Training Plans: A Coach's Perspective

July 30, 2018


It is the first thing runners often ask … “How do I get faster?’ or “How can I run further?”.  The simplest answer I can give them is to run regularly and ensure you mix up your runs, making sure you run ‘easily’ most of the time. However, to accomplish this, a training plan often helps for several reasons.


If you run regularly and do not have a specific goal in mind, then a tailored training plan is not necessarily needed – the priority is simply to run and enjoy it. Runners should never forget the enjoyment we get from the simple act of running. We often put too many targets and stresses on ourselves. Training is to be viewed as a cycle: we consolidate, we build, we race, and we recover. It is only in the period that we are building up or progressing that a plan is required. This can vary in time depending on the event or goal you have in mind.


Never the less, if you have a target in mind, whether that is a goal time, a new distance, introducing structure to your running or even recovery from injury then a training plan could be just what you need.


Initially a training plan will provide you with structure and a purpose for each run. As bizarre as it seems, this is the most beneficial feedback clients have given me. The plan will break down your week or training phase into manageable chunks. This will make the overall goal seem much more achievable. As a runner, you can just focus on the running rather than the what’s and wherefores.


Training plans also offer two more major positive aspects. Firstly, they allow for progression and rest. Most common injuries are related to over training. With a training plan the chances of these are vastly reduced. This is because the coach will consider your ‘work load’, your recovery and the rest you need. Secondly, the training plan will give you a zone to work in while running. Some people prefer heart rate zones, some like approximate pace settings and some just like to run on effort. However, all three of these aspects will ensure as a runner you run appropriately to avoid injury and make the progress you require.


Most runners are surprised at the amount of time they are ‘permitted’ to run slowly. This takes a lot of pressure off (especially in the age of social media – you do not need to run fast every run!). Easy runs should take up approximately 70-80% of your weekly running. This allows your body to work aerobically (with oxygen) to adapt to the new stresses, allows you to recover and if weight loss is your goal, this is the Fat Burning Zone.


If you do not recover well, then during the anaerobic or ‘hard’ sessions you will not make the gains you desire because you are still tired, or your body is not working at its capacity. This is where the extra speed or endurance is gained. That one extra hill rep or one extra sprint is vital to ensure progress. This simply will not happen if you are still fatigued from previous training.


If you decide a training plan is what you would like, then simply look around for a coach that suits you. How do they work? Does it fit with own outlook and even personality? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. At the end of the day, every coach wants to see people running and they should be honest enough to answer you truthfully and realistically.


Here are some areas that my clients have identified as important to them and ones that any runner should consider when looking to get a training plan.


How do you balance training and normal life?


Let’s be honest, unless you are an elite runner, sometimes life gets in the way of your training. It may be because work demands change and your ‘free’ time is reduced or maybe family situations change, and you are required to miss training due to responsibilities.


Here it is important to use the word ‘balance’. It is important to be realistic with your training and it is important to consider the time and effort you may need to put in over the 12-16 weeks or so your plan details. However, as much as you feel you can commit to a goal there is always going to be days where you can’t run. Remember, this is OK! Missing the odd session will not derail you from your goal. Just remember sometimes you are required to be a parent, a spouse or a colleague. Accept it and move on! And definitely do not try and fit it into the following week – this will only lead to an overload.


Speaking to runners is always beneficial and talking to them about how they manage to fit training in may come up with a solution. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Early Morning Runs – can you get up before the children to ensure your training does not affect family life?

  • Join a club – this will help with motivation and provide a running buddy or two to drag you out the door. Trust me you’ll enjoy it once you are there.

  • Run Commutes – many runners run to and/from work to ensure their job doesn’t get in the way.

  • Lunch runs – if your place of work has shower facilities, can you fit in a run in your lunch hour?

  • Get the Kids Involved – local events like Parkrun inspire families to take part together and children love to run naturally. Can you turn your sprint session or strength workout into a game that will involve the children too?










