How to find the perfect training plan

From 5K to ultramarathon, find the best plan to fit your running goal

running training plan
Prasert Krainukul

Searching for your perfect training plan is always exciting, whether you’re a beginner embarking on your first 5K or an experienced runner looking to shave seconds off a previous race time. But with so many training plans available to choose from online, how can you be sure you’ll start following the one that’s best for you? When looking for a new training plan, here are a few pointers to consider…

  • Who has written it?
    Check the author of the plan has at least one of the following: a coaching or personal training certification; a degree in coaching; or a long history of experience in the running world. Always opt for a plan from a trusted source, and if there's no information about the author, move on. With so many great coaches out there, you should never settle for a plan that has no foundation of experience or wisdom.
  • How long is it?
    If a plan claims it can get you marathon-ready in six weeks, alarm bells should ring. While it’s trendy to promote plans that get you to race day in a short period of time, these can also be a quick route to injury. Always check your training plan is a suitable length for your chosen race distance, while also allowing time for some of life’s detours (holidays, illness and so on).
  • What does the first week look like?
    The key to effective training is to increase mileage and intensity gradually week on week. So look for a plan where the first week of training closely resembles your current running schedule and ability. Picking a plan with a mileage and run frequency that's much higher than your current routine in the first week can set you up for issues such as injury or fatigue down the line.
  • Does it fit your lifestyle?
    Trying to mould your life to fit the training plan, rather than the other way round, will only result in stress, fatigue and increased injury risk. So make sure the plan you select matches your lifestyle, in terms of how much time you can commit to training and your injury risk.

    That's the basics of plan-finding covered! Now, here are a few extras you should look out for, depending on your goal or target race…

    Your perfect 5K training plan

    A 5K is a great race distance for complete beginners, experienced racers and everyone in-between. Where you fit on this spectrum will determine the type of training plan you should be searching for, so that you can run your perfect 5K.

    Generally speaking, a 5K training plan should be around six to 12 weeks long. If you're new to running, search for a beginner's 5K plan that has three to four walk/run sessions a week, alongside a strength and conditioning session or two, plus adequate rest days. Good beginner plans tend to include walk/run interval sessions to start with, as you build stamina and confidence, and should focus on time on your feet rather than distance covered in each session, which takes away any pressure and negates the need for fancy running watches or trackers.

    If you're an experienced racer looking for a new PB, you'll need a plan that incorporates plenty of tempo, fartlek and race-pace sessions, to build your speed and stamina.

    Your perfect 10K training plan

    A 10K race is a great goal to aim for and is the perfect next step if you're already done a few 5K races. As with training for a 5K, you should be looking for a plan that's around eight to 12 weeks in length. However, if you're a regular runner and can comfortably cover a 5K route, there are shorter plans out there, of four to six weeks, that are specifically designed to step you up to the next level.

    Remember, training isn't just about miles on your feet – it's important not to neglect those strength and conditioning sessions on your plan either, which will help to reduce your injury risk. Leg workouts are of course key, but don't forget your core – a huge muscle group that's fundamental to running well.

    With a well-structured training plan, you'll be well on your way to your next 10K race in no time!

    Your perfect half-marathon training plan

    A half marathon is a great first foray into long-distance running, because if you can already run 10K, it's perfectly possible to train for your first half marathon by following a 12-week plan.

    Whether you're aiming for a sub-1.20 or simply want to get round your first 13.1 miles, we have a half-marathon training plan for every runner – and if you're unsure which plan to follow, you can use our handy race time predictor to help guide you.

    When you're stepping up to half-marathon distance, it's more important than ever to not only consider your training, but also your nutrition. As well as eating a balanced diet to fuel your running and recovery, now's the time to start taking on fuel during your run.

    For training runs of more than an hour (and on race day itself), you'll need to aim to take on 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour. On-the-run fuel should be easy to carry, eat and digest, which is why many runners opt for gels – but always test these out on your longer training runs, rather than on race day itself, in case of any adverse reactions!

    Your perfect marathon training plan

    Let's face it, 26.2 miles is a long way, so you're going to need a 16- to 20-week training plan to help you build up to this epic distance sensibly. Whether you're simply aiming to get round the course as comfortably as possible, or you have a particular finish time in mind, we have you covered with our free marathon training plans.

    As with other distances, a focus on strength work is key, so check out our 16-week strength training plan for runners, to be used in conjunction with your running training plan.

    And don't neglect your rest days! With so much training to squeeze in around your other daily commitments, it can be easy to overlook the importance of rest and recovery, but this is when your body recovers, recharges and adapts to the stresses of training (in short, your body actually gets stronger while you rest). So enjoy a little time out when your training plan suggests, and put your feet up.

    Towards the end of your training plan, you're going to hit the taper – the few weeks prior to race day when you can take your foot off the gas and start resting in preparation for the main event. While it's a period that many runners look forward to (after all, it's a sign that a lot of the hard slog of training is over), it can also mess with your mind somewhat, as fears of lost fitness begin to flood your brain. But love it or loathe it, it's an essential element of your training plan, so learning how to taper properly is key.

    Your perfect ultramarathon training plan

    Running an ultramarathon (any event over 26.2 miles, but often 50 or 100 miles) might seem daunting, but don't let the high mileage put you off. While you might be running further, that doesn't mean you have to train harder, and many ultrarunners find they can complete the race by covering the same distances as the average marathon plan in training. However, for more tailored training, follow our 16-week 50-mile ultramarathon training plan.

    A key difference between ultras and other distances is fuelling: when you're out for as long as it takes to run 30-plus miles, gels might suffice for a few hours, but after that you're going to start craving more savoury flavours, which is why most ultrarunners tend to favour eating real food. It's a good idea to practice this during your training runs, so that your body learns to digest on the move.

    When to go off-plan

    Following a training plan is a brilliant way to prepare for a race, because it's designed to help you build your fitness steadily and get you to the start line in peak condition. However, ticking off those training sessions can become somewhat addictive – and it isn't uncommon for people to follow them blindly, to the detriment of their own health. So remember, your training plan is simply a guide – if you're feeling unwell, you pick up an injury or are simply overwhelmed by other life commitments, it's OK (even important) to skip a session or two, until you're back to full fitness and feel able to continue. After all, crossing that finish line is your ultimate goal, not saying that you've ticked off every session on your training plan!

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