The Ultimate Guide To Creating Your Own Training Plan

A goal without a plan is just a wish
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery (French writer, poet, aristocrat, journalist and pioneering aviator)

  • Do you want a personalised training plan that helps you achieve your goals?

  • Do you need a plan that’s flexible and can be adapted to your individual situation?

  • And do you want a plan that's free?

If the answer to any of these questions is "HELL, YES!" then learning to create your own training plan might be the best option for you.


Grab Your FREE Training Plan Template Today

One of the easiest ways for you to create a plan is to use a simple template  

A template can help you save time, money and effort when creating your own plan.

Simply provide your email to claim your FREE TRAINING TEMPLATE, now!

Just by signing up, you'll get:

  • Your Free Training Template - To help you achieve your own goals

  • FREE Tips & Information - Articles and advice on how to improve your own performance

  • Training Updates - The highs and lows of my training as I attempt to run 800+ miles in 9 days to break a world record

Are you a triathlete or a runner?

It doesn't matter, because there's a template for both.

So sign up, get your FREE template and then start filling it in using the advice in this article.


Why Do You Need A Training Plan?

There's lots of evidence to show that setting goals and creating plans to achieve them is very important.


What Training Plans Are Available for You?

There’s lots of advice already out there on how to create a training plan.

Here are just a few examples  I’m not going to go into any detail and have provided links for you to find out more.

  • Arthur Lydiard - Train In Phases And Peak For Major Events

One of the most famous, and successful, coaches of all time created plans around different phases leading up to an event.

One of the ideas he͛s famous for is focusing on building your base in the early stages of training using long, slow sessions.

  • The Maffetone Method – Run Very Slow At Low Intensity

Phil Mafferone's method is a plan that encompasses training, nutrition, psychology and other elements.

The training element focuses on exercising at a very low heart rate for an extended period of time.

As your fitness improves, your speed will naturally increase as your body becomes more efficient.

  • Jack Daniels – Use Different Paces And Intensities

Jack Daniel͛s plans are incredibly well-known and respected.

This approach uses training at different paces and intensities.

But because of this, they can get quite complicated

  • Renato Canova – Focus on Training At Race Pace

These plans use training specifically at the pace that you're aiming to do in your goal race.

If one of these plans works for you, then that's great.

But what I've found in over 10 years of competing is that one plan is never quite right for my personal situation.

And that the most effective way to train is to take the best parts of all of these different plans (and more!) and then create your own.


9 Things You MUST Think About When Creating A Training Plan

Knowing exactly what you should include in a plan is difficult for any athlete. Partly due to the huge amount of conflicting advice.

But there are some things that there is agreement on

1) Find Your 'Why'?

What's your deep rooted motivation for putting yourself through this?

Is it for a sense of achievement? To lose weight? To impress others?

Your goal has a huge impact on how you create a plan.

For example, if you want to achieve a specific time, your training will look very different to someone who is aiming to lose weight.

Here is a simple 60 second exercise that will help you work out your true motivation for training and competing.

2) Define Your Goal

Most people have probably heard of SMART goals - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

An example SMART goal for an Ironman triathlete with a PB of 14 hours and 19 minutes might be…

͞’To improve my Ironman time (specific) by 20 minutes (measurable and achievable) in the next 6 months (time bound)͟‘ 

The key here is to make the goals really specific.

This article suggests that 92% of people who set goals never achieve them because they aren͛t specific enough.

3) Understand Your Current Performance Level

Your current level is a crucial input when thinking about setting a goal and creating a plan.

Eg 'My Ironman PB is 14 hours 19 minutes' or 'I am currently 80kg's'.

You will also want to think about other factors that affected your previous performance. E.g. When you set your PB, was it really tough difficult? Or did you achieve it with ease? How did training go?

If it was a race with tough conditions and your training had been interrupted, you could say that you have a lot of room for improvement.

If you're competing for the first time, it might be difficult to understand your current level.

If this is you, then you could use a time trial before you start your plan to gauge your target race time.

To do this, just perform a session as fast as you can.

The session doesn't have to be the equivalent of your goal race.

For example, if your aim is to complete a marathon, you could do a 2k session at your max speed.

Then you can use the McMillan calculator to get an estimate for your marathon time.

You can then use this as a basis for creating your training plan.

4) Use A Template - Grab Your FREE One Now!

Setting up plans can be time-consuming and painstaking.

So my FREE training template for runners and triathletes will save you time, money and effort.

It's really simple and I've even included a 'how to use' section.

I've personally used it to achieve a 5k PB of 16:01, a 2:30 marathon, 4x Ironman triathlons and the Marathon des Sables.

Just simply sign up with your email address, now.

5) Understand Different Types of Workouts

All good training plans use different types of sessions.

By using different sessions you will improve weaknesses, build on strengths and keep your training fresh.

Different types of workout could include:

  • Long sessions

  • Speed work

  • Tempo sessions

  • Fartleks

  • Easy/ recovery session

  • Strength

  • Conditioning

  • Yoga and Pilates

  • Different sports

This article explains 8 different workouts for runners, and they are applicable for cyclists too.

