Picking the best running plan

I get a lot of questions on choosing a marathon (or half marathon) training program. How do you know what is best for you with so many programs out there. There is not a one size fits all program. Which is why I believe it is all about personalizing to best meet your life, goals and needs. So how can you pick the right program when a personalized program is not an option?

What is your goal? Is it just to finish, then a simple beginner plan is great, minimal speedwork is needed and the ultimate goal is to build the endurance to finish. Is it to PR or BQ, then there is a need to push beyond your comfort zone, add more speedwork, higher intensity and probably more strength training (if you aren’t already).

How much time can you commit? Are you a busy mom like me who needs to workout early and can’t commit hours daily like I used to. Look for something that has less running days and more flexibility. If not then opt for more training days and longer workouts.

How much running can your body handle? Are you injury prone or invincible? Remember we all need rest days no matter what. I have learned over the years that my body can’t do back to back run days so plans like Hansens are out. I perform best with a day of other activity in between but can handle cross training intensity on nonrun days. Also do you need extra stretch/yoga work? Make sure there is room for these.

What other time commitments do you have? Will you be running a lot on the treadmill and can you handle 5-6 days a week of this. Think about when you can run and the place you will be running. What can you do with this. Is it possible to run hills or speedwork.

How long and how much have you been running? If you are a new runner don’t grab the 5-6 days of running with high intensity right off the bat. You are asking for injury. Aim for a reasonable plan, incorporate walk breaks if needed. If you have a strong base then opt for a higher level plan. Look for a plan that doesn’t increase your usual mileage too fast and too intensely.

What are you tips for training plans? Or what questions do you have?

Check out Fitness Friday for other fitness posts of the week…


  1. What's a BQ? I used a plan from Run the Edge and loved it! Designed by the minutes ran not miles- it worked for me!

    1. Boston Qulafying time 😊 glad you found a plan you liked, that is key.

  2. Very nice tips. I especially agree with first identifying your goal and then planning your workouts accordingly with speed workout, tempo days, hill training, strength training, etc. For my last couple races, I have focused more on having a specific purpose for each run and that helped my motivation and made me so much faster!

    Also - training specifically for the course you will be racing is vital. When training for Boston in 2012, I didn't do nearly as much hill training (especially downhill) as I should have! I survived, but lesson learned: train course-specific!

    I use the free training plans on Hal Higdon's website and then modify them to fit me personally. Free is the ticket for me :)
    Amy @ http://www.livinglifetruth.com/

  3. I found my plan at HalfMarathons.net. I chose the 20 week plan so I could advance my mileage slowly, and because it was one of the few plans that had the long run on Saturday, not Sunday. Since we are Christians, I do not run races on Sundays.
    Great tips!

  4. Great tips Jen. When I decided on a spring half for my goal race I basically went through every step you have listed. Great minds :)


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