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In Praise of Running Plans

Tuesday posts are focused on back-to-the-basics of running for beginners and experienced runners.

People with a plan do better than people without a plan

I’ve fumbled through January, getting in my runs here and there, missing or falling short on more runs than I care to admit.  Looking ahead, I’m reminded of the usefulness of creating and following a plan for my running. 

Plan_2 Whether we call it a running plan or training plan doesn’t matter.  Makes no difference whether we design the plan ourselves or take it straight from a web site or book. The point is a good plan is worth its weight in gold—or Gu packs, or doughnuts, or pizza.

During marathon season, I map out a 16–18 week schedule detailing my training to include the right blend of easy, speed, pace, and long runs.   When not training for a race, I usually get good results planning 3–4 weeks out, even if most of my running is low mileage and slow.  The point is not having it all right and perfect with the certainty of a TV evangelist.  Instead, a plan gives me a road map to where I’m heading.

I’ve learned the hard way about being a slave to a running plan.  Following a running plan too rigidly feels more like boot camp and can wind up getting us injured, disinterested, and without enjoyment and satisfaction.  Instead, I’ve identified a few advantages to using a plan to guide our running.

A plan motivates me to take action.  Even when the conditions are imperfect, my plan cajoles me to get out there and accomplish something for me.

A plan shows possibilities
.  Reviewing a plan reveals when to ramp up, back down, rest, peak, cross train, taper, race, and not race.  A plan captures my best applied thinking about what I know about running and training well.

Plan_book It’s an agreement with yourself. Training plans aren’t binding.  But a good running plan reminds me I have this partnership with myself and helps me hold up my end of the deal.

A plan is like a running partner but without the sweaty smell.  It increases the likelihood I’ll get in the running that I planned when I planned it.  A good running plan helps us prioritize and make the best use of our limited time.

Takes the mystery out of day-to-day planning.  Without a plan, I’m scratching my head each day wondering what to run.  This by-the-seat-of-my-pants planning and wondering often leads to repeating the same-old-same-old or even procrastinating my running.

Gives me purpose and milestones. With a running plan, the stage is set to accomplishing something.   Without a plan running my goals are good intentions wrapped in vapor.  I find my running plan sets the stage for improvement.   It’s how the good stuff builds on the good stuff.

Finally, a running plan gives me something to cheat on.
  You can’t play hooky from school on Saturday.  Similarly, not running when there isn’t a planned run isn’t nearly as fun.  The greatest escapes start with a plan.

Don’t get me wrong, I love spontaneity in running.  Just like a friend who drops by unexpected or a weekend afternoon that turns into a nap, some of the best runs are not planned.  Those are gems, but we can’t count on them.  So a running plan gives us more predictability about our running.

There have been plenty of stretches in my running life when I’ve wandered care free and without a plan for my running.  Those have a time and a place too.  But consistently and predictably I’ve learned the timeless lesson...

...that those who have a plan do better than those who don’t have a plan.

Plan on Flickr by PibeFision

Planning book on Flicker by wsox23 


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You are so right Tom. I keep a book just like yours. I do it in pencil so changes are always possible when needed :-)


You hit the nail on the head, my friend.

I like to have a big plan (i.e. build for half marathon, focus on triathlon, build for marathon), and also have smaller more detailed plans. I will always decide what I'm running for the entire week on the Sunday before; here I play the role of "Coach Doug."

During the week, though, I know I better listen to coach, otherwise there will be hell to pay! And yes, over the years "Coach Doug" has learned when its okay to deviate from the plan!


OH HOW TRUE!! This should go in the content on your site.

I am infinitely better with a plan and will run through unbelievable things (weather, crazy schedule, etc) with a plan.


Great post. I cannot keep my mileage up where I want it to be without a plan. It works best if I use a training plan that I've found somewhere else, but even making up my own training plan and putting it on my calendar works better than just trying to wing it.


I think you're definitely right about the running plans. I've been very not solidly planned as of late and it shows. My goal is by the end of the week to have a running plan solidified for the next couple of months.

Heidi Swift

You NAILED this post.
Every point had me nodding my head.
Wish I'd written it.
Well done!

SJ Tony

better words have never been written.

great story


Can't imagine NOT having a running plan. At least, if you are planning a race it would seem like a must. However, I recognize there are certainly people out there more free spirited than me.


How did I ever run without a plan? There's the long-term plan coupled with the weekly plan. Both in pencil as has been said. Both are necessary to keep life moving along! Seeing both the forest AND the trees! Or at least trying to ....

Great post!


Interesting..for all the races I've done, even the marathon I never followed a plan.. I just run. Hmm maybe I need to take a look in to this...though after 5 years without one I don't know that I'll change.


Definitely a fan of the plan. If there is no plan there are excuses. (And if you put time into them, I find you'll follow it too.)


I'm actually running without a plan at the moment, but I'm excited for when my half marathon training officially kicks off in a couple of weeks.


great post - i don't know what i'd do without a plan. actually, i stand corrected - i do know what i do without a plan ... i run poorly & slowly. having a plan is what got me to running marathon #3 in 3 days and trying once again for a BQ. that doesn't happen without a plan!


great post - i don't know what i'd do without a plan. actually, i stand corrected - i do know what i do without a plan ... i run poorly & slowly. having a plan is what got me to running marathon #3 in 3 days and trying once again for a BQ. that doesn't happen without a plan!

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