‘Tis the season to vow to…what? What’s on your current athletic dream list? Run a marathon? Qualify for Boston? Plan a girlfriend’s weekend-complete with your first half-marathon? Finally quiet that voice in your head that whispers that you can finish a 70.3 triathlon?
Identifying the dream is the first step-and truth be told, it’s the easiest step. There is no shortage of athletic challenges out there. From half-marathons to ultra-marathons, sprint triathlons to cyclocross races, the world is your endorphin-laced and sweat-soaked oyster.
The much, much harder part is staying motivated and focused on the dream for months. Qualifying for Boston sounds amazing, but a 5:05 a.m. alarm to pound out speed work that sets your legs and lungs aflame? Not quite as enticing, especially if you’re not entirely sure if you should do 4 x 800 meter repeats or 8 x 400 meter repeats.
That’s why the second step is finding the perfect training plan that keeps you on track, motivated and improving. The right plan allows you to set your mind on cruise control; workouts arrive in your email inbox daily and you can chart your weekly and monthly progress on TrainingPeaks. Sure, you still have to complete the workouts, but you arrive at the starting line with peace of mind, knowing you’ve prepared properly and have the tools to make your dream a reality. TrainingPeaks has myriad plans, so here are some ways to narrow your search for the one that fits you best:
Dream Within Reason
For many runners, a marathon tops the daydream bucket-list. But stepping up to 26.2 is hugely demanding, both physically and mentally, and your body and mind have to be ready for it. There is no glory in-and no medal for-getting injured. Progressing to the marathon distance is a much better call. Make sure you’ve recently run at least one half-marathon before you embark on a marathon. If you’ve got a fall marathon on your mind, start with a base-building half-marathon training plan this spring, then transition to a full marathon plan near the start of summer.
Then Pick Your Race
While you may be able to jump into a 5K or 10K with little prep work, succeeding at a half-marathon or longer race requires forethought and dedication. Deciding on a specific race months in advance gives you time to follow a plan from the first step right up to the starting line. (Not to mention that having paid for a race gives you incentive to do the training!)
Consider Your Constraints
Whether you’ve got a massive work project on the horizon or an elderly parent to care for, real life gets in the way of training-and you need to mesh the two as seamlessly as possible. A plan that calls for four or five workouts a week is best for most folks in terms of time and effort, but take a look at plans only requiring three quality workouts if you’re super-time crunched.
Take Time Into Account
Sounds simple, but you need to know when you start your plan. Grab a calendar and start counting backwards. Most training plans are 12 to 20 weeks long, which is a significant difference: do you want focused training for 3 months or 5? That said, if you don’t have a solid base of training, opt for a longer plan to give your body and mind plenty of lead-up.
Challenge Yourself Within Reason
If you’re new to this running rodeo, peruse plans designed for beginners runners. Nothing extinguishes enthusiasm-and fitness gains-faster than always being exhausted and/or getting injured. Novice-oriented plans, such as the Another Mother Runner Half-Marathon and Marathon Finish It plans, focus more on building endurance than honing speed. If you’ve already completed a race distance, look at plans that incorporate more advanced training like speedwork; the Another Mother Runner Marathon Own It plan fine-tunes speed and strength to produce PR efforts.
Think About What You Like
The most effective training plans push you slightly out of your comfort zone, but every workout should not be uber-challenging. The easy days should feel relatively easy to you now, in your current fitness state; if Week 2 of a plan has an easy six-miler, and your longest run in the last two months is four miles, find a less ambitious plan. If you hate hill repeats, don’t choose a plan that serves up a heaping dose of them; if the track is your nemesis, opt for a plan that slyly serves up speed boosters, not oval-shaped repeats.