It takes time and patience to learn all of the concepts associated with creating a training plan and there’s so much information available online that you don’t know where to start! Well, ladies and gents, this guide will solve that for you.
In case you missed it, we released the Beginners Guide to Periodization for Runnersa few weeks ago and you might want to read that article first, in case you haven’t already. In this guide, however, we’re diving into the deep end of periodization. If you don’t understand a certain concept or you’re having trouble figuring out how to put all of this information together, send me your questions and I’ll gladly help you out. You can reach me by leaving a comment at the bottom of this article, reaching out in the R&RT Facebook group or shooting me an email at email@example.com.
A word from the coach: For the unexperienced runner, creating a training plan is not an easy task. It requires experimenting with different training sessions and having knowledge of how your body works (like how long it takes to recover from each session for example). There are fundamental and essential methods and concepts used when creating a training plan and they should all be studied and understood before they can be properly applied. This takes time and patience and your planning skills will improve as you gain more experience.
I will be providing lots of step-by-step screenshots in this article so you can follow along. At the end, our annual training plan should look something like this…
Please note that there are hundreds of different templates for training plans! The template in the images is the template I’ve used for the past few years and it’s served me well. If you would like a copy of this template, just click the link below to download it.
This is by no means the only way to create a training plan. Each coach/athlete has a different process and/or template, and this is mine. Use your own judgement, see what’s useful for your own needs and alter it if need be.
There’s lot to talk about so let’s jump right in!
For simplicity sake, we’ll start our calendar on the first of January. You can start with whatever date you want and set the correct week number to match the calendar week.
The first step to creating a training plan is to find a race you want to participate in! Ideally this race will be a few months away, giving you time to increase your mileage, improve your speed and finish strong! This is the race you’ll spend months training for.
So, let’s say you’ve qualified for the Boston Half Marathon, which is held in May, and you’ve signed up for a Thanksgiving 5K in November. These will be your two major races where you will be trying to race really hard, break a PR and maybe even win! Let’s put these two races into our training plan (the racing period is classified as a ‘race phase’).
Perfect! Now we will work BACKWARDS to complete our training plan. Here’s how I would fill out the rest of the training plan…
I know that before a race I need to taper. Tapering is simply reducing the volume of your training load before a race in order to allow your body to recover from previous hard training efforts. Tapering is essential if you want to feel fresh and ready to pump out some serious miles on race day! That being said, on the training plan I will add a ‘pre-competition’phase so I know exactly when to start reducing my training volume!
There are a few things to take into consideration here… For example, when you’re training for a half marathon, your training volume will be fairly high so it’s important to start tapering at least two weeks before the race! For the 5K, I chose to go with a one-week tapering period where we will complete easy runs and some light strength work.
That being said, if you’re an experienced runner who runs a few marathons per year, a half marathon is easy for you, so you might not need such a long tapering period! Also, just as we need to take it easy before a race, we also need to take it easy after a race, so we will also add a recovery phase to our plan. Obviously, the recovery period for a half-marathon and 5K will vary according to how active you are, if you’re accustomed to running these distances, etc…
Here’s what our plan should look like now with the pre-competition and recovery phases!
These are the first steps I take when creating a training plan. The next step is to define the macrocycles. In the previous article, I mentioned that macrocycles usuallylast six months, emphasis on usually. A macrocycle can represent whatever time period you want but remember that it’s the longest cycle of them all! It usually works like this:
Macrocycle > Mesocycle > Microcycle
I start my ‘running calendar’ in September/October. That means my first Macrocycle usually starts around the same time. Here’s how you can define how long a macrocycle should last for you…
The regular rule of thumb for running is to increase your running volume by 10% every week(10% isn’t a magical number, it’s just a guideline for you to keep progressively increasing your mileage without overdoing it and risking injury). If you’re aiming to run a half marathon then need to do the following:
That’s if you’re only trying to train for distance. If you want to break PR’s and train your speed, then you need to plan for speedwork as well! A general rule in periodization is to increase your mileage beforedoing any speed work. When I’m trying to break a PR I always split my planning into two macrocycle – one for building running volume and the other for anaerobic/strength workand racing.
As I said above, my running calendar starts in September/October, so that’s when I start building up my mileage. Since we’re planning for a half marathon, I need to increase my distance considerably (I usually only run 5 and 10k’s) so I will start my first macrocycle in September, increasing my weekly running volume by 10% every week until February. In February I will maintain my running volume and start doing speed & strength specific work until race day! Is this getting confusing? Maybe updating our training plan will help you visualize this better!
Now it’s time get even more granular… we’re going to set our mesocycles!
Again, mesocycles usuallylast one month but you’re in charge – this is your training plan. In my example I’m going to have a total of 5 mesocycles until race day. How many will you have? It’s tough to figure out at first but once you start practicing the art of deliberately planning your training you will learn how long it takes for your body to develop each ability and you will be able to plan more effectively. Be patient, planning pays off.
My first mesocycle (not in the screenshot) is focused on increasing my mileage, although it has a lot less volume and recovery work than my second mesocycle (in the screenshot above). It’s the first mesocycle after returning from summer holidays (I don’t do any serious running in the summer) so I take it realeasy in my first month back! My second mesocycle starts around October/November and this is where I start seriously increasing my mileage, sometimes up to 15% per week.
