Creating An Optimal Long-Term Training Plan

A solid base of aerobic mileage is an important part of any long-term training cycle.

What does a long-term training cycle look like?

Every runner has their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Some runners are more naturally suited for the shorter distances while others can seemingly run forever. Individual differences aside, you can use this general approach as a guideline to tailor a yearly schedule that fits your unique running qualities.

Marathon Focus

Running one or two marathons a year is optimal so you can properly recover from each of those efforts and also have time to focus on improving your other energy systems. Here is what a full-year approach to training might look like when racing a fall and spring marathon:

August through October/November – Marathon training (mileage, aerobic development and marathon specific workouts)
November/December – Recovery and building back general fitness. Include strength work, strides and hill sprints to stay healthy and stay in touch with speed.
January/February – Short 4-5 week speed-training phase. Race a few 5Ks and do shorter, speed-oriented workouts while slowly building your mileage.
February through April/May – Marathon training
May/June – Recovery and building back general fitness. Include strength work, strides and hill sprints to stay healthy and stay in touch with speed.
July through September – Speed development or 5K/10K training. This will help you work on your speed and improving your VO2max.
September through December – Half marathon training. Another good change in stimulus and helps improve your top-end anaerobic threshold

From here, you can run another winter or spring marathon and repeat the cycle. This one-year cycle provides you one shorter and one longer opportunity to work on energy systems and training outside of your goal event and will leave you primed for your best marathon result during your next training segment.

Half Marathon Focus

Because it’s much easier in terms of preparation and recovery to run more than one half marathon in a training segment, you can race the distance more often than the full marathon. However, like the marathon cycle outlined above, you still need to include training segments that focus on opposite ends of the spectrum – aerobic development and speed. Here is what a yearly half-marathon training cycle might look like:

August to November – Half marathon buildup and specific training. If you’re an experienced runner, you can run a half marathon every two or three weeks, depending on your recovery rate.
December – Short recovery and buildup period. It’s important you build in periods of recovery regardless of your experience level and race distance.
January to March – Speed phase, 5K and 10K training, or base building. Choose whichever you like best or work on whatever system you feel is your weakest.
March to June – Half marathon training and racing.
June through September – Recovery and then either base training or speed training — whichever you didn’t do in the winter.

From here you can repeat the cycle and use the same races to measure progress or tweak your racing schedule to find new experiences or challenges.

5K/10K Focus

It’s important that if your focus is improving at the 5K and 10K distances that you set aside a training segment or two each year to safely build your mileage without the stress of scorching speed workouts. This will enable you to build your aerobic engine and ability to clear lactic acid. Here’s what a sample year-long approach would look like:

January to March – Build mileage and work on including more tempo runs and long runs. Maybe even race a half marathon.
March to June – Start including speed work and transitioning to 5K or 10K-specific workouts
June to September – 5K and 10K racing. Race opportunities are abound, so take advantage.
September to October – A short segment that bumps the mileage back up and refrains from intense speed workouts to allow your body to get back in balance. Performing intense speed workouts lowers the body’s blood pH (a measurement of acidity levels), which can only be sustained for six to eight weeks before staleness and burnout typically occur.
November and December – Return to another six to eight week 5K and 10K racing segment. Turkey Trots and Jingle Bell runs are a great way to test your fitness.

Including the base-building periods and the short break in the fall helps ensure you continually improve each year and prevent burnout and overtraining.

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