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On Running - How to Build an Effective Training Plan

By Edited Aug 1, 2015 2 0

This article is written with the presumption that:

1)      You have already established a foundation of running on a regular basis (if not, see my article “Three Keys to Start Running Now”) and

2)      You have already begun incorporating the key workouts of sprints, threshold, and long runs into your routine.  (See “Three Keys to Effective Training”.)


After you have become familiar with these core training concepts you are ready for the next step: building and progressing an effective training plan.  Three keys to a solid training plan include:

  • Setting a foundation for the training
  • Breaking down the mileage
  • Creating an effective performance progression

First establish a base of training.  This is your starting mileage or foundation upon which you will build the rest of your plan.  An example could be starting at 10 or 20 miles a week.  Keep in mind it is best to start “small” as jumping too quickly into an overly aggressive training plan can lead to discouragement and lost motivation!

Another factor to keep in mind is what day or days you would like to have as your rest day.  There should be at least (1) day a week set aside for recovery.  Rest and recovery are the most under-rated parts of training!  It does no good to slay yourself everyday if your body cannot recover and become stronger!

Finally, avoid filler or “junk miles”.  If your goal is to run 30 miles a week, but 80% of your mileage is slogging through the same route at the same pace…YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME.  ALWAYS focus on quality vs. quantity with your training!  It is far more beneficial to do two or three hardcore workouts a week rather than six or seven wimpy ones that you just “slime” your way through.

The three key points of establishing a base of training are:

  • Setting a realistic weekly training volume
  • Allowing time for recovery
  • Avoiding junk miles

Next break down the weekly mileage.  Remember sprints, threshold, and long runs?  These are your key workouts and should comprise the core of your weekly training plan.  As a rule of thumb:

  • 10% of total weekly training volume should be sprints
  • 15% of total weekly training volume should be threshold runs
  • 30% of total weekly training volume should be the long run

It is not absolutely critical that you adhere 100% to this ‘formula’ especially if you are a multisport athlete like a triathlete that may substitute a threshold run with a swim workout or long run with a long ride.

In the example training schedule shown below I have set up an excel document to automatically take all the math out of setting up a training plan.  In the “mileage breakdown” columns, the values will automatically adjust based on the mileage entered into the sprint, threshold, and long run columns.  (If you would like a free copy of this excel document please contact me). 

Training Plan Example

For the majority of runners, it typically does not serve any benefit to run more than 50-70 miles a week or have long runs that last for more than 20 miles.  For all but the exceedingly gifted, running more than 20 miles in a single workout typically leads to poor technique and sloppy running form, ultimately causing more harm than good.

Notice again, the weekly “junk” mileage never goes above 40%.  Try to keep these filler miles below 45% of your weekly training volume.  Personally, I have sustained a 15:45 5k run time for months with a total weekly volume of just 8 miles per week.  Every one of those miles being a threshold workout.

*Note* although it is important to have measurable goals and planning, it is more important to keep the main focus on your running and not just the numbers!  In the end the numbers don’t really mean anything, it’s the time invested with quality training that counts!

Finally, the last step is to create an effective performance progression.  The three aspects of your performance progression include:

  • Increasing total weekly mileage
  • Incorporating “rest weeks”
  • Adjusting training volume

To safely increase your total weekly mileage, do not go more than 5 – 10% between weeks.  Once again, getting too aggressive with your training plan can easily lead to discouragement and lost motivation!  When first starting out, it may be okay to do 10% increases between weeks, but when you start having a higher weekly mileage it may be better to switch to 5% increases to avoid overload. 

An example of total weekly mileage may look like this:

Week 1 – 26 miles            Week 2 – 28 miles            Week 3 – 30 miles

Week 4 is going to going to a “rest week”.  A rest week is an entire week at 50% or less of the previous week’s training volume.  This is to allow the body to rest and recalibrate so it can take on new levels of performance.  After a rest week, resume the training plan at the previous week’s training volume.

Continuing the example training plan:

Week 4 – 15 miles            Week 5 – 30 miles            Week 6 – 33 miles            Week 7 – 36 miles

Now that you have established your rest weeks, the final key to effective performance progression is fine-tuning training volume around core workouts.  It is ridiculous to just continue increasing weekly mileage until the end of time…as stated earlier, for most competitive runners it is unnecessary to run more than 50 to 70 miles per week.  It is time to start honing in on the sprints, thresholds, and long runs!

In the example excel document, you will notice that the training plan caps at 50 miles in a week but then the filler miles drop as more emphasis is placed on the core workouts.  Instead of increasing mileage each week, take a little training volume from a recovery day and add it to a core workout.  This increases training intensity without “bloating” your plan with useless mileage.

Increase Intensity of Core Workouts Rather than Weekly Mileage

Honing the Mileage

By increasing your weekly mileage, incorporating “rest weeks”, and fine-tuning your training volume you will have a successful training progression to your training plan.

Developing an effective training plan can be hard.  Without having a place to start it can feel overwhelming and hard to maintain motivation.  Having clear focus and solid goals is vital to any training program!


1)      Figure out your base weekly mileage to create the foundation for your training plan.

2)      Break down the weekly mileage to focus on core workouts as well as rest days.

3)      Creative an effective performance progression to safely increase training volume and intensity!


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