The Plan

So, have you been working out? Or are you still struggling to get into a good routine? I will confess, I’ve been struggling. Not with sticking to my workout schedule; but rather sticking to my blogging schedule! Thankfully I started a workout routine just after Thanksgiving and it’s now a habit. It’s that with everything going on in our country and the world, I’ve found it a little difficult to sit down this week to write about training. It seems at times, trivial. I remembered however, that we need to workout to keep our stress levels manageable – regardless of where you stand on the issues.

So I don’t want to let you down if you’ve come here looking for motivation. If you haven’t gotten going yet, not to worry. Do not throw in the towel on your goals because you didn’t exactly stick to your New Year’s resolution. That’s what I hate about New Year’s Resolutions. Too often people feel it’s all or nothing. Every day is a new day, so if you haven’t started yet, you still can. If you have, good for you!

The best way to get into a routine, is to have a plan. Let’s start there. Creating and/or following a training plan provides easy to follow step by step instructions. You wouldn’t prepare a holiday meal without a menu and recipes, would you? You wouldn’t manage a big project at work without planning it out first either. You’d probably create a timeline, too. That’s exactly where to start with a training plan.

If you are new to running or getting back after a long break or injury, start slowly.  For me, this is a building year. My ultimate goal is a Boston Marathon Qualifying Time at the NJ Marathon next year. This year, I have a spring goal race and a fall goal race. Both Half Marathons. So right now, I’m only looking at the spring goal. Your goal should be determined by your previous experience, current training/fitness level, how much time you have to dedicate to training, and how much time you have until the goal race. Will you have enough time for the appropriate amount of training? And a training rule worth sticking to is the 10% rule. Meaning that each week, you shouldn’t add more than 10% on to what you did last week.

Designing my training plan, I work backwards. Goal race is April 30. The 16-week training plan began the 2nd week in January. It involves a weekly long run designed to gradually build my endurance for the distance of my goal race, a speed session, and a “threshold” run or two (that’s a run of about 85-90% of max heart rate or “comfortably hard”), and a recovery (slower) run.  I typically only run 4 days a week. And there is value in recovery and rest days! I also cross train – for me, swimming. I also try to working in a few sessions of Pilates, yoga and/or strength training each week. Maintaining core strength and flexibility is a key factor in preventing injuries, as is doing a solid warm-up at the beginning of each work-out and a stretching routine afterwards.

I’ve been running for over 20 years. I am a certified running coach and I’ve worked with a coach. I know what, in theory, works. I also know through years of trial and error what specifically works for me. So where do you, as a beginner or novice, go for a training plan for your specific goal race? If you are a beginner, you should look no further than a local “beginner to finisher” or “couch to 5k” program. First, as a beginner, I strongly urge you not to tackle a first race longer than a 5k. A beginner group will give you the organized plan, the benefits of having a coach, and the company of others. To find a group near you, Google “beginner run group” to see what comes up or leave a comment below and I will try to help. If you’re a walker who is new to running, you might find some helpful tips in this article, published recently on Sparkpeople.com, in which I am quoted: 9 Real-World Tips from Walkers Who Became Runners.

If you’ve already run your first race and are ready to work on increasing speed or distance, there are a ton of books out there, as well an abundance of online resources, including apps. Hal Higdon is probably one of the most popular and well respected (www.halhigdon.com). His training plans offer something for every distance and every level. Runner’s World (runnersworld.com) besides offering lots of useful information in their monthly publication also has training plans designed to meet a specific goal like weight loss, maintaining fitness, tackling a new distance or faster time. Lastly, (but of course not at all least of the options), hire a coach. A coach provides the accountability, and real-time feedback that you can’t get from a book, website or app. A coach can also make adjustments throughout your training based on how you are responding. To find a certified coach visit Road Runners Club of America or USA Track & Field websites.

Regardless of what plan you use, sticking to it builds discipline and focus…and certainly a sense of accomplishment, which will boost self-esteem.  Exercising clears the head and relieves stress. I would add that getting outside for a run (rather than the treadmill all winter), if you can, is best. I have found lately that running on the treadmill at the gym in front of the morning news might elevate my heart rate a little too much.

img_5691Saddle River County Park, Dunkerhook Area, Paramus, New Jersey. January 2017.

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