All runners, both advanced and ones that are just now starting to get into this, often face the difficult task of creating a running plan tailored to their personal needs. Everyone’s schedule is different and personal inconsistency is a wide factor that can easily get in the way of using a universal running plan. So, how to create your own running plan without hiring an expensive coach? Well, this is what I will try to answer in this article, where we will go through all the specific factors that you should take into account when planning for your future running routine.
The best approach that I’ve found that works across most people, when they need to gauge their capabilities and properly plan ahead, is the following:
- Personal Assessment
- Time management
- Setting your goals
- Choosing the running workouts
- Ironing out the specifics
Now, let’s go through all of these steps one by one in order to understand the steps of this process better…
A good running program should cater to your own physical endurance, your health, and your needs. You shouldn’t try to change your lifestyle according to it, but should rather try to embed it into your weekly routines as naturally as possible. Remember that the moment a workout becomes a nuisance, you’ve already lost on a lot of potential progress and satisfaction from it.
First off, you need to gauge your current physical level and then determine what you are good at. This will help you figure out where to focus your future running plan.
The intensity of your program will depend on a few questions you need to ask yourself such as “are you out of shape?”, “Are there any chronic injuries or pain that you are currently dealing with?”, “Is my goal solely fat burning?”, or “Are you within the healthy weight ranges for your age?”. If you manage to check all of those boxes without any issues, then you are already one step into creating your program.
How you feel is what will determine how hard you can push for the next 8-12 weeks and how much you will be able to get out of every individual workout. Any issues such as pain or recent trauma should be taken seriously otherwise you can easily worsen your condition. High blood pressure or other health issues that require your doctor’s supervision should also be at the top of your head when figuring out the intensity of the program. If you aren’t sure how your cardiovascular system will handle it all, it is always good to go through a cardiac stress test.
Time is one of the hardest things to put aside for a consistent workout routine. Since most people are very busy, it is important that you figure out a few things in advance, such as:
- How many weekdays will you train on
- Which are the days of the week that allow you to train
- How many hours do you want to clock each week
- Where are you going to run
Figuring where you will run might seem weird at first but imagine the following scenario – you want to train on a treadmill but the nearest gym is 60 minutes away in both directions. If you want to train 4 times a week, this makes 8 hours just to get to the gym and come back. This is why you need to look for nearby stadiums, public parks or trails that will save you a lot of time.
Now, take out a calendar and plan out the days of the week that you can run in, and the weeks that you will be training in the next few months. You are now making it official by choosing the start date and end date of your running program. You are also going to determine how many days per week and how many hours per day you will put aside into your regime.
Try finding a good balance between high-intensity runs and easy ones that will work with your natural energy levels and with your daily routine. Don’t go on a high-intensity run in the morning of a super busy day, as that will take away some of your productivity later on in that day.
Here is an example of a typical 5-running days schedule:
Monday – Rest day or easy run
Tuesday – Moderate to high-intensity run
Wednesday – Easy run
Thursday – Rest Day
Friday – High-intensity run
Saturday – Rest day
Sunday – Long run
Remember that you can use your rest days for cross workouts or other types of activities that will keep your body in good condition. Easy run days can also be spent in the gym doing a few exercises after a few easy miles.
After you create a schedule similar to the one above (with as many rest days as you want), figure out how many hours per run you will spare, how long the run will be, and when will it take place in the day. It can be in the morning before everything else in your day, or in the evening after you are done with your workday.
As a rule of thumb, you don’t want to put two intense days one after another and always get a rest day or an easy run after a long run day. Also, remember to use your heart rate zones in order to achieve your desired result and improve a particular part of your physical abilities.
Setting your goals
Every running plan has a goal which is what you are after the whole time you are grinding your way through it. A goal is essential to your progress and gives you something to work for during all these weeks. This is why it is very important to set one right from the get-go.
There are a number of goals that can be set for your running plan, such as:
- A certain time for a certain distance
- Competing in a certain race
- Winning that said race
- Loose (insert number here) pounds for 8 weeks
- Running a marathon (or a half-marathon)
- Running a minimum distance every week of your plan (for example, 20 miles per week every week)
It can be even simpler than that. You can set a goal to run at least twice a week! The simpler your goal is the better! If you reach your goal faster than you expected, set another one just to push yourself forward and give this whole thing meaning.
Choosing the running workouts
In general, running for 3 to 5 hours a week is the base for most running plans. Try to distribute that at least across 3 runs. How you distribute it and how much you run actually depends on your physical level, so if you are a beginner you can start with 3 hours distributed at 2 or 3 runs.
A well-rounded program should have a variety of runs in it. These include runs that have different distances and paces. This sort of variety will help you break the habit and also increase your body’s running potential over time. Here are some of the type of runs that come on top of my head – easy runs, recovery runs, ladder runs, progression runs, interval repeats, tempo runs, fartlek runs, hill reps, long runs, striders, splits, and others. Research all of those and try to implement them all at various times of your running schedule. There are a lot of apps out there that do that for you by giving you different types of runs at different parts of the week and even schedule rest days for you and other cross-training possibilities.
Some cross-training options can be swimming, yoga, strength training, paddleboarding or any other physical activity that will allow you to take a rest from running for a bit and also let you have fun and feel good about your progress. I personally mix running with weight lifting and yoga.
If you want to have a trustworthy tracker that will give you all your data and monitor your body, then check out my guide on some of the best waterproof fitness trackers for this year.
Ironing out the specifics
Each week has to be harder than the previous one. There can be weeks where you get one more rest day or a few easy runs, but try to stay on the uphill about it all. The more long runs or high-intensity runs you add to your program, the faster you will progress. Still, always be self-aware and monitor your body’s response to the schedule. If you are constantly feeling tired and are in constant muscle pain, maybe it might be a good idea to take the foot off the gas a little bit. The important thing is to push yourself but not to the extreme, and to always measure how you feel. If you are really new to running, you might not feel at your best the first few weeks but as time goes on you will become stronger and stronger, and will get more endurance out of your body. Your lungs will become stronger as well and you will get tired harder. Muscle aches will last less time if any at all and you will easily be able to find the energy for your next workout.
The important thing is to commit to your program. Promise yourself that you will keep up with it and only miss workouts if it is absolutely necessary. That might actually be the hardest part for a lot of people out there but is going to be the easiest part of your program. As the saying goes, the hard part is starting to do it.
If you want to learn how to use your heart rate monitor for fat burning, head over to my full article on the topic!
Learning how to create your own running plan can be a tough task but can also be quite fun. You get to be your personal coach for once and in all honesty, nobody can schedule your runs and your weekly plans better than you can. You have all the freedom in the world when it comes to how much you will run and when you will do it. Just remember that this is not a race (no pun intended) and that you shouldn’t push yourself to a point where you can sustain an injury