Reader to Reader: Should I train to a schedule?

How important is it to train to a schedule? Here's what you thought


Posted: 16 July 2007
by Catherine Lee

When it comes to preparing for a race, finding a training schedule is likely to be top of your to-do list. But what if your lifestyle just isn’t suited to following a pattern of prescribed sessions?

That's the challenge facing this week's questioner - what advice would you offer him as he prepares for his first half-marathon?

"I’m a fairly new runner (aged 37) and a busy job and young family prevents me from having a rigid training schedule. I tend to start each run very steadily then decide whether to do a fast one or a long one as the mood takes me, depending how I feel physically. Is this too haphazard a way to train for a half-marathon?" Glennzo

Your best answers

  • With or without? There’s a time for both
    I need a schedule when I'm working towards a goal - like a longer distance, or a race of any kind - as it gives me confidence that I can get there. But a break from schedules, watches and all other pressures is just the tonic when I've met that goal. – OJO
  • Take stock of your aims and objectives
    It really does depend upon what you get from running and what you are trying to achieve. If it’s just about getting out, running, feeling the benefits of being outdoors and maintaining a reasonable level of health and fitness, then a setting a programme isn't necessary. Just listen to your body, run, rest and eat and drink well. If, however, achieving a set distance or time are your main goals, then you really do need to follow some form of programme. Depending on your current level of fitness, the extent of your goals and other priorities in your life, the nature of such a programme will vary. Either way, don't forget that running is fun and should enhance your life rather than compromise it. – Ruksana Lloyd
  • Make sure you cover the basics
    I always really struggle to stick to a schedule as it never quite fits in with other things that I need to do. I think for me the key is to get the important bits right, like making sure I do a long run at some point during the week, trying to fit at least one "quality" session a week and then doing medium length/pace runs whenever I've got time. It’s not ideal, but it is practical when you can't let the training dictate your life. – Martin Pace
  • Focus on quality not quantity
    I think that listening to your body is a great way to approach training, but you'll have to incorporate some planning if you are aiming for a half-marathon. As long as you get the long runs in, and mix it up with some shorter/faster/hillier stuff you will be fine. Listening to your legs is critical in terms of rest days/niggles and things like that. Another good thing about your body is that it is pretty good at telling you what it wants or needs in terms of fuel. – Nick L
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of recovery
    If you're running three times a week, a "listen to your body" approach is fine provided you're building up your long runs gradually. However, if you were running more often I'd be advising caution - it's all too easy to run hard for three or four consecutive sessions and then find that you can't move on the next one. – Velociraptor
  • For the best results, you’ll need to train outside your comfort zone
    I've been running for five years now, and I only started using a schedule at the beginning of this year. I don't stick to it slavishly day by day, but instead make substitutions within the week. What it does do is make me run in the evenings twice a week when I'm tired. Unless I run twice a day for at least two days a week, I can't build up the requisite miles. Yes, you have to listen to your body, but you do need practice in knowing what it is like to run when you're tired after a hard day's work or after you've run in the morning as well, because in a marathon (and a half as well) you will experience tiredness, and if you've got too used to stopping when you feel like it, then that's what you'll do in the actual event. Pushing yourself a bit gives you the confidence to know you can do it again in the real event. – Exhausted
  • Schedules are designed to suit your body’s capabilities
