The key ingredients for cooking up a great training plan

November 27th 2019

Assembling a great training plan is akin to cooking a great meal. If you've done any cooking you likely know a multitude of ingredients, herbs, and spices is required to make culinary magic happen. It also entails using the right proportion of ingredients, herbs, and spices. Additionally, there's often an element of timing that can make or break whatever you're preparing.

Similarly, a great training plan includes a melange of different runs, rest days, and cross-training days. If you assemble your plan well and time it properly, you might be looking at a personal best on race day. If you don't, you may be looking at a lackluster performance on race day. Worse, you may find yourself staring down an aggravation or injury.

Fortunately, if you're training with SportMe, we can put together a recipe for you that will likely have you conquering your first race and/or notching that elusive personal best. Outlined below are the key 'ingredients' that comprise the training plan(s) we create for our runners. Use these ingredients wisely.

Day Off

While technically not a run or workout type, a 'day off' is important to include in your training schedule. When you run, you're actually breaking your body down. Running causes microtears in muscle fiber, it also places stress on your bones, depletes your glycogen stores (your primary fuel source when running), and results in loss of water and electrolytes.

It is during the rest and recovery phase that your body heals, adapts, and gets stronger. So, it's important to allow sufficient recovery between individual runs and workouts. It's also critically important to allow full days of rest/recovery periodically. Even professional athletes incorporate full days of rest and recovery into their routines.

Not taking days off can lead to overtraining. Overtraining can lead to fatigue. Continued overtraining can increase the chances of aggravations and injuries. So, having at least one day/week of full rest and recovery is necessary for almost all runners.

Run / Walk

Running is an extraordinarily demanding act. Just taking a single stride can generate 3-7 times your body weight in impact force. This is part of the reason why running is one of the most efficient and economical ways to burn calories. Running a single mile burns about 100 calories.

If you've NEVER run before, running just one mile continuously may be inordinately challenging, if not impossible. With this in mind, utilizing a run/walk approach is a great idea. This approach entails running for a short period of time followed by walking for a short period of time to recover.

The run/walk method id a great way for beginning runners to get into a regular running routine. Over time, you can gradually increase your run intervals and shorten your walk intervals. Eventually, you may be able to wean yourself off walk breaks entirely.

Short Run

Contrary to popular belief, the 'no pain, no gain' mentality isn't necessarily the best one when it comes to running. As I mentioned above, running demands A LOT of your body. Simply cruising at comfortable/conversational pace for a few miles can be quite taxing.

With this in mind, the short run is a key ingredient in any training plan. Simply getting a few easy miles in is hugely beneficial. A short, easy run may 'seem' unimportant. But, there's more to a short, easy run than meets the eye.

A short, easy run helps bolster your resistance to injury. It develops heart muscle. It also helps build up the skeletal and muscular systems necessary to manage your race distance. In short, it's a key ingredient in any training plan.

Medium Run

A medium run is 'similar' to a short run. The pace/level of effort for this run should be easy. But, the duration for a medium is generally slightly longer than a short run.

The medium run is particularly useful for those tackling the half or full marathon distance. If done properly, a medium run can help improve overall endurance. Whether you're training for 13.1 or 26.2, developing endurance is a HUGE part of the equation.

So, the recipe for success at either distance should include a medium run (preferably in the middle of the week).

Fartlek Run

For the uninitiated, 'fartlek' is a Swedish term that means 'speed play'. If you want to get faster, but have never done any kind of speed work before, including some fartlek in your schedule is a great way to get started.

With fartlek, you typically run faster for a short period of time. After running faster for a minute or two, you'll segue into comfortable/conversational pace for a period of time before seguing back into a faster pace for a minute or two. A typical fartlek run entails toggling back and forth between comfortable/conversational pace and a faster pace.

You generally want to aim for 5K race pace during your faster segments. If you don't know what your 5K race pace is, think of it as 85% of your sprint speed. It's an aggressive pace, but not an all out sprint.

Fartlek runs are great for improving speed and muscular endurance.

Speed Run / Track Workout

When I improved the most as a marathoner it was during a wonderful 1.5-2 year stretch when I diligently hit the track. I was ruthlessly committed. Every Thursday like clockwork, I'd descend onto the track and knock out anywhere from 8-10 repeats of 800M at 5K race pace.

I'd be lightheaded, dizzy, and exhausted by the end of this workout. But, it was these dizzying workouts that helped me go from a 3:30 marathon to a 2:45 during this 1.5-2 year stretch. To be clear, I was doing more than 'just' showing up on the track.

But, if you're feeling the 'need for speed', there's no way to overstate how important a weekly 'speed run' at the track can be. Doing regular speed runs will put you on the fast track to running faster.

A quality speed run at the track helps in a multitude of ways. These kinds of runs help you develop speed, endurance, stronger legs, biomechanics/form, and mental toughness. In short, a speed run gives you a ton of bang for the buck.

The long run is unarguably the most important run of the week for anyone tackling the half or full distance. But, a quality speed run is in many respects the most important run of the week for anyone who is looking to get faster (which is pretty much everyone).

Long Run

If you're training for the half marathon or marathon distance, the long run is the most important run of the week. When training seriously for the half or full, my entire week revolves around being ready to tackle the long run.

This means I'm not doing anything terribly demanding the day before the long run. I'm not doing anything terribly demanding after the long run. The long run is also my dress rehearsal for race day.

I'm dialing in whatever fuel I'm using (GU Energy products, Tailwind, etc). I'm also making sure I'm fine tuning my hydration needs. I'm figuring out what outfit works best for covering 13.1 or 26.2 miles.

If you're looking to run long (13.1 or above), the long run should be your top priority during the week. That's not to say the other runs/workouts you have lined up are unimportant. But, endurance is paramount when it comes to the half marathon and/or marathon. Nothing helps you develop the ability to endure like the long run.

Depending upon what you're training for, you may not need to include ALL of the ingredients above in order to make magic happen on race day. But, using a variety of them will undoubtedly make you a stronger, smarter, and injury resistant running. Get cooking!