What is a Custom Training Program?
A custom training program is a schedule of training runs in preparation for a specific race with a specific time goal. My next major goal, for instance, is to finish the Indianapolis Marathon in under 3 hours. In order to accomplish this, I know that I will need to average a pace of 6:49 per mile. That is a tall order,since my last marathon was completed at a 7:24 pace. How in the world do I expect to accomplish this goal?
1) I have a plan.
I have an 18-week plan laid out. I know what to run each day and how fast to run it. Every day has a specific purpose. There are days designed for speed & days designed for rest. Some days, all I have to do is relax and run a few miles. Weekends runs are more ambitious than weekdays because I have more time and energy to spend on the weekend. On most Saturdays, I run mile repeats. On every Sunday, I have the long run of the week.
The weekly mileage gradually increases from 30 to 50 miles per week. Every third week, miles are reduced so as to not overwhelm my body with the new work load. In the last few weeks of the schedule, there is a decrease in miles on the schedule. This is designed to rest, heal, and store up energy for the actual race.
The intensity and speed of the daily runs also increases over time. Just before the taper period, near the end of my training schedule, I intend to do 16 mile repeats at 5:45 minutes each. This is a full minute faster than my intended race average. If I can accomplish this, then racing at a 5:50 pace will seem somewhat relaxed.
2) I will follow the plan.
Will I follow the plan exactly on every day of the schedule? No, but it does guide my daily decisions and keeps me on track. The only variations I make will be because of soreness & life issues. Some soreness is a good sign of hard work. I have planned for that kind of soreness. I alternate fast/intense days with relaxed or rest days. The other kind of pain, however, is a warning that something is not right. It means that either you trained a little too hard or that your body may soon be injured. In either case, I may choose to ease up on the speed and/or distance. In a worst-case scenario I may take an extra day or two off. In my last marathon training program, I had to take it easy for two weeks. Once I felt better, I resumed the training program. No extra miles to make up, just resumed the program the way it was written. I still managed to PR by 28 minutes, so resting worked!
3) I realize that I may not make it this time
Sometimes we just set our goals too high. Sometimes we meet our goal, but sometimes we don’t. In that fall of 2011, I wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon. In order to BQ at my age, I needed to run it in 3:25 or less. Even though I PRed by a full 28 minutes, I fell short of the ideal goal by finishing in 3:27:27, just two and a half minutes from glory. Was this a failure? No! I PRed by 28 minutes. That is a huge win. I had set my “Lofty Goal” at 3:25, but I had a “Happy Goal” of 3:35. I knew that it was more reasonable. The fact that I exceeded my happy goal and just missed my lofty goal means that my training program was a big success!
Why do you need a training program?
You need both a goal and a plan to meet that goal in order to achieve. It is that simple. Runners training without a plan are likely to take more days off. Runners without a training program are likely to increase mileage either too quickly, which leads to injury, or to slowly, which leads to disappointing results.
Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!
P. Mark Taylor