Your training plan looks so good on paper. Now all you have to do is do it. But actually finishing all those workouts on their assigned days is a little trickier than it seems.
As you prepare to tackle your training this spring, keep these key tips in mind:
Get the right plan for you
“Make sure the plan is personalized,” says coach Brian Rosetti, a founder of the Run SMART Project. If your training plan is too hard, you’ll end up hurt and in over your head. Too easy and you won’t improve. Either way, you’ll want to quit.
It’s common for runners to get pumped up this time of year, bang out a few hard workouts, then find themselves injured or sore and giving up on the whole thing.
The most important factor in sticking to your training plan is getting the right plan in the first place. Rosetti says it should take into account your current fitness level (be honest!), prescribe distances and paces based on your fitness, and progress as you go.
Commit to a goal
Ideally, you’re progressing toward something—otherwise you’re going to find excuses not to stick with it.
“A lot of times that first week feels pretty good, but then it starts to wear on you,” admits Dennis Barker, head coach of Team USA Minnesota. The monotony of the day-to-day workouts can be hard to get through unless you have a reason to do so.
That reason doesn’t have to be a race, though that’s often the most motivating. Your goal just needs to be concrete and far enough out, but not too far—about three to four months—that you can work toward it over time. Set smaller goals along the way, like running a certain amount of mileage or nailing your weekly track workouts.
Find a buddy
There are a few common reasons people stray from their training: they’re too busy or don’t have time, they think they know better than the plan, or they’re just not motivated. By far the biggest issue, Rosetti says, is staying motivated and keeping training fun.
Getting someone to train with is “huge in terms of accountability,” he says. It works especially well if your friend is training for the same race and runs about the same speed as you. Even if you can’t find that ideal training buddy, you can still use group workouts and training “dates” to get yourself out of bed so you’ll have someone to enjoy (or suffer through) your workouts with.
Plan your day ahead of time
Even if you’re always motivated to do the workouts, it will still be hard if you don’t have the time.
If you think you’re magically going to find time in the day, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You have to plan your day specifically and set time aside, instructs Barker. For most people, that’s easiest in the morning. “Then you don’t have to think about it,” he says. “The later you wait, the more excuses you come up with.”
If you are going to get your training in after work, plan for it before you leave the house. Bring healthy food to the office. Schedule your tasks so you’ll be done in time to leave and be realistic about what you can do.
Be flexible (but consistent)
It can be easy to find yourself second-guessing your training. Should you be doing more? Should you cut a workout because you had a rough day?
It’s important to be flexible, says Barker, and know that there’s a limited amount of energy—emotional and physical—you can expend. If one day is exhausting at work, then maybe you need to move your hard run to another day. That doesn’t mean you need to fall off your plan entirely. It just means being sure that each day has a training objective and value. “Think about what you want to accomplish each day,” Barker says.