How do I run faster/further?


Ok, this is the main reason must runners want a personalised running plan. They want to improve – maybe they want to get faster over an already achieved distance or they want to take on a new distance challenge. As discussed earlier, therefore a coach is important as they will ensure that progress in made while reducing the risk of injury and fatigue.


I believe in an ethos that 70-80 % of your week should be ran at an ‘easy’ level. This is where your body gets used to the demands that running puts on it and allows you to increase miles safely. Week by week on long distance plans, your LSR (Long Slow Run) should increase by approximately 10%. Again, this is to allow adaptation in your muscular and cardio vascular systems. Over a phased plan, you will also include ‘drop back’ weeks where you are given less workload to ensure your body is recovered well.


Variety is the key to enjoyment. Then hopefully consistency will follow, so in the ‘Progression’ sessions where gains are made, the idea is to mix it up. Here are a few outlined sessions that clients have mentioned that they enjoyed.

  • Progression Runs: A simple yet effective method to train stamina. Starting out slowly and increasing the demand as the run progresses. The goal would be to finish with each segment slightly quicker than the previous.

  • Interval Sprints: Short and vigorous efforts between recovery periods. A fantastic way to stimulate muscle gains and also get you used to running ‘uncomfortably’. Can you finish the final repetition when you start to feel the burn in your lungs?

  • Hill Sessions: Hills are speed work in disguise! The added resistance that a hill will provide not only ensure you work hard but also promote good running form as you are required to lift your knees higher and use your arms more.

  • Pyramid Sessions: This are increasing increments of intense efforts and can be don’t in form of distance or time. They are great for improving your 10k time as they promote the respiratory system to work more efficiently.  This crosses over the aerobic and anaerobic systems and increases lung capacity.






























The key to all this however, is consistency. You will not be able to run considerably quicker after only a few sessions. This will take weeks and perhaps months of solid training without injury. It is important to see this as a process where sometimes we must step back to move forward.



Do ‘Recovery’ runs work?


Scientifically, there is still two arguments for this and recovery can come in many ways, Prevention is better than cure. So remember the message about ‘Easy’ running from before there are other ways to recover and get ready for your next training session.


  • Warming up & Cooling Down: ensuring your body is ready for the stresses ahead is key to recovery and will reduce the time needed after. Stretching is vital post run to ensure your muscles do not become too tight and reduce next day soreness.

  • Massage: This can be done at home using foam rollers etc to reduce swelling but regularly seek professional sports massage to keep the aches and pains away.

  • Compression: Compression garments worn straight after exercise can stimulate blood flow and aid recovery.

  • Recovery Runs - A recovery run is a training day that is designed to facilitate recovery by delivering oxygen and nutrients to the muscles damaged during running. The main purpose of a recovery run is restoration, not building aerobic strength.


Most runners are surprised with how slow they must run to execute a recovery day. A true recovery run can sometimes feel almost painfully slow. However, a good rule of thumb for a recovery run is that you can never run too slow, but you can easily run too fast to realize maximum benefits. When in doubt, slow down.


How does a recovery run work?


After you perform a hard workout, your muscles have small muscle tears from the forceful contractions required to run at faster and faster speeds. These muscles tears are what cause muscle pain and what make training the day after a hard workout difficult.


Slow running increases blood flow to these muscles, helping clear out waste products while delivering fresh oxygen and nutrients. If you run too hard on an easy day, you create more muscle tears than you’re fixing, so it is critical you keep your recovery day as easy as possible


Recovering from Injury.


It is important to stress that if you feel any discomfort when running then STOP and decide if you need to seek medical advice. Injuries happen to us all and despite having a training plan, you will not become bullet proof. It is important to maintain a good routine of strength training and cross training to help your body cope with the demand you are placing on it. You will become injured at some point – how well you recover, and the speed of your recovery will depend on all the factors we have discussed previously.