    If you are doing three days per week, you can afford to go by how you feel. If you move up to six days per week, the issue of making sure you have sufficient glycogen for the harder bits comes into it, and you can't always afford to go faster if you're feeling good. If you train everyday or most days, you can run out of fuel unless you manage it carefully. You can't restore your glycogen fully just by eating and sleeping day after day if you train hard and often, so you need to organise a programme and more or less stick to it if you are training six days a week. – JFB
  • Get creative in spotting training opportunities
    Is anyone's lifestyle suited to a training regime? Everyone has to be flexible, so it is more about ensuring you manage the balance to get quality miles in. I run to fit round my son - when I drop him at music club on Saturday, rather than sit there with a paper I do a 45-minute run. If I take him to a party, I’ll run locally for two hours to get my long weekend run in. Sometimes I get up at 5.30am to fit in speedwork or distance with a friend. On Fridays my club does a circuit session open to kids so we get a core session and they get the basics of good health. You really do have to be flexible and work things around. – Carmel Harrison
  • Pre-prepared plans can be a blessing for the time-pushed
    I need a very strict training regime because I'm naturally very disorganised. Knowing exactly what to do and when takes a lot of the difficulty out of running for me, but then again others might say that they would find it nigh impossible to follow a strict program religiously. I think that it's wholly down to the individual, but if you're considering a half I would at least set a target of distance to cover in the months leading up to it. You can keep it as flexible within each week as you like, but it will help ensure you've done enough work. – St00
  • Structured sessions can boost your "get up and go"
    I've always found that running to a schedule is what motivates me to get out of bed early on a Sunday morning when it's cold, wet and dark outside. Without it I would probably just skip the session and "promise" myself I’ll run the next day instead (which then doesn't happen…). My schedule is pinned up on a notice board in my house so my wife knows when I will be running and for how long - this helps us plan our day as we have a baby to look after. – Beanie's Dad
  • Innovate rather than imitate
    I've fallen out a bit with schedules - sometimes I want to just do something different, or swap a day or the type of session - so I've started running to a weekly "distance" instead. I find this quite motivational in that I can miss a session or change the distance/type but I then know I need to try and make up for it later in the week. I currently aim for a minimum of a marathon distance - anything beyond this is a bonus. It’s working for me at the moment but I'm sure I’ll change to something else when I get bored with it! – A Bolton
  • Finding what works will take trial and error
    I'm pleased I'm not the only one (judging from these posts) who gets injured if they run too often. My body is happy with me running three times per week although for the two marathons I've done to date, I added a fourth run. Aside from the marathons, I've tried continuing to train four times per week and it has always brought injury, boredom, or frustration. Running is supposed to be fun - running three times a week keeps it that way. When I've run more than that it feels like it's taking over my whole life, and my job and family suffer as a result. I never used to have a training schedule, but I invented one for my marathons. I've subsequently tried training to a plan for shorter distances, and almost gave up running as a result, because it became obsessive. OK, I'm never going to win anything, but I have got satisfactory results from such training. My PBs are 1:37 for a half-marathon (four runs per week), and 3:52 for the marathon. – Mr Bump
  • Use your past experience to inform the present
    I have a training schedule at the moment as I’m preparing for the Snowdonia marathon in October. It’s mainly for the long Sunday runs to make sure I get my legs in tune, as I switch and swap my speed and tempo sessions throughout the week depending what I have on and how I feel. What I do find useful is a running diary - I can look back at my last marathon training and work out what helped, what didn't and choose appropriate sessions. A schedule keeps me on track to make sure I have the distance in my legs (nothing else) and it’s also in pretty colours so looks nice on the fridge. To visitors it also looks like I'm extremely fit! – b-oing