You don't have to use all of these.

And you may want to use different ones in different parts of a build up to a race. Eg strength work outside of peak training periods  

If in doubt on how to use them, seek advice from an experienced athlete or coach.

You can even contact me for advice.

6) Write Your Plan

Once you've done all of the above, it͛s time to start filling in your template!

These are some basic steps to follow.

a) Work Backwards from Your Goal

This one is simple.

Insert the date for your end goal first.

b) Block Out Time for A Taper

The taper period is one of the most important parts of your plan.

It͛s also one of the most overlooked, especially by beginners.

So that's why you should do it next.

A taper involves reducing your workload in the weeks before your race so that your body, and mind, are ready for race day  

You can still do some moderately intense sessions, but they shouldn͛t exhaust you.

The length of taper depends on the race.

For longer and more difficult races, like an Ironman triathlon or an ultra-race, you might need 3 – 4 weeks. Whereas for a 5K you may need 7 – 10 days.

c) Roughly Plan The Last 2 - 3 Weeks Of Hard Training

These are your peak weeks of training just before your taper.

And they͛ll include your longest and hardest sessions.

Knowing what your peak training weeks will include will help you understand what you have to do to improve from your current performance.

d) Plan Practise Races

You should have a number of races throughout your training plan.

These races are often called 'B' and 'C' races. (Your main race is your 'A' race).

Use these races as an opportunity to practise for your main race. Because if something goes wrong in these, it doesn't matter as much as if it happened in your 'A' race (E.g. stomach problems because of your nutrition strategy).

Another great benefit is that you can track how you͛re progressing towards your end goal. And you can make changes to your training plan.

If you can't plan specific races, then plan sessions where you can replicate conditions on race day.

e) Plan Your Rest Periods

Rest is arguably the most important part of any training plan.

This is the time when you actually see improvements, because your body adapts positively to the stress you've been putting it under whilst training.

Rest is physically necessary so that the muscles can repair, rebuild, and strengthen. Reat days can also help maintain a better balance between home, work, and fitness goals.
— VeryWellFit.com

The amount of rest you need will depend on your experience.

If you're new to the sport or injury prone, you'll need more. If you're experienced and fit, then you can get away with less.

But even elite athletes know the importance of rest:

  • Mo Farah and Galen Rupp - Take 4 weeks completely off training every year

  • Bernard Lagat - Takes 5 weeks completely off

  • Usain Bolt - Would take between 4-8 weeks off

f) Include 'Buffer'


The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong with it.
— Robert Burns

Things rarely go 100% to plan

Sometimes you have to put more important things ahead of exercise. Like time with your family and friends.

And then unexpected stuff like injuries or work deadlines happen.

So make sure you create some 'buffer' in your plans.

This is where you have some weeks which you could use to make up for training you’ve missed.

But don't use rest periods as your buffer.

Rest needs to remain as specific time that you take off. Not as time that you use to catch up on missed workouts

7) Increase Your Intensity and Workload Gradually

This is especially important for new athletes or if you're attempting a longer or tougher race.

The typical rule is dont increase by more than 10% volume or intensity each week.

Although it's a fairly good rule of thumb, you don't need to stick to it rigidly.

The best advice is to listen to your body and...

8) Be Flexible

This is probably the most difficult one to stick to...

Just imagine your plan says that you're supposed to cycle 50 miles tomorrow. Which means you'll hit 120 miles for the week.

But you're slightly injured...

You could get out on the bike.

But you know deep down that a 50 mile ride will only make it worse.

But you go out anyway, cycle 50 miles and reach your weekly target.

Congratulations!

But now you're injured.

And instead of missing a daily target of 50 miles, you're missing weeks and weeks of training.

And hundreds and hundreds of miles.

The lesson?

Don't be a slave to a training plan if you͛re injured. Or if other life events come up.

And don't try to chase miles that you've missed by doing much higher volume or intensity in future workouts.

Because the same thing will happen and you'll get injured again.

You need to step back and look at the bigger picture.

What's more important?

Hitting a target for one individual session?

Or achieving your longer term goal?

Nobody is going to remember that you did a 50 mile bike ride during training.

But they will remember if you pulled out of that major event that you told them you were training for.

9) Get Someone Else's Opinion

Getting someone else's viewpoint is always really valuable.

And it͛s especially useful if you͛re a beginner creating your first training plan  

A more experienced athlete or coach can help you understand what's realistic. And they can give you ideas that you may not think of. For example, new types of sessions.

If you'd like some help, you can always contact me.


5 Things That You Might Need to Think About When Creating A Training Plan

There are lots of topics where experts debate on what you should be focusing on.

And in over 10 years of training and competing, I've played with different variations of these.

I've had some successes. And some failures.

So my advice to you is to test these and see what works best for you.

1) Never Go Above Race Distance

Most of the advice I heard, read or was told, was that I shouldn't go above race distance in training.

This was especially the case if you're training for races that are half marathons and above (in running) or Olympic triathlon distance and above.

