As a beginner runner, I always wondered why people swore by training plans. I thought it was enough to just get out and run and just keep adding distance until race day. WRONG! I was lucky enough to realize my error in judgment before getting seriously injured. After struggling to complete races I had been "training" for, I googled: beginners training plan.
HOW TO CHOOSE & WHEN TO USE
Training plans are a great resource to use when training for a race and even when you're not. Once you sign up for a race, you have something to look forward to and work towards. Training plans give you the necessary structure to ensure you're prepared for race day. But when you don't have any races on the calendar (I'm lookin' at you, 2020) it's also helpful to follow a plan for the structure it provides. I have found that whenever I don't have races planned (virtual or live) and am not following a training plan, my running suffers. It's hard to get myself motivated and out especially for those longer runs. So feel free to utilize training plans for not only race day prep, but as motivation and structure for those times in-between.
There are several ways to choose a training plan including: organizing coach, pricing, and general plan composition (how many run vs rest days, speed training). I consider each of these elements when choosing my training plans and have found that Hal Higdon's training plans work best for my goals. Many others enjoy training plans that incorporate heart rate training (similar to this one) or run method such as Jeff Galloway's Run-Walk-Run Method (here's his runDisney focused plans). The important thing is that you choose a plan that is suitable for your running and lifestyle. You can always try another plan and compare.
PRACTICALLY NOT PERFECT IN EVERY WAY
One thing I had to learn and accept, is that it's OK to NOT be perfect. Long story short, I was more than halfway through a 12-week training plan and had done everything exactly as written. But at the end of my previous run, I trip over a tree root (trail running) and slightly twisted my ankle. I was able to walk and finish my training run, but it bothered me a bit the next day. As hard as it was, I decided to skip my scheduled run so that I could rest my ankle. That extra day off gave me the time I needed to recover and I finished my training plan without injury! Overall, stick to the plan but listen to what your body needs!
EVEN UPGRADES COME WITH DOWNGRADES
I'm at the point in my running journey where I have returned to a training plan multiple times. For the Hal Higdon plans I use, you can not only choose your distance but also your running level (beginner, intermediate, advanced). It's important to choose a plan and level based on your CURRENT level of fitness, not what you have done in the past. For example, just because I have completed an advanced 10k training plan in the past, doesn't mean I'm in the proper shape to complete that plan again today.
GET TA' PLANNING!
With a better understanding of training plans and your options, it's time to choose your own! Head to one of the resources above to learn more about their options and start training for your next race! <3