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Discuss this article

am a fairly new runner aged 37 (used to be county standard when school age). usual stuff, busy job and young family prevent me from having a rigid training schedule.

i tend to start each run v steadily then as the mood takes me i decide whether to do a fast one or a long one etc. this depends on how i feel phyisically at the time. is this too haphazard a way to train for a half marathon????

i make a point of running 3x per week. eg yesterday in bristol it was drizzling and the downs, where i run, were deserted. i felt good so did a v fast 3 miler without having to dodge past dog walkers/ cottagers etc as none about due to weather
Posted: 06/07/2007 at 11:40

I agree think you really have to listen to your body reather than stick to a rigid schedule.Thats certainly what i prefer.I would Use a schedule as a guideline for incresing the length of you runs but doing what you are doing including both longer and shorter runs sounds great to me.
good luck
:-)
Posted: 06/07/2007 at 11:45

Glen - I think that listening to your body is a great way to approach training - it is broadly speaking what I do!

Ok, so you'll have to incorporate SOME planning if you are aiming for a half marathon, but it can and does work. Different strokes for different folks. Some people like rigid plans, others dont - I dont.

Ive been running since 2002 (and im bloody tired now a ho ho ho ho!)....and last year I did 8 maras and a couple of ultras....plus a handful of shorter races. As long as you get the long runs in mix it up with some shorter/faster/hillier stuff you will be fine!

Listening to your legs is critical in terms of rest days/niggles and things like that.
Posted: 06/07/2007 at 11:57


JFB
This does depend to a degree on how much training you are doing, I think. If you are doing 3 days per week, you can 'afford' to go by how you feel. If you move up to 6 days per week, the whole issue of making sure you have sufficient glycogen for the harder bits that really count comes into it, and you can't always afford to go faster if you're feeling good.


Posted: 06/07/2007 at 13:30

thanks for all the advice. i think i need at least some structure just to get into good habits. at moment next target is a 10k at end of sept. hopefully once i negotiate that i will be fit enough generally to think about longer runs. ive read about glycogen probably codswallop but someone said (forgetten where) that its levels shouldnt be a problem at half marathon distance. is that true?
Posted: 06/07/2007 at 13:57

Glen - re Glycogen - yeah I would say so...as long as you dont start the race after having eaten nothing for a day before hand.

I often see people using gels and things on half maras, so for some people it is 'necessary' for others not. As you become more experienced you will find out what works for you...I will tend to only consume something on runs of 15/20 miles or more...but will nearly always have water enven on something as short as a 5 mile race. Another good thing about your body is that it is pretty good at telling you waht it wants/needs in terms of fuel. (or at least mine is!)
Posted: 06/07/2007 at 14:04

I'm inclined to agree that this is not a problem in 1/2 marathon <someone will now say that they have 'hit the wall' in a half).

I also does not have to be a problem with longer (marathon and ultras) you just need to be aware of it and mangage your pacing so that it does not become a problem.

Colin
Posted: 06/07/2007 at 14:04

Colin....funny you should say that...ive 'hit the wall' in a 10k....well i dont think it was hit the wall so much, more 'blew up' or overheated from going too fast....an opening 1st 2 km splits were 3:30-3:40.... it went downhill after that!....but the feeling and net result from going too fast for my capabilities I suspect resutls in very similar results as 'hitting the wall'.

'Hitting the Wall' & 'Blowing up' - what are the differences? That could be a thread in itself?!
Posted: 06/07/2007 at 14:10

ah see, I said there would be one, but you have exceeded my expectations Nick, a 10K! not bad going, but good times for you first 2kms:-)
I've done a similar thing many years ago at school in a 1500m race, beat that ;-)

But more seriously I think that 'hitting the wall' is very different from just starting too fast.

Starting too fast is going too fast for your bodies capabilities/fitness. 'the Wall' in marathon terms is when physically you could carry on but there are no energy reserves left. This can effect even top class runners, but I believe that in upper performance levels the bodies will have adapted slightly to mae more effcient use of the energy stores.

Colin
Posted: 06/07/2007 at 14:21

Colin - I agree, 1500m....good skills! (or not!)

Speaking of that sort of distance - if you fancy a bit of speed work (a little bit too!) there is a 1 mile challenge at Bourton on the Water in a couple of weeks!

I started a new thread on the wall/blowing up thing
Posted: 06/07/2007 at 14:25

There is a 1km 'fun' run at the WestWilts Show in Trowbridge that is in a few weeks time, so that is even shorter!

I did a short speed session today, 3 miles. that my version of short!

now what was the thread about...

ah yes, flexible approach to training.

I am firmly of the opinion that these 'training plans' are only guides in any case.
I for one am not prepared to have my training dictated by an anonymous piece of paper. I use them as guides and pick out the bits I want to do, normally these are the bits I will find hard. There is little point training your strengths, you need to train your weeknesses. These will be the sessions that you think 'oh no a .... session', concentrate on these in preferance to the easy cop out of 'another easy paced run'.

