"What training plan should I choose?" THE ONE THAT YOU WILL FOLLOW!
Well that's silly, you might say - I can follow any plan, just tell me which one! But who here has followed WITH 100% ADHERENCE a training plan over the full 12-18 weeks? And that's because life happens; nothing wrong with switching up a few days because of scheduling conflicts, or taking extra recovery if you're injured.
You have to consider the factors that will make it MORE likely that you'll adhere to the plan. Things like...
👉Overall mileage & intensity
We runners are future-thinking, & can get carried away with where we WANT to be rather than where we are. And this leads us to choose plans with higher mileage than we can handle, causing injury and burnout. For example, if you run 35-40 miles a week normally, DON'T make the leap to a 70-mile plan! Start where you ARE (like a 40-45 mpw plan that you complete successfully) and then work on building mileage in a slow and controlled way over the course of many months and additional training cycles. And honestly, not everyone thrives at higher mileage, so don't think that "more miles = better", because it's not!
Let's say you're considering a plan with a Sunday long run, Tuesday speed, & Friday tempo. But on Sundays you have all-day family commitments, & your Tuesdays are jam-packed with work appointments, & Fridays you have to pick the kids up at midday... look, maybe this isn't the plan for you. Plans are intended to followed precisely to elicit the right combination of stress, response, and recovery, and if you're constantly switching your scheduled runs around, you might be reducing the effectiveness of the plan (at best) or risking injury or overtraining if you get the combinations wrong. This is where working with a coach is REALLY helpful, because when you have life events happen, or you have a tricky schedule to work around, your coach will handle all the scheduling for you!
Because unless you're an elite or sub-elite (in which case, hi! 👋) the most important part of a plan is THAT YOU ACTUALLY DO THE PLAN! For most of us, the benefit in the plan is just getting the miles in and the workouts done. The best plan in the world can't help you if you're flaking on workouts and constantly rearranging the schedule. So it's important that your plan works FOR you schedule, and not against it!
Plans come in a variety of lengths, from 8-week plans all the way up to 24-week plans. It all depends on what you're trying to accomplish, but usually there's a "sweet spot" for length that lets you build up the fitness that you need, but isn't so long that you mentally burn out before race day even arrives. Consider that training for an A race (i.e. a big goal race) is a months-long commitment. You'll need to be prepared for the whole plan, which might be anywhere from 12-18 weeks! Have you looked at your calendar to make sure that makes sense for you? In general plans between 12 and 18 weeks will get you where you want to be if you follow them correctly and have a solid, ambitious-yet-realistic goal in mind
Most training plans out there are specifically designed to get you ready for race day, whether that's a Couch to 5k plan, or an ultramarathon (or a race distance in between). But you don't only have to be training for a race to follow a plan! Just because most of the plans you see are specifically geared toward standard race distances doesn't mean you need to spend all your time training for a race! This is where base-building plans come in, or maybe even finding a maintenance schedule that works for you. There are MANY different types of plans out there, not just race-specific ones!
👉Plan details & explanations
This is the part where I scare you away from those free plans you find on Pinterest or wherever they live. There is A LOT more to a training plan than just a spreadsheet of numbers. A good plan will provide pace and effort guidance, explanations on how to execute workouts, and the WHY behind it all. Some people enjoy studying training books and following a plan provided in the book; other people work best when they are guided by a coach who provides a truly customized experience. Coaching yourself, even when you have the knowledge to do it, is extremely challenging, and there's a reason that so many running coaches work with coaches of their own for their own training!
The plans offered on Running Explained aren't just numbers in a spreadsheet; they tell you how far to run, what pace to run, WHY that pace (or effort zone) is your target, and an explanation of how to do each workout, plus an overview of how the whole plan is supposed to fit together! (Plus you can always ask ME your questions - I'm not some faceless book author, but a person who wants you to succeed!)
But let's say you do want to go the training book route! Here are my recommendations:
80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald (get it)
This book puts huge emphasis on the importance of easy running (80% easy, 20% hard!) hence the title! It offers plans for the 5k, 10k, half, and full marathon that are based on time (i.e. "run 60 minutes" not "run 5 miles) which could be very beneficial for newer runners.
Hansons Marathon Method (get it)
Let's be honest: there's no such thing as a 'beginner' marathon plan. But the Hansons book is very popular with first-time marathoners because their own pitch is that the longest long run is only 16 miles. Some runners might love that, but some runners might not think it's enough. (And they have a Hansons Half Marathon Method too)
Pete Pfitzinger's plans are not for beginners, but if you're looking to learn a whole lot and give yourself a real challenge, you might check out his books. Faster Road Racing covers the 5k-half marathon, and Advanced Marathoning is, you guessed it, all about the marathon. Again, I will stress these are not for new or newish runners, and definitely not recommended for first-timers at the half or full marathon; and I will also note that the 5k and 10k plans are more geared towards faster athletes with experience running track (and they are not low volume either, one of the 5k plan options is 45-55 mpw. For the 5k!)