My third mesocycle, Strength & Stability, is where I start really working on stabilizing my core muscles and strengthening my lower limbs multilaterally. I no longer increase mileage in the specific phase. I continue working on different strength aspects up until race day, as there are many types of strength sessions you can do. (I will provide examples of different training sessions in another article – will post the link here once it is published).
Moving on to microcycles… I recommend sticking to one-week microcycles. This will really simplify your planning process! However, you can stretch these out to last 10, 12 or even 14 days!
Identifying microcycles on your annual template is easy. Just type in the numbers in ascending order starting from your first training week until the last week of recovery. For me, that’s a full year of training (if you chose longer microcycles, you’ll need to adapt accordingly). Look at the example below:
Phew! That was hard work – but it’s all coming together now!
There are still a few more points to go over so, let’s talk about test races.
A TR (test race) is a race you choose strategically in order to test if your training is going well. In these races, which are typically shorter distances for inexperienced runners (if you’re training for a 21K you’d do a 10K TR, for example), you experiment with diet and supplements (like energy gels for example, which are well-known for causing upset stomachs), you experiment with different racing strategies and – most important of all – you should end the race with some energy still in the tank! This is not the race you’re ultimately training for… it’s just a test race!
I prefer to do TR’s in the beginning of the ‘Specific Phase’. Why? Because I’ve already increased my mileage in the Base Phase and my body has adapted to the larger volume load. Now I can see how my body performs in a race scenario! You can pick test races in whichever phase you prefer but be wary of two things: never do a TR too close to your actual goal race and be careful not too work too hard and possibly injure yourself… it’s just a test race, not your end-goal! I hope this made sense. Now, add your TR to your training plan.
We’re in the final stretch! All that’s left to do is define how intense your sessions will be throughout the year and how much work volume you’ll be taking on.
In the previous article we touched on supercompensation and progression. Simply put, this means we need to gradually increase our training load until we reach our goal. That being said, all you need to do is ‘color’ each square (in the template) according to how much you want to increase your volume in that particular microcycle. Each bar will indicate if you’re running at a higher volume (or lower) in comparison to the last week.
If this seems confusing it’s probably because you’re thinking that an annual training plan has the exact number of miles you’ll run each week, and that’s just not so! Remember, in our annual periodization template we’re creating a guideline that will aid you when crafting your training sessions.
An annual training plan is simply a visual representation of your running-year. It’s a visual aid that will tell you when you should train, what you should train and when to stop/reduce your training load.
When filling in these bars, we need to take supercompensation and progression into account. We shouldn’t have five straight weeks of high intensity work as this will most likely cause overtraining. I prefer the simple and safe method of having (at most) two/three high intensity weeks followed by a week with less volume/intensity (I call it a recovery week). As you can see in the screenshot below, these principles apply to both Intensity and Volume!
Ideally, you want to mix & match different Intensity and Volume levels. For example, you might have a week where you run a total weekly volume of 70KM but all will be done with easy efforts (low intensity) followed by a week with low mileage (50KM) but one or two sessions will be tempo runs (high effort, high intensity).
And that’s our half marathon plan finished! Now we need to plan for the 5K. As I said above, I don’t do any real training in the summer. I also recommend that you take a couple of weeks/months off every year to practice other sports – this is incredibly healing both physically and psychologically!
After the Summer Block, we have a ‘Transition Phase’.
Transition phases are used at any time we want to shift focus from one activity to another. In this case, I will use it right after the summer break. A transition phase is usually based on easy running sessions, done at a moderate effort, just so the body can get acclimated to running again.
Next I will use all the phases we’ve learnt before, but this time I will adapt it for the 5K race! This means my base phase will be pretty short, as I am accustomed to running small distances and I don’t need to increase my volume so much… four weeks should be enough. After building up my running volume, my focus will be in the ‘Specific Phase’ where I will spend 7 weeks trying to increase my anaerobic conditioning and explosive strength. This will come in handy in fast races such as the 5K. Let’s add all of this information to our annual training plan.
And that’s it, ladies and gents.
This article has plenty of information in it, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed.
A tip I wish I had been told at the beginning of my coaching career is that a training plan should be flexible! There is a common misconception that you can’t change anything once the training plan is made… that’s wrong!
If you develop an injury, if you need to skip a few training days, or even weeks… you should re-adjust your training plan! If for some reason you’re not able to complete a training session… you should adjust your training plan accordingly! A training plan is flexible and should be tailored to your needs. Don’t be afraid to change things around!
Planning isn’t a specific science – there are many if’sand but’s, there’s plenty of different variables and different methods work for different people. If linear periodization doesn’t work for you, give the other methods a try (try Googling non-linear periodization).
Once again, there’s a lot of information in this article – and most of these concepts are hard to explain, especially if the student has no sports coaching background and isn’t familiarized with technical running terms.
That being said, please send me a message if you have any questions! I feel like there will be many, as this is a complicated subject with many variables! I will be updating this article with the most popular questions - this is far from being the final version!
You can reach me by leaving a comment at the bottom of this article, reaching out in the R&RT Facebook group or shooting me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q - How do I know my maximum distance volume or maximum running speed/running pace?
A - Regarding weekly volume, you don’t need to know your max. Just calculate how much you ran last week, and the week before that (and if possible, the week before that as well)! Find the weekly distance average and use the result as your weekly volume goal. Start increasing by 10% every week until you reach your goal.
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