Colin
Posted: 06/07/2007 at 14:34

Glennzo, if you're running three times a week, a "listen to your body" approach is fine provided you're building up your long runs gradually. However, if you were running more often I'd be advising caution - it's all too easy to run hard for three or four consecutive sessions and then find that you can't move on the next one!
Posted: 06/07/2007 at 14:45


JFB
Just to be clear, when I was talking about glycogen, I'm talking in the context of training. If you train everyday or most days, you can run out of fuel unless you manage it carefuly. You can't restore your glycogen fully just by eating and sleeping day after day if you train hard and often, so you need to organise a programme and more or less stick to it if you are training 6 days a week.
Posted: 06/07/2007 at 14:49

Hi guys

I've pinched this question for this week's Reader to Reader so keep the advice coming...

Thanks

Catherine
Posted: 09/07/2007 at 10:13

I think it depends on your ability to get up and go! I need a very strict training regimen because I'm naturally very unorganised.

Knowing exactly what I do and when takes a lot of the difficulty out of running for me, but then again others might say that they would find it nigh impossible to follow a strict program religiously.

I think that it's wholly down to the individual, but if you're considering a half I would at least set a target of distance to cover in the months leading up to it. You can keep it as flexible within each weeks running times as you like, but ensure you've done enough work.
Posted: 09/07/2007 at 10:24

I've always found that running to a schedule is what motivates me to get out of bed early on a Sunday morning when it's cold, wet and dark outside. Without it I would just probably skip the session and "promise" to myself to run the next day instead (which doesn't happen!). Also I find I run 'how I feel' on the day, having some structure to the training really helps.

My schedule is pinned up on a noticeboard in my house so my wife knows when I will be running and for how long, this helps us plan our day as we have a baby to look after!

Cheers
Beanie's Dad.
Posted: 09/07/2007 at 13:19

I always really struggle to stick to a schedule as it never quite fits in with other things that I need to do, particularly with being away from home for a lot of weekends lately. I think for me the key is to get the important bits right, like make sure I get a long run (whatever length that is, depending on what the training's for) at some point during the week, try and fir at least one "quality" session a week and then just do sort of medium length/pace runs whenever I've got time. Its not ideal, but it is practical when you can't let the training dictate your life.
Posted: 09/07/2007 at 16:59

I agree Martin, they are only guides.

Colin
Posted: 09/07/2007 at 17:17

I think the key here is to ensure you gradually build up your weekly long runs to the distance required to see you through the half marathon; as far as for the other runs I agree that listening to your body is best. If you are looking for a certain finishing time though then you need to incorporate some speedier sessions relatively regularly as well, to ensure your running speed is improved and sustained. Good luck!
Posted: 09/07/2007 at 17:43


OJO
I'm in no position to advise anyone else, but personally I need a mixture.

I need a schedule when I'm working towards a goal - like a longer distance, or a race of any kind. It gives me confidence that I can get there.

A break from schedules, watches and all other pressures is just the tonic when I've met that goal. Or at least until I set one.

Mine's more a psychological answer than a physiological one!
Posted: 09/07/2007 at 18:19

I use the schedules to ensure my LSRs are long enough. Other than that I normally just do my own thing.

Works well for me because I've always taken the term easy run literally and messed them up causing a drop in confidence (even after an excellent LSR the day before) so if I can't be bothered (most Mondays), I don't and I ensure I don't beat myself up about it.

I always make sure I'm doing enough tough sessions about 3 a week and I fill in the gaps with shorter distances or rest days.
Posted: 09/07/2007 at 19:46


Zip
I have tried to run to schedules in the past and have injured myself so many times I gave up. Personally, my body is not designed to run x times a week or do certain things on certain days. I am in a similar situation as yourself working shifts and having a baby son to look after so it is a case of getting out as and when really.

I do however try and do 3 sessions a week if poss which constitutes and easy run, some speed or hill work then a long run in no particular order and since training this way have broken long standing PB's at 1/2 Marathon and 10K so something must be right. I also think that plenty of rest days are really beneficial to avoiding injury and staying fresh in general.

Continue to enjoy tyour running and good luck.
Posted: 10/07/2007 at 09:39

I have been a runner for the past 17 years and i never stick to a schedual,i have completed marathons in 3:15 on just three 8 mile runs a week.
perhaps this is not the best training but its the only way i can do it along side working shifts, which mean very early starts and 12 hr shifts including late and night shifts.

