trail running

How to create an annual training plan

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Creating a running plan for a whole year in advance will help you to achieve your goals.  It might sound like overkill, but it will make a huge difference to your running. It will help to minimise the risk of racing too often and breaking yourself, and it will also help to minimise the risk of racing too little and not reaching your true potential.

Runners tend to think of training in isolated blocks. 16 weeks for a marathon, 8 weeks for a 10k or maybe 20 weeks for an ultra.  The problem with this approach is that it tends to leave you with a “dead spot” between races where it is difficult to maintain your motivation and momentum.

Having 6 to 8 weeks of minimal running after a race starts to reverse all of the hard work you put into building up for your event. You start to lose the strength in your muscles and tendons, you lose some of the cardiovascular conditioning you have developed and when you eventually do start training again, it has to be at a significantly reduced volume and intensity in order to avoid injury.

It comes back to the old cliche that “consistency is the key”.

Don’t get me wrong. Some recovery time after a hard race is necessary, it just shouldn’t be 6 to 8 weeks of no running, or you are making it very difficult for yourself to reach your next goal, and even more difficult to beat your PBs.

HOW DO YOU CREATE YOUR ANNUAL PLAN?  PICK YOUR MAIN GOAL RACE FOR THE YEAR.

This might be a 10k, it might be a marathon, or an ultra-marathon, but pick one specific event that you REALLY want to target for the year.

This doesn’t have to be your only event, but if you want this “target race” to be really successful, then you should structure all of your other events around it so that they help you build towards this goal.

CHOOSE YOUR SECONDARY RACES AND MAKE SURE THEY ARE DIFFERENT DISTANCES TO YOUR TARGET RACE.

Runners often find one distance they like and continue to train for that one distance repeatedly. This is especially true for marathon runners who often race three marathons in a year, but don’t work on other aspects of their running fitness like their 5k speed or their hill running strength.

Training for the same goal distance all the time often leads to burnout, and also makes it difficult to become a better runner. You tend to stagnate if you do the same thing all the time.

Different race distances put stress on different aspects of our physiological systems. Over the course of a year it is good to target each of those physiological systems for at least a short period of time.

A marathon runner, for example, needs to improve their aerobic efficiency and muscular endurance so they don’t fall apart at 35km. An ultra-marathon runner ideally needs to become efficient at burning fat rather than carbohydrates so that they don’t run out of energy or have stomach issues during their race. A 5k runner requires speed/endurance and needs to focus on their running technique to maximise their efficiency.

If you only ever race one distance you will be missing out on training some of these physiological components, and therefore not reaching your true potential.

CREATE STRATEGIC GAPS BETWEEN YOUR SECONDARY RACES

It hopefully goes without saying that racing the week before your goal race is generally not a good idea, especially for long distance races.

Track athletes can often race week after week, and if, for example, you are working towards a 5k PB, then a 5K hitout at 90% effort 2 weeks before your goal race can actually work in your favour. But – if your goal race is a half marathon, a full marathon or an Ultra, you need to go in fresh, so you will need a decent taper in the last 2 – 3 weeks.

SPLIT YOUR YEAR INTO 4 QUARTERS

One quarter should include your goal race. So create a 12 week block working backwards from that date. This is a specific 12 week build up for your goal race, and it might include one or two shorter strategic lead up races.

One quarter should be dedicated to base training. No races, just a solid 12 week block of building up your base mileage almost exclusively at an aerobic pace.

One quarter should be geared towards a complimentary event to your goal race (for example a 10k race for a marathon runner to improve speed/endurance, or a 20km- 30km trail race for an ultra runner again to improve basic speed).

The final quarter should be geared to something different. It doesn’t have to be radically different, but training for a different event, maybe even something slightly outside your comfort zone, will help to keep things interesting and motivating, and will also help to train those different physiological systems we discussed earlier. Targeting a 5k PB if you’re an ultra runner for example, or targeting a 20km trail run if you are a 5k runner.

NB: If you work in 12 week blocks rather than actual quarters then you’ve got four extra weeks to play with. The best use of these four weeks is REST. That’s right. No running! The best time to schedule these rest weeks is immediately after a goal race. You should try to space them fairly evenly throughout the year.

ANNUAL RUNNING PLAN EXAMPLE

Here is an example of my running plan for 2018. My goal race was the UTA100. I chose to do the Six Foot Track Marathon (45km) 8 weeks out and Mount Solitary Ultra (45km) 4 weeks out. Both of these are specific lead up races to help strengthen my legs and get me used to running fast for a relatively long time, but they are not so long that they create excess fatigue and interrupt the consistency of my training.

I will focus on doing a fast Park Run (5km) by late August – this helps me to mix up my training and make sure I don’t just keep doing the same thing.

I will start building in a bit more volume again by September with the aim being to prepare for a hard and fast 21km race (Kedumba Half Marathon) in October.

I find November a good month to relax, drop the volume, and to get a bit of mental freshness back before starting a base training block again for the following year.

So get our your pen and paper now and plan your annual running calendar!

TRAINING FOR SOMETHING SPECIFIC NOW?

Check out our current range of Training Plans. Whether you are training for a 5km, half marathon or ultra, we will have a specific plan suited to you.

In between races? Then I recommend our 12 Week Base Training Program, to build strength and endurance. This should be an essential part of any annual program.

To check out our full range of training programs you can Try The Locker Room for 14 Days Free

mark green

Mark Green (Physiotherapist | Run Coach)

Mark is a highly qualified physiotherapist and an accomplished athlete having competed at the top level in trail running for a number of years. He's the founder of The Locker Room, an outstanding resource to help runners perform at their best.

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