running training planI’ll be the first to say that I’m horrible at following training plans. I consider them more as suggestions than as plans set in stone.

That being said, training plans are one of your most important training tools, whether it’s a marathon, Ironman, or 5K. Training plans lay out a path for you to follow; a guide to unfamiliar territory, no matter how many times you’ve been there. A training plan is what’s going to make sure you’re trained enough by the time your event rolls out. More importantly, it’s what’s going to keep you from getting injured.

Whether you follow it to a T or not, the training plan is the blueprint to a successful race season, no matter your goal: speed, completion, or avoiding injury.

I’m sure you can guess what my main motivation for building a training plan is.

Avoiding injury re-injury.

Building a custom training plan isn’t difficult- it takes a few minutes, but it’s completely worth it. Here’s my process:

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel. There are a billion training plans out there already. Look online or go to the bookstore. Start by finding something that looks good to you- reasonable, doable, attainable.

For running, I love Hal Higdon. His plans make sense to me, and they build in a lot of cross training options- important for both healing from injury and preventing injury. Start with a plan based on your current level. {Beginning, intermediate, etc.}

hal higdon half marathon intermediate training plan

For triathlons, I love I love the slow progression of each workout by minutes and distance. You can choose a plan based on which of the three sports is your weakest, or balance them all evenly. I like picking a plan that is low on the running side since I’m always hurting myself, plus I’m the most comfortable in that sport.

beginner triathlete  bike focused training plan

I love both of these because they tend to follow the “3 week build, 1 week cutback” throughout the entirety of the plan- perfect to avoid overtraining and burnout.


2. Put it in your calendar. Use a calendar you’ll actually look at, otherwise it won’t do you any good. If you’re like me and don’t like things crossed out, start with scratch paper or a computer- you’ll be making changes. I usually start in Google calendar, because I can drag and drop workouts after I’ve scheduled them.

build a triathlon training plan

Each “calendar” is a sport, including rest and cross-training. You can hide any other calendars you have from view to see just your training plan.


3. Adapt to your schedule. Most training plans typically put long workouts on the weekends, since that’s when people tend to have the most free time. If you’re like me, many of your weekends are packed well in advance. Waiting to see if you can fit a mulitple hour workout into a busy weekend when it comes can throw a giant wrench in your training, so plan in advance.

Rearrange workouts based on your weekend availability. Out of town Saturday and Sunday? Move your long run to Friday. {Or figure out now if there’s a place to run where you’ll be staying.}

how to customize training plan

{I put my training calendar side by side with my personal calendar to get a better idea.}

Do the same thing for weekdays- rearrange workouts based on your schedule and availability. Don’t schedule brick workouts on Wednesdays if you know you typically have meetings after work on those days, etc.


4. Be realistic. Just because a training plan starts at x miles doesn’t mean you have to. Adjust the mileage to meet where you’re at right now. You’ll increase your mileage as you go anyways. Doing too much too fast is like hanging a kick-me sign on your back for injuries to see.

adapted triathlon training plan

{I took out most of the running and knocked down all the mileage for the 1st month.}


5. Be flexible. Look at your training plan each week as you go along. Make changes based on that week’s schedule and how you feel. How you feel always trumps what’s written in the calendar, but it’s best to plan for it in advance.

{It doesn’t hurt to check the weather report at the beginning of the week- why ride 20 miles in the rain if it’s going to be sunny the next day. Or you know, it suddenly decides to pour down snow at the end of March after being 80 degrees for a week.}

greensboro crazy march weather

6. Don’t get too off track. It’s fine not to follow your plan exactly, but if you miss a lot of workouts, don’t jump right back in to the middle of your plan. Reassess and rebuild as needed.


How do you build a training plan? Do you use a training schedule or just wing it?