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By Brian Bradford, PT, DPT
One great thing to come out of the pandemic was an increased interest in outdoor recreation and fitness. Last year, many people started more regular jogging and running because it was one of the few ways for us to maintain fitness while gyms were closed. In fact, people who were previously novice runners reported a 117% increase in running frequency! As someone who enjoys both running and helping people improve their fitness, stats like these are a big encouragement to me (although I must admit that I was selfishly annoyed by the increase in foot traffic on the high school track near my house last summer). Many of you who picked up running as a more serious hobby over the last year might have “caught the bug” and are looking to participate in some races this summer as things (hopefully) start to open up more. One question you may have is how to find a training plan. Here are a few basic tips about how to approach training for a race (whether it’s a 5K, 10K, ½ marathon, etc.).
How do I select a good training plan?
Many people ask me how to select a good training plan because there are so many options available online. Most of these plans provide a helpful framework overall, and there is not usually a significant difference from one plan to another. Therefore, when I am asked this question, I usually will redirect with a new question:
How do I use a training plan wisely?
- I usually recommend limiting training days to no more than 5 days of running per week for casual and even some high level runners. This allows for at least 2 rest days per week to ensure that your body (especially your calves, feet, hips, and knees) is getting adequate time for recovery.
- Not every run should be at the same pace. This could be a whole article in itself, but simply put, running at different speeds achieves different purposes. The rule I roughly follow in my own training I have borrowed from Matt Fitzgerald’s book 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower. Essentially, approximately 80% of your time spent running per week should be at a slower, easier pace: one that you could hold a conversation while running. This allows you to build your body’s capacity for running distances, while staying fresher for the day or days in the week where you are going to run the other 20%: the faster miles. There are various types of speed workouts, which I can detail in a future post, but these are runs where you are exerting yourself much more heavily. These runs allow you to build your capacity to sustain a faster race pace for longer. Too often, people develop injuries or burnout when they start training for a race because they run too many of their weekly miles at a “huffing” pace. If this is you, I’d encourage you to find a way to slow your pace on some of your runs and learn to enjoy an easy, smooth jog through nature!
- Your training plan should not increase weekly mileage by more than 10% per week. For example, if you are a casual distance runner and are currently running 15 miles per week, you should only be adding 1.5 miles to your second week of training (for a total of 16.5 miles in the second week). This helps us to avoid another common fitness fallacy that can lead to injury: doing too much, too quickly. Most standard training plans do a good job of helping you to progress mileage at an appropriate rate.
- You should have one “deload week” every 4-6 weeks. This is a week where you do not progress mileage and either maintain the same mileage as the previous week or, preferably, scale it back and take an extra rest day. This is an excellent practice for injury risk reduction and avoiding burnout.
- Don’t be too locked in to your training plan. Keep things interesting! If your friend invites you to go for a bike ride on a Saturday, and you are scheduled to run 4 miles as part of your 10K training, feel free to go for the bike ride! You can make up a couple of the miles on another day, or just skip the run and keep on going with your training plan.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg, and there is much more I could say about the specific types of runs (i.e. long runs, speed intervals, hill workouts, recovery jogs, etc.) that we ought to be building into our programs to improve performance and reduce injury risk. If this article has sparked your interest about building a training plan for your summer training, but you have more questions or don’t know where to start, please reach out to us at i’move and ask about scheduling a Wellness Assessment. We would be happy to discuss your training questions and help you get on the right track!