For example, most marathon training plans only suggest going to 20 or 21 miles.

And whilst this is very good advice for new athletes, I think there are huge benefits from doing sessions that are longer than the race itself.

a) Psychological – Simply knowing that you can cover the distance is a huge advantage.

b) Physical - You will be stronger by doing the distance

When I was training for the Amsterdam marathon in October 2017, my training hadn't gone particularly well:

  • I'd lost a lot of training time due to an injury

  • My second child was born in July

  • I barely did any speed sessions

So I tested out doing longer-than-race distance runs in training for the first time. My longest run was 28 miles (when a marathon is 26.2).

When the day of the marathon approached, I had low expectations.

But I ended up with a decent performance that I was happy with.

Only 2 minutes slower than my PB.

And that was set after a very good training period, where most things went well.

Here are some great examples of how to use a longer-than distance run as part of your training.

This approach only really works up to a certain point though.

For instance, you wouldn't go over the distance in training for an ultra-marathon or half Ironman triathlon.

And beginners are less likely to get value from it, as they run a greater risk of injury.

2) Long And Slow Sessions VS Long And Fast

For years, the standard advice for long sessions was to do them slowly and easily.

But there has been lots of debate recently about whether you should include higher intensity parts during longer workouts.

The logic is that exercising at a very slow pace will only make you slow. And so you need to include speed work too.

There are lots of ways to do this. And here are two examples: 

  • Progression Sessions – Start the at an easy pace and build speed up gradually throughout the entire session

  • Goal Pace Sessions – These sessions make you work at the level of your goal race pace for an extended period of time

This article gives you some ideas for how you could use different paces during a long run.

3) Stretching - Static VS Dynamic VS Yoga

This has been a hot topic for a while.

Most of us were taught in school that stretching was important. And most of what we were told to do was static stretching.

But now there's evidence to suggest that static stretching doesn't help to get you ready to perform at your best.

Dynamic stretching is an alternative which gets you moving whilst stretching.

Read these 8 dynamic stretches that you can try out before your next session.

But my preference for improving flexibility is yoga.

Yoga is a great combination of stretching, conditioning and it can help with mental focus too.

4) Strength Training - Heavy Weights and Low Reps VS Light Weights and High Reps

There is almost complete agreement that runners and triathletes should do strength and conditioning work to get stronger, prevent injuries and to get faster.

But there's a lot of debate about what type of weight training you should do.

For example, these articles on weight lifting for runners conflict one another. And they are from very well-known sources in the running world

This contrasting evidence has led some to argue that you should mix it up. E.g When your training isn’t too intense (in the early stages of a training plan or the off-season), you could focus on higher weights to build strength. 

Later on, when you're training gets tougher, you could switch to lower weights to avoid injury.

Again, you will have to test out what works for you.

5) Training By Distance VS Training By Time

I don't think it makes much of a difference which you choose. I think it's almost entirely psychological.

I use distance.

And I use kilometres.

This is because there are more kilometres than miles which means: 

  • It’s easier to break down a big target into manageable chunks

  • I feel like I’m making more progress - because your’re ticking kilometres off quicker than if you use miles

  • You get quicker feedback on your performance - If you’re trying to calculate your pace and performance against a target, it’s easier to do when you have a round number to do the maths against. And you have more ‘round’ kilometres to use than miles.


Conclusion

As with almost all things in running and triathlon, the answer to 'how to create a training plan' is...

'It depends'...

  • It depends on your goals

  • It depends on your history

  • It depends on your current level of fitness

But there are some simple steps to follow in order to create your own training plan.

9 Things You Must Do

  1. Find Your Why

  2. Define Your Goal

  3. Understand Your Current Performance

  4. Use A Template - Grab A FREE One on JamesRunsFar.com. Just scroll down and simply enter your email

  5. Understand The Different Types Of Workouts

  6. Write Your Plan

  7. Increase Your Intensity And Workload Gradually

  8. Be Flexible

  9. Get Someone Else's Opinion

5 Things You Should Think About

  1. Whether Or Not To Go Above Race Distance

  2. Going Long And Slow VS Going Long And Fast

  3. Using Static Stretching vs Dynamic Stretching vs Yoga

  4. Using Heavy Weights And Low Reps VS Light Weights And High Reps

  5. Training By Distance VS Training By Time


Claim Your Free Training Plan Template

Simply provide your email to get:

  • A FREE TRAINING PLAN TEMPLATE - which will save you time and money when creating your plans

  • Free training and racing tips - that have helped me achieve PB’s of 16:01 for 5k, 2:30 for the marathon and whilst completing 4 Ironman events and the Marathon des Sables

  • Entertaining updates - as I work towards my goal of a world record


How Do You Plan Your Training?

Do you use these tips when planning your own training?

And what other things do you consider?

Let me know in the comments, via social media or by contacting me.


What Did You Think Of This Article?

I would love to get your honest feedback about what you think about the articles on JamesRunsFar.com.

I can use your feedback to write blogs that what will help you achieve your goals.

Simply tell me what you think by filling in this 1 minute survey.