If you do an online search, you will find many suggestions and steps discussing how to build a training plan. Most of those articles present a good starting point. I want to take those ideas a step further and provide more detailed, actionable information.
There are mostly two types of plans:
1. Get ‘R Done Plan
2. Destroy Your Personal Record (PR) Plan
Get ‘R Done Plan
When looking up plans or how to make a plan online, you may find a plan that progressively increases the volume (i.e., time and distance) of training until you can complete the race distance. For instance, you may find a 10K running race plan that increases in the volume of about 10% each week. Sometimes, a recovery week is planned every three to four weeks to permit rest. You are required to run a few short runs during the week and a long run on the weekend. If your training goes smoothly, then you will be able to complete the race.
This type of plan is all good, but things don’t always go as planned. The human body is so complicated and unpredictable. For example, you may experience overuse injuries because a weekly 10% increase in volume is just too much. These injuries could also develop if you don’t address your running form. Making a comprehensive plan can be challenging.
Destroy Your Personal Record (PR) Plan
This type of plan is typically more comprehensive. Many plans are created using periodization. Periodization means dividing your training season into different sections with a specific emphasis. The following are common periods in training plans:
Preparation (Prep) Period – This time is all about getting your body ready for the upcoming training. It may include low-intensity training sessions combined with strength training.
Base Period – This period follows the prep period. This period is the time that you are gradually increasing the volume of training, much like the “Get ‘R Done” plan. The primary focus is on building your endurance.
Transition Weeks – Intermittently, transition weeks are added to your plan to permit recovery. These are low volume weeks or active recovery weeks. Active recovery means being active in doing things other than running, biking, or swimming.
Build Period – The build period includes training sessions that are more specific to your race. For instance, a hilly Olympic triathlon requires more power and speed. The emphasis in training would be building those skills while maintaining a good base of endurance.
Taper Period – About one to two weeks before a race, you want to reduce the volume and intensity of your training sessions. Tapering correctly is a tricky balance of recovery while maintaining as much endurance as possible.
Race Week – During the race week, you want to fine-tune your skills while not overdoing it before your race.
This type of plan is much more ideal and considers the specifics of racing. You can be more confident that you will complete the race with a reduced chance of injury and greater enjoyment. Some of these plans include more intense training sessions to boost your speed. If you are consistent with training and have been training for more than two years, then this is the type of plan for you.
You may be saying that this is all fine and good, but how do I even get started. My suggestion is to read some resources specific to your interest. The Triathlete Training Bible (affiliate link) by Joe Friel is an excellent resource to get you started.
Things I Have Learned Over the Years
If you are a do-it-yourselfer, then your research could lead to some great success. In my experience, many of the books and online resources will get you going, but it is so hard to get all of the details down pat. In the physical therapy clinic, I notice that the many of the training injuries are related to pushing it too hard too soon, poor biomechanics (i.e., running form, cycling mechanics and fit, and swim mechanics), and improper fit of gear.
So, if you are a do-it-yourselfer, more power to you. That is how I started. You also want to surround yourself with those experienced with racing and those with medical knowledge. The following are a few things that I learned and highly recommend when structuring your training plan:
1. Reverse engineer your plan. After you know that date of your race, count backward one to two weeks from your race date to schedule taper weeks. Then count back six to nine weeks for the build period and give yourself two to three months to structure the base period. Of course, this may vary due to your current level of fitness and the type of race, but give yourself plenty of time.
2. In the base and build period, increase your volume for two weeks, and recover for the third week.
3. It is common to hear to increase your training by 10% each week. If you are designing a plan for a race with a running leg, consider increasing the volume of each week by 5%. In many studies, it has been reported that over 50% of runners will have an injury in a year. Don’t become a statistic.
4. Don’t forget to address your biomechanics. As a physical therapist, I can’t say this enough. If you are running with bad running form, that is thousands of strides breaking down your body. Just think about the time and thousands of revolutions on the bike that could lead to injury if not done correctly. The same goes for swimming. Some many swimmers shoulders could be avoided if the biomechanics are right.
5. Strength training is key. So many endurance athletes think that they will get bigger, stiffer, and slower if they lift weights. This thought is a myth. Strength training is key. You may need to connect with a professional to ensure that your strength training is blending with your endurance training.
Hopefully, this gets you started and thinking about how to train efficiently and safely. Use your time wisely.