Why you should write your own training plan

If you are anything like me, you have probably browsed for and downloaded a few different training plans in your time.

Whether you are trying to run a fast 5km, thinking about your first half marathon, or considering a marathon or beyond, the internet is awash with articles and information about how to train.

Also, if you are anything like me, you download these plans, make a nice spreadsheet, plan all of your runs, then something happens and the plan gets derailed. In my case, I usually ditch that plan, spend ages finding a new one and then go again, only to repeat the same old thing.

Training plans that you find online also tend to be fairly generic. If you want to run faster, you include a lot of tempo and interval work into the plan. If you want to run long, you include a lot of long runs. This is perfectly logical, but does not suit everybody. Also, by the nature of generic training plans, they are geneneric. Sounds like an obvious thing to say, but if you really think about it, are any of us actually generic?

You may have a background in swimming, or cycling, or have run when you were younger but not for years. You may have never run at all, or be a seasoned runner looking for that extra edge. You may be overweight, underweight, tall, short, wide, narrow. You may be an over-pronator or an under-pronator. You may run in trainers, or perhaps running sandals, or barefoot. You may prefer trails, or like the road. You may recover fast from training, or slowly. You may want to run 2 times a week, 3 times a week, 4 times a week (you get the idea). More than likely you are a combination of these things, meaning that no two runners are alike. So why do we all follow similar training regimes? It doesn’t make sense.

I recently read a book that totally changed my thoughts on run training. Admittedly it is aimed at ultra running, but I think that the principles apply to all run training. The book (in case you are interested) is Training Essentials for Ultrarunning by Jason Koop

What is most interesting about the book is that there are no training plans included in it, for the reasons I have set out above. We are all different, so Koop gives you his opinion on how to train and then you make your own plan.

Essentially it is split into three main components. These are:
1) VO2 max training
2) Tempo training
3) Endurance training (long runs)

The logic is that you work on the thing you are worst at first, so if you are not quick (like me) you work on your VO2 max to help you run faster. This then means that when you perform your Tempo runs, you are running further at a faster pace. This then has a knock on effect on the long runs (which are slower runs by nature), as you are reaping the benefits from a higher VO2 max and you can run further at a faster pace with the same effort, due to the increase in the volume of oxygen you can process in a given time-frame.

So I built my own training plan. 3 weeks of VO2 max training (flat out hill interval work) followed by a easier week then 5 weeks of tempo work, then about 4 weeks of endurance training. Then repeat.

Now admittedly I am only a few weeks into this plan, but as you can see from my previous post, I am running better than I ever have already. I have no doubt this is down to the interval work that I have been doing, meaning that I can run further and faster on less effort, making the runs more enjoyable and making me want to train more.

The other massive benefit is that because I have written this plan myself, I feel that I am letting myself down if I do not stick with it. When I am following a plan written by somebody else, I don’t seem to have the same emotional investment in it. But I haven’t missed a single session in 3 weeks so far (despite them being very hard) and I am improving fast, so there must be something in it.

So why not give writing your own plan a try. Or (if you like), send me some details about your goals and what your current strenghts/weaknesses are and I will write one for you. Don’t worry though, I do appreciate the irony in me writing a post about you writing your own plan, then offering to write one for you.

Hope you are all enjoying the heat, and if anybody is at Queen Elizabeth Park this evening and sees a fella in a Chestnut Tree House vest running what looks like horrible hill intervals, that’s me, so stop and say hi.

TTFN – Snooky

Ever wonder why people run?……..this is why

Just over a couple of weeks ago, whilst sitting on my sofa, I was thinking about my upcoming races this year. I am running the brilliant Ragnar Relay with 4 good friends, but this won’t require me to run more than 7-8 miles in one go. My usual level of bravado figured this will be fairly easy at any level of fitness (completely untrue) and despite the fact that I haven’t really run properly all year, I wasn’t worried. There was 12 weeks to go till the envent. Plenty of time.

Then my mind slowly turned to the next event after that, the Beachy Head Marathon. Slightly different kettle of fish this, but I have run it before, it was 16 weeks or so away and with my usual level of misguided bravado I figured it would be alright.

That brings me on very nicely to the next event, the Wendover Woods 50 (WW50). This is 50 miles, not 50km. So its an ultra. And it was (at the time) 18 weeks away. It is now 16 weeks away!

Now bearing in mind I had hardly run all year, have put on almost 10kg in weight compared to when I was running regularly, this is clearly a slightly bigger fish to fry. For some unknown reason, I thought that this course was fairly flat. I even tweeted as such. You can read the fairly worrying responses to this tweet here.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that the WW50 is hilly. Sorry did I say hilly. I should have said HILLY. Sorry did I say HILLY. I meant HILLY. Apparently, it has approximately 10,000ft of elevation gain over 50 miles. If you consider that the South Downs Way 100 (twice the distance) has approximately 12,000ft of elevation change, this should give you an idea of just how hilly the WW50 is.

Rapidly I felt my previous bravado leaching away from me. In place of this bravado was abject panic. “Is it possible to train up from virtually nothing to 50 miles in 18 weeks” I thought to myself. Well there was only one way to find out.

Jump forward two weeks to the present day, and I have two weeks of training behind me. Two gruelling, punishing weeks where my body had to learn to run again. Even 30 minutes was hard. How was I ever going to run for upwards of 15 hours? Then it all came together in one beautiful moment, and I remembered why I love running so much.

Sunday was my “long run” day, so I headed up to the South Downs just north of where I live in Portsmouth, ready for a nice gentle 70 minute run on the trails. It was evening time, about 8pm. The light was perfect when I parked my car. It was still, quiet and beautiful.

The run started in the Sustainability Centre car park near East Meon. I was straight onto the South Downs Way and immediately heading uphill. For those of you who have not run on the South Downs Way, it is almost always either uphill or downhill. As I ran up the first hill I felt OK. In fact I felt a bit better than OK, I felt good. I reached the top of the hill and remember thinking “well you couldn’t have done that two weeks ago”.

As I plodded on, down single track running trails and descending a super steep rocky path, I felt good. I was running well. No aches and pains. Not feeling like I couldn’t breathe. It felt good.

Meon Springs

Running past Meon Springs fishing and campsite, I realised that I hadn’t passed a single other person. I hadn’t even seen a car, or heard a plane in the sky. No tractors or agricultural vehicles. Nothing. I was all alone on the South Downs with just cows, sheep and goats for company. The sun was dropping in the sky, bathing the countryside in a beautiful orange glow. I raised my hands up to the sky and was thankful. Just to be able to run in such a stunning place, to be able to do this, is magical in its own rights.

Reaching the bottom of Old Winchester Hill, I turned around and headed back the way I came. It is amazing how running the opposite direction always seems shorter to me, despite the fact that I had a very steep incline to walk up and it actually took me a little bit longer to get back.

Arriving back at the car park, I posed in the classic style of the wonderful @RunningDads on twitter (who is the master of this strange open mouth pose) and my run was complete. A total of a hilly 10km in just over 70 minutes. I’ll take that any day of the week.

So that is why I love running. All alone, sun setting in one of the most beautiful places on earth I was reminded that with training, you can condition your body to enable you to enjoy a 10km run. If you run in the right places, at the right times, you get a connection to nature and the outdoors which is second to none.

Hope you are all out there enjoying your running as much as I am.

TTFN – Snooky