I'm 34 now and after an injury and being stuck in a rut of running the same routes week after week for the last couple years (again due to shifts and time) i am now getting a re-boost into running and am now altering my training and entering races and even considering joining a club.
Posted: 10/07/2007 at 13:35

" I agree Martin, they are only guides.

Colin"


Yeah, that's what I was trying to say. God I wish I wasn't so verbose sometimes!
Posted: 10/07/2007 at 16:45

I've been running for a couple of months now and am training towards a half marathon at the end of Sept. I personally like the dicipline my traiing plan gives me but have managed to be brave enough to drop a couple of sessions due to things like bad hay fever. Currently suffering from a bit of shin splints so have toned the pace down but kept the time as planned without any problems. I'm learning fast the importance of listening to the body.
Posted: 10/07/2007 at 19:59

When I started to run, I followed a schedule for a 10K but not to the tee! Did it in 59 mins. Then for my first half my training was interrupted and my longest run ended up being 9 miles about 2-3 months before the race!! BUT I did it in 2.12 and had a ball. I am now training for my 2nd marathon and realise schedules are NOT for me. I have in my diary when I need to do the LR's in the weeks before but apart from that I am doing my own thing. I have found I need plenty of rest so I have learnt that I can't do a 5-6 day training week so I stick to a 4 day one.
I do like my training sheet on the fridge though cos it keeps me motivated by filling it out.
Happy running and Good Luck.
Posted: 10/07/2007 at 20:00

I did my first half mara on 3 runs per week. I was doing 3x3 milers when I decided to do one, so kept 2 of the runs at 3 miles, then jumped the one up to 5 miles. After that I carried on adding a mile a week onto one of them until it got to 13. Then I carried on for a couple more weeks then upped the 3 milers to 5 as it was all getting easier.

I listened to my body, if I was pulped, I'd just do the shorter run (or if it was tipping down, I was a coward back then!) As long as I did my long run once a week I'd be happy, it didn't matter when I did it.

And as for speed, I was like you, I ran how I felt like running. I think when building up for your first mara, just build the mileage up, run your race and get a benchmark to beat next time if you're that way inclined. Speed doesn't matter.

As long as you get a few long ones in you'll be fine.

Good luck!
Posted: 11/07/2007 at 09:27

I have a training schedule at the moment for example for snowdonia in October, its more for the long sunday runs to make sure I get my legs in tune, I switch and swap my speed and tempo sessions throughout the week depending on whats on and how I feel. What I find useful is a running diary, they I can look back at my last marathon training and work out what helped and what didn't and choose sessions. A schedule keeps me on track to make sure i have the distance in my legs ... nothing else ... its also in pretty colours so looks nice on the fridge and also makes it look to visitors that i'm extremely fit!
Posted: 11/07/2007 at 16:48

I'm pleased I'm not the only one (judging from these posts) who gets injured if they run too often. My body is happy with me running 3 times per week - although for the 2 marathons I've done to date, I added a 4th run. Aside from the marathons, I've tried continuing to train 4 times per week and it has always brought injury, or boredom, or frustration. Running is supposed to be fun - running 3 times per week keeps it that way. When I've run more than that it feels like it's taking over my whole life, and my job and family suffer as a result.

I never used to have a training schedule, but I invented one for my marathons. I've subsequently tried training to a plan for shorter distances, and almost gave up running as a result, because it had become beyond obsession.

OK, I'm never going to win anything, but I've got OK results off such training. My PBs are 1:37 for a half-marathon off 4 runs per week; 1:41 for a half-marathon off 3 runs per week; and 3:52 for the marathon).
Posted: 11/07/2007 at 17:41

I started using a plan for my first marathon ('06) and found my running improved withing weeks of adding this structure to training. These days I work loosely to a plan making sure that the main components are covered. Improvements in times are continuing and that is making running a lot of fun for me.

On the glycogen thing, I never used to eat during a run until I discovered during LSR's just how well it works for me. Now I always take a few jellys during a half and I always drink from 5km onwards in all distances.

Running is so personal, you have try different ways and find out what works best for you. Listening to your body is foremost in all of this.
Posted: 11/07/2007 at 22:07

When I started, running to a schedule was great, but I found I needed to have a goal to aim at...mine were races.

