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How To Build Your Running Plan

Woman stretching preparing for a run

Whether you’re training for a 5K, an ultramarathon or any distance in between, here are key elements that should be a part of your training no matter what.

How many miles should I run each week?

  • Start with a big-picture view. Choose a target distance for your virtual race day, and work backwards to build a plan around your goal.
  • If you’re starting to run for the first time, think in terms of time rather than distance. Run/walk intervals are a great place to start, and you’ll want to begin with no more than 20-30 minutes every other day. Take it slow and easy as you build your endurance.
  • Your total weekly mileage will only increase by a few miles each week. A common rule is to increase mileage by no more than 10 percent per week, but it depends on your experience and fitness level.

Weekly mileage goals will be approximate and have room for flexibility if you need extra rest or life throws you a curveball. Stress, no matter where it’s from, is still stress. And stress affects your body’s ability to perform.

Watch our video about how to structure your training.

What kinds of runs and workouts do I perform each week?

A balanced running plan will have all of the elements listed below in your weekly schedule.

  • Easy runs
  • Speed workouts
  • Long runs
  • Rest days
  • Strength training
  • Cross-training

Each element of your week has its own specific purpose. If you do a tough workout and don’t give your body a chance to rest and recover, you are only breaking the body down and not giving it a chance to get stronger.

So, particularly if you are a new runner, be patient with your training and let each day serve its purpose. Don’t run your easy days too fast or skip rest days, because they are just as important as the speed workouts and long runs.

Easy runs

Running is always a little bit challenging, but your easy days should be runs that are at a comfortable distance and pace. Holding a conversation during the run should be no problem. If you can’t speak comfortably, you’re running too fast.

If you are brand new to running, a great way to get started is with a mix of walking and running. In fact you may just want to walk first, if running is out of reach. You will want to have two to three easy days like this per week.

Speed workouts

Here’s where you put the hard work in. These runs are designed to help you get faster. There are several different types of speed workouts. Some of the most common ones are intervals, tempos and hill repeats.

  • Intervals - These are short, intense repeats at race pace or faster, with rest periods in between that are equal to or slightly longer than the speed portion. These can be run/walk intervals or running with easy jogging in between, depending on your goals and fitness level.
  • Tempos - These runs consist of a warm-up and cool-down with the middle of the run at a pace just outside of your comfort zone. It’s an extended run without rest until you get to the cool down. The pace and distance depend on you and your training goals. Generally, if you can have a conversation, you’re not running hard enough. If you can’t get a word out, you’re running too fast. Tempos are excellent practice for a race because they get your body used to running fast without rest.
  • Hill repeats - Hill repeats are just what they sound like. Run fast up a hill, jog down easy, repeat. These are excellent ways to build strength and speed with less wear and tear on the body.

Always warm up and cool down with your speed workouts. This helps your body adjust, prevents injury and helps you have a better workout. Many runners will only complete one speed workout per week, especially if they are new to running. If you are an experienced runner, you might do two speed workouts of different types, or add some tempo miles into the long run.

Long runs

This is your longest run of the week, and its purpose is to improve your endurance. It should be at an easy, conversational pace. Many runners put this run on the weekend when they have more time, but that’s up to you.

In general, it helps to do it on the same day of the week every week so your body has time to recover before you increase the distance again. You will only do one long run per week.

Rest days

Most runners underestimate the importance of rest days.

These are days that are taken completely off of running. You might choose to do no physical activity on these days or if you still want to be active, choose something gentle and restorative, such as yoga or easy walking.

Rest days are crucial for allowing your body to recover after a tough effort. Depending on your fitness level, you will want one to two of these days per week.

Strength Training

As a runner, it’s crucial to support your body by taking time to build strength, balance, flexibility and mobility. This will help you prevent injury as well as increase your power and speed.

You can get in all of the work you need with just 15 to 20 minutes of strength work three or four days per week.

Try taking two days to focus on core strength and a day or two for leg strength

Cross-training

In this context, cross-training is any activity that will complement your training but let your body recover from running-related stress.

Yes, you can get by without cross-training, but activities like cycling and swimming continue your aerobic training without the pounding on your joints, and they bring variety to your schedule. Choose whatever you enjoy from yoga to climbing to kickboxing. The goal is to be a balanced athlete, prevent injury and have fun.

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