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The life-changing magic of run training plans

A lot of space to fill in before race day

Training plans – where to begin?

Most people who decide to sign up for a race as a challenge, whether a couch to 5k program or a marathon, are going to follow a training plan. There are endless free or low-cost options to choose from online. You can look on Runner’s World, Hanson, Hal Higdon, Jack Daniel’s VDOT system, McMillan Running, etc. Many of these are integrated into Training Peaks and Final Surge, which allows a coach to follow along and collaborate. Companies that make GPS watches, like Garmin, Suunto, Polar and Coros, all have their own training plans that will sync up with your watch. The preferred social media platform for endurance athletes, Strava, of course has its own training plans (offered with subscription).

Which one is best?

That’s easy – whichever one you follow! No matter which plan you choose, you’re going to make progress. You’re going to learn new workouts and pacing zones. You’re going to learn which runs you love and which ones you hate. Hopefully you listen to your body, stay flexible, and find the plan that keeps you strong, happy and motivated! Consistency will bring the biggest gains, especially for beginner and intermediate athletes. Advanced athletes will benefit from challenging workouts and pushing their volume.

Do I need to follow a training plan?

No, but it helps. Especially when starting out, you’re going to have lots of questions and doubts. The training plan takes the guesswork out of the equation and frees your mind to focus on the effort.

It’s not uncommon to hear marathoners say something like “I have to do 15 miles tomorrow.” We all know this a total construct, but we treat it as seriously as catching a plane. I don’t wake up and wonder what I’m going to do today. I just wake up and do it. The reduction of mental load is priceless.

How does it work?

It’s the basic exercise physiology concept of progressive overload. We stress the body, we rest. Next time we do a little more, and rest. Bit by bit, we get faster, fitter, stronger. The process goes on for months and years. We need to build cardiovascular fitness, musculoskeletal fitness and mental fortitude. But the basic principle stays the same.

A training plan displays a growth mindset

There’s been a major shift in how we think about intelligence in the last couple of decades. It’s now widely accepted that intelligence isn’t as fixed as we once thought. You’re not necessarily smart or not smart. You can GET smart. This is a growth mindset, the idea that our abilities aren’t static. We can cultivate them and improve. The same concept applies to athletic performance.

As popular as this idea is, the opposing idea, a fixed mindset, is still common. I hear people say all the time “I’m bad at… (fill in the blank).” I believe that statement indicates a fixed mindset, the idea that intrinsically there are some things certain people just can’t do. Obviously not all of us are born with the same abilities, but we do all have the ability to get better. That’s what a training plan makes clear. It’s the road map to improvement.

So where does the coach fit in?

Let’s try an analogy. If I want to learn guitar, I can read all the books and watch all the Youtube tutorials, but at some point I need someone to listen to my playing. The coach listens. The coach sees your data and lets you know if your effort is appropriate and if the intended progress is happening. The coach is there to answer questions, provide reassurance, and modify the plan if needed. The coach is your partner in following the training plan to get you as fit and ready as possible, whether it’s for a race, an FKT, or a weekend adventure.

What’s your favorite training plan? Do you follow one, or DIY?

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