increasing load.


Should I do anything in the days between?

You don’t have to, but if you’re eager to be active between quality days, cross-training activities such as swimming, biking, and strength and conditioning workouts can help you recover better and strengthen your body while avoiding the particular stresses of running. As you get fitter, you can also do easy runs in the days between.


Are there other benefits?

It’s very useful to be able to look back on how your training plan went. So once you begin, make notes and record as much information as you can about how workouts went (for example, how tough you fount it and if you felt recovered enough). These can give you plenty of clues to help tune up your strategy. It can highlight whether you missed more sessions than you are willing to admit or, conversely, it can motivate you to read about previous occasions when you overcame problems.

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