Here are a few paragraphs from resident Running Dads Physio, Alex Quinn on how to recover safely from any injury:


If an injury has prevented you running for a period of time, then getting back into it can be a slow process and requires patience and sensible goal setting. Where you start with your return to running and how quickly you build up, is, in part dependant on the length time the injury prevented you from running and how it impacted you maintaining strength and fitness using other methods. 
In general, I get my clients to follow a few rules that have some research and evidence behind them. 
1.       Start point 
2.       Progression 
3.       Pain 

Start point – depending on how fit you were before you got injured and how long the injury prevented you from running, how far, fast or long you run for when you start to return will vary. Hopefully you will be working with a physio or coach who can guide you on your return. I think interval running is a sensible way of returning, starting with 1-5 minutes of running (based on above factors), followed by a 1-2-minute walk and then repeat X number of times. This allows regular self-evaluation of how you are feeling and helps to maintain form by limiting early fatigue. 


Progression – increasing by 10% a week is a sensible and safe option. This can be worked out on

distance or minutes run over a week. Initially I prefer to use minutes run as it prevents people going too hard too quickly due to natural competitiveness when there is a set distance to run. The 10% rule doesn’t take into account the intensity of the exercise and it’s important to keep this is mind. 


Pain – whilst returning to training is certainly not a ‘no pain no gain’ situation it does not need to be pain free. After injury the affected tissues and central nervous system can be a little more sensitive and therefore experiencing some discomfort is normal and can help with the recovery in the long term. I usually advise that during training the pain should never be above what the individual deems ‘acceptable’ and should not cause altered movements such as a limp. Afterwards I use a 24-hour rule, this is simply that any exacerbation of pain after running should have settled back to base level within 24 hours. If it takes longer than this then the running may need to be slightly reduced in terms of distance or time for the next session.
















The importance of Cross Training and Strength TrainingAsk any runner and they will always mention that they know they should do more cross training. Most understand the importance of these to injury preventions however, there are many other reasons that you should cross train through activities such as cycling, swimming, yoga and strength work at least once or twice a week.


Injury Prevention – Over use injuries are very common and activities like those above will reduce the impact on your body and also strengthen knees, ankles and hips.Rehabilitation - When an overuse injury does develop, cross-training comes to the rescue in two ways: by helping runners maintain fitness despite being forced to run less or not at all and by correcting the cause of the injury.


Motivation - No matter how much passion you have for running, if you do it often enough or with excessive repetition of routes and routines, it can become mentally exhausting. Most humans are stimulated by variety and turned off by monotony. Cross-training helps you maintain your enthusiasm for your sport, making it possible to train harder and more consistently and ultimately to perform better in your running.


Rejuvenation – As stated before, training should be a cycle. If you continuously work at a intense state, you will burn out. So after each phase or peak in your training, Cross Training will ensure you keep a state of fitness but also rejuvenate your passion to hit the road or trail. Many clients state a lack of time for the small amount of cross training they do , however short and simple exercises can be done at home around your running and other commitments to reduce your chance of injury.


Here are a few suggestions to do at home:


Squats – simple body weight squats will keep your hips and core strong. How many can you do while the kettle is boiling?

Lunges – great for activating your glutes and core muscles.

Calf Raises – While the kids are playing, stand on the bottom step of the stairs and raise slowly on the balls of your feet. Return slowly, strengthening your calves.

Glute Bridges – lay on your back with your knees bent. Use your glute muscles to push your hips up in line with your spine. Can you do 10 on each leg?

Clam Shells – easy to do in front of the TV. Lay on your side with legs slightly bent. Raise the top leg at the knee and rotate out your hips.

Monster Walks – A game the kids will love to help you with. Squat slightly and press out your glutes. Walk side to side and perhaps add a resistance band to increase the intensity. If you are interested in a training plan or have any query about your running, then simply get in touch.


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