Good source for schedules that are tailored to a target, how often you want to run and your current "level" i.e. beginner is myasics.com. It has good graphs and ability to update as you go along. I found this helped. I now use Nike+ but obviously you need an i-pod Nano and Nike+ kit!

Now I've been running for a while I've fallen out a bit with schedules as sometimes I want to just do something different or swap a day, type of session, etc.

I've started running to a "distance". I find this quite motivational in that you can miss a session or change the distance/type but it gets interesting knowing you need to try and make up for it! I currently aim for a minimum of a marathon distance in a week. Anything beyond this is a bonus...works for me but I'm sure I change to something else when I get bored with that!
Posted: 12/07/2007 at 10:31

I've been running for five years now, and I only started using a schedule at the beginning of this year. I got me through Rome with a PB, then Boston against bad conditions. I don't stick to it slavishly day by day, but make substitutions within the week. What it does do is make me run in the evenings twice a week, when I'm tired. Unless I run twice a day for at least two days a week, I can't build up the requisite miles. Yes. You have to listen to your body, but you do need practice in knowing what it is like to run when you're tired after a hard day's work -after you've run in the morning as well... because in a marathon, and in a half as well, you will experience tiredness, and if you've got too used to stopping when you feel like it, then that's what you'll do in the actual event. Pushing yourself a bit gives you the confidence to know you can do it again in the real event.
Posted: 12/07/2007 at 16:07

Ive looked at so many schedules in magazines and books, but have never really stuck to one 100% as everybody has different circumstances. For my first half marathon i just built up to a 6 mile run, and then tried running it quicker everytime.

Enter a race and plan how many runs you can do before then, and break it down each week and plan on the sunday what you are going to do and what day and time your going to do it on. This way your doing your planning and prep, and if "you dont prepare then prepare to fail!!!!!".
Posted: 13/07/2007 at 00:02

So many schedules, everyone has their own version.
Personally I look at what I am trying to achive, ie marathon and make my own schedulle to fit it, in this case making sure I do a long run each week, building mileage rather than speed, and treat the rest of my training as a side line for that. Maybe some speed work, fartlek etc.

I do not take schedules to seriously although for the marathon which I have entered I am keeping a training dairy, just so I can keep a check on the mileage.

Posted: 13/07/2007 at 13:33


NXX
I tend to make up my own informal schedules, as there's always something about the pre-prepared ones that don't seem to fit in with my life. I try and stick to these as much as possible, but allow for a little bit of variation if necessary.

The only problem with this is that you need to understand how to structure your runs and the different types of training that are necessary to achieve your goal. Sometimes I run without a stopwatch on easy run days - that way I don't get too caught up and obsessed with times when I'm supposed to be taking it easier. It works well for me.
Posted: 13/07/2007 at 13:43


DG
I've got three (very busy) kids, part-time job and various voluntary committments too. When I did my first half marathon I found the only way I managed to get in anything like the right amount of training was having a schedule so I could say "Look Mummy's got to go and run, the schedule says so!!". Of course you have to be flexible, swap runs round etc, and listen to your body too, but in a busy life I find a schedule invaluable. I followed the schedule pretty closely and came in 20 minutes faster than my target (I'm pretty slow anyway). After the half I said I would 'probably do a 10km in June' and didn't use a schedule. Consequently running ended up being the thing that got dropped when life got too busy and I didn't do the race as I was so out of shape. I suppose it depends on how disciplined you can be!
Posted: 16/07/2007 at 11:07

I am a new runner, been running only last 3-4 months; I have never followed any routine and taken an improvise approach to my running and cross training.I too live a very busy schedule and always working away from home, always take my PE kit with me everywhere I go and at every opportunity do some training. I find Running is one of the easiest exercises to do around busy schedule.Since starting running when could just about run a mile, last week I did my longest run 10 miles. Whilst I don't train to a routine but before every run I always set myself a target i.e. fast run, distance etc It all depends on what you are training for, mine all about lifestyle, staying fit and setting myself realistic targets just in case running does start to get boring in anyway...
Posted: 24/04/2008 at 17:15

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