So I wanted to put in the blog about how I train, and the reasons I do it the way I do. I’m not saying my way is right or wrong, simply that this strategy has had fantastic results for me.
1. Target a Race
When you read all of the literature you can get bogged down in tons of information about training cycles, mesocycles and get bogged down in all sorts of minute detail. For us mere mortals, is that really going to benefit us? No. All we want to know is how can we train best for the race we are preparing for.
And I always, ALWAYS have a race targeted. This helps me remain focussed on a long term goal, rather than focus on one particularly good or bad training run. I usually find a target race every 12 weeks or so works best for me and I have found myself having my next 3 big target races lined up at any given time!
My target races are usually Half Marathons, though I have completed 1 marathon so far and plan to do another in the spring and these will be 16 week targets. But at the same time, I may pick a 10k as a target race which is only 8 weeks away.
2. Get a Plan
There are literally thousands of plans out there available. Just search “Half Marathon Training Plan” and your mind will be suitably boggled. You can add to that search words like “Beginner”, “Intermediate” or “Advanced” and even the number of weeks you have until your target race.
You’ll go snow blind looking through them all. But here’s some things I look for when assessing a plan for suitability.
- Is it from a reputable source? I tend to stick with Bupa training plans as they are used by thousands of people, and I had success the first time I tried one. If you are not sure how good it is, try posting on the Runners World Forum and see if anyone else has tried it.
- How many days running is it? Forget about what day of the week the runs fall on, but make sure the quantity of runs per week fits with your life. The plans are normally designed to balance quantity of runs with amount of mileage of various paces. It doesn’t matter what days you do them but you should try and do the sessions in order with the prescribed rest in between.
- Whats the weekly mileage like? The weekly mileage on every training plan will typically build up over a number of weeks, so make sure your first week on the plan is around the same as you are doing at the moment. Too big a jump and you risk injury.
Ultimately, most plans are designed by professionals. Its normally safer to use a predesigned plan than try to cobble together one of your own, but don’t be afraid to tweak it a bit.
3. Pick Some Practise Races
I always have at least one practise race before a target race. When I ran the Paris Marathon, I did the Fleet Half a few weeks before, and the Longleat 10k a few weeks before that.
Practise races are great for two main reasons.
- Test your fitness – I always use my times from a practise race to adjust my training paces (See point 4) and work out my targetted Race Pace.
- Breaks the monotony of training – Sure, Long Runs are fun sometimes… (er….) But getting out racing, to me is way more fun.
I try and have a race every 4-5 weeks.
4. Identify Training Paces
So your plan tells you how many miles you have to do on a certain day and at a certain pace – but how do you know what pace to run at? Enter the McMillan Running Calculator.
I should qualify this by saying that other calculators are available to tell you your estimated training and race paces, all using different formulas and calculations. I started using McMillan and again, have good results so I am sticking with it. Also, but using the same every time it keeps all my training relative.
So, at McMillan Running, you enter a recent race time (Make sure it is a recent race time that you went “balls out” for under good conditions) and tell it the distance you ran. I don’t usually enter a target time, I’ve not found it makes a difference.
Don’t have a recent race time? Get yourself down to your local parkrun and give it a good blast.
Once you press “Calculate My Paces” it tells you the equivalent race times for different distances (Provided you’ve trained for it! Just because it tells you you CAN run a 4 hour marathon doesn’t mean you should go out and try it tomorrow without doing all the training!)
Then on the left hand side you can click “Training Paces” and see those.
What you should notice is that the terms here refer to similar terms on a training plan. So if I was to due to do a 5 mile tempo run according to my plan, I’d run it at a pace of 7.12 – 7.30m/m.
These paces are designed in conjunction with your training plan to make sure you don’t over train and risk injury. Running faster than them isn’t going to bring a significant benefit – these plans are designed by professionals after all!
5. Adjust Your Plan
OK, so in step 3 I talked about how plans are designed by professionals and here I am moving the goalposts again. Well the thing with plans is that they are designed around perfect conditions. And life ain’t perfect! It could be you have to go for a wedding for the weekend, or you are away on business… foreseeable reasons why you can’t run a particular session can be catered for now! Including your planned practise races!
Some general rules of thumb I follow when tweaking my plan to make it fit around me.
- Never break the 10% rule – I make sure my total mileage never increases by more than 10% when compared with the previous. This ensures I don;t do too much and overtrain
- Always have about 80% easy mileage – Most plans and common schools of thought say that 80% of your overall mileage should be at easy pace to keep you fresh and ready for your “Quality” sessions.
- Never run 2 quality sessions back to back – A quality session is an interval Session, or a Tempo Run, or Hill Repeats. Anything which falls outside of that 80% rule. Between these sessions you should ideally rest, or at least have a short easy/recovery run.
- Don’t increase your Long Run by more than 2 miles per week – When training for a Half or a Marathon, the long run is the most important run. If you need to drop it for a trainign race, which is quite common, adjust the following week’s long run accordingly. You don’t want it to be too big a jump up from the previous one.
So don’t be afraid to move things around a bit, the important thing is getting the mileage in at the right paces.
6. Follow Your Plan
This sounds stupid, but follow the plan! If the plan says run X miles at Y pace, then don’t run it at Z pace! As I’ve repeatedly said, these plans have worked for me so far and are designed with structure and method in mind.
Many articles and studies say that you should always understand the purpose of a session. And thats fine, but as a relative beginner, all you need to do is show faith (Blindly in my case!) that the plan will work. Like I said, most of us aren’t professionals, we just want to now how to improve and not necessarily the why and hows!
There are many smartphone apps that you can use to help you keep an eye on your paces (Such as Endomondo), and the chances are you already use one. But looking at your smartphone all the time can be a bit cumbersome, though very cost effective! You can make use of some cool features on GPS watches to help you out with this though.
- Pace Alerts – Most GPS watches have the ability to beep at you when you fall outside of certain pace ranges. You need to set your watch up in advance with the desired zone and it will tell you when you need to work harder (Or less likely, work less hard!)
- Garmin Pre-Programmed Workouts – Some Garmin devices let you set up your workouts on Garmin Connect and load them into the watch. It tells you at each stage of the workout how far to run and at what paces. if you fall outside of that pace, it beeps at you and tells you to work your ass harder! I use this along with the Garmin Forerunner 220.
7. Recalculate Paces
If you have several practise races, don’t forget to recalculate training paces after setting a new PB, so you make the most of your training!
After your last practise race work out the equivalent race time for the target race distance. You won’t improve much fitness in the last 3 weeks of a training plan, you just need to set your target time based upon those new times.
8. Execute Your Race
Race strategy is a whole other ball game, but my usual plan is to take my target time and use an average pace calculator to work out my minute per mile pace. Then I keep an eye on the watch all the way round and go for that PB!