Choosing a Training Plan That’s Right for You

The first Choose Your Own Adventure book.
Choose your own adventure, indeed! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While there are many things I hope to accomplish this year, there’s only one goal that really matters to me when all is said and done: to qualify for Boston.

And if you’re wondering what “Boston” is, you’re reading the wrong blog. In fact, I bet you understand that when I say “qualify for Boston,” that’s Runnerese for I’m aiming high and need a solid training plan to get me there.

Choosing a training plan with such an important goal to achieve, is no small task, so today let’s discuss the finer points of choosing the right training plan.

I’ve gone back and forth about how I should create my training plan.  Should I hire a coach?  Consult running books?  Use a “stock” training plan I find on the interwebs? Let’s go through the decision-making process step-by-step. Below are the questions we need to ask ourselves in determining what kind of training plan we’re going to use to reach our goals. I answer each one and give you my thought process in how I come to my decision.

Should I wing it or use a plan?

Should I even create a training plan at all? Maybe I should just wing it.  After all, Matt Fitzgerald in the book Run advises that we train by listening to our bodies and incorporating a set variety of workouts according to how we feel. But let’s face it.  I’m type-A. I need a plan. Plus, if I only ran what I wanted too, I’d only do long runs.  Having a plan will force me out of my comfort zone, which is key to making the kinds of improvements I need to make to meet my goal.

Should I use a stock plan or a custom plan?

So, I know I need a plan, but should it be a “stock” training plan or a custom plan? For me, I think I need a custom plan because any canned plan from a book or website won’t be tailored to what I need as a runner. I feel I need more running days than normally recommended.  Also, most plans don’t include a run or two at marathon distance.  Mentally, I need to know I can run 26 miles before race day, even though I’ve done it at least five times before.

Should I hire a coach or draft my own plan?

Finally, most coaches don’t get people like me who have lost a ton of weight, at least in my own experience.  So after consulting my own running books I decided to create my own training plan and incorporate the things I knew I needed: long runs, hill training, speedwork, rest, and Yasso 800’s (if you haven’t already, definitely read about Clove’s close encounter with Bart Yasso, the man behind the infamous workout).


So now that I know what kind of training plan I want, I have to write it up. Here’s what I came up with:



Oh yeah.  The data analysis control freak inside of me LOVES this.

Here’s the key:

Purple: The mid-training plan rest week.  I made this a longer training plan on purpose, so I could take a “rest” week in the middle of training.  I get burnt out (and injured) when I run too much for too long, so I’m including this week mid-training plan to give my body a break before the high mileage weeks begin.

Pink: Normal training weeks.  I’m alternating my long run distances, doing 12 miles every other week and then increasing my mileage by 2 miles.  These are endurance runs, so I need them to be slow (and I’m taking walk breaks).  Because I love a long run without walk breaks, I’ve added 10 mile runs mid-week to keep me sane and because I like them so much.  I also have a hill workout and speed workout every week too.  Three times in the training cycle I have Yasso 800’s, to see where my speed is and to guage improvement.  I better have them at 3:30 by the end of the training plan or no BQ for me!

Green: Tapering weeks.  I’m not a fan of the three week taper.  It simply doesn’t work for me.  Two weeks is what I need to give my body a break without going FOR REAL crazy.

Blue: Marathon week.

Overall, the planned mileage will look like this:


I know the running nerd in you loves this chart.  The actual line will change every week as I log my mileage.  Pretty darn nerdy.  And awesome.

At the end of the day, I did choose to create a training plan.  But the key is flexibility.  If I’m not feeling a certain run one day I’ll mix it up.  I need a plan, yes, but I still need to listen to my body and run what I can when I can.  This training plan isn’t a dictate, it’s more like a suggestion. A really structured specific suggestion.


How would you answer the training plan questions?  Do you have any quirky must haves in your plan?

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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    1. Great question – I’ve talked to many potential coaches, and they have a hard time understanding the perspective of someone whose lost a lot of weight. I have to exercise a lot more to keep weight off. Because I have Celiac’s, it’s hard for me to change my diet, even when I know it’s better. I have to figure things out on my own first and how they work for me and I rebel against being told what to do!

  1. Looks great! But I have a few suggestions:

    (1) DO NOT RUN 26 MILES 2 WEEKS BEFORE RACE DAY. Seriously. This will not do you ANY good and will only harm you. Don’t do it.

    (2) Add more long runs. You seem to be running a lot of 12s and 20s. I like to have at least 15 every weekend unless I am in a cut-back week. This will help your body get acclimated to the long run.

    (3) Add tempo runs. You may be planning on them as “speed work” but make sure you do tempo work. It is my least favorite workout, but it is truly the bread and butter of marathon training.

    Good luck! I can’t wait to follow your training!

    1. oh yeah – 26 two weeks out is crazy! I meant to plan that three weeks out – glad you pointed that out.

      I definitely do tempo runs, but hate them too. Maybe if I schedule them in, I’ll be less likely to skip them. Great tips – thank you!

  2. You have a very interesting plan and I admire that you trust yourself enough to coach yourself. I definitely do not and need a coach to really do my best – or at least I think I do 🙂

    I have to say, though, that I’m with Mint. I am not digging the long runs in your schedule. I think you’d be much better off running 16-22 each week (save for maybe 1 to 2 cutback weeks) rather than that one mega-run 2 weeks out. I wouldn’t do more than 18 at that point, preferably less with 10 or so at goal pace.

    I’m also interested in what you do on your speed days.

    Also, I’m also intrigued about the coach thing. Maybe that’s a subject for another post?

    1. Great tips – I’m definitely going to make some changes. I’ll update y’all with my new training plan in my next log!

      For speed training, I mix things up. Most of the time I do intervals – 2 minutes at 6.0, 1 minute at 8.5+ (I increase the top speed as my fitness level increases).

      In theory, I need a coach – It would definitely help. I’m just not good at trusting someone else to know what’s best for me (plus the things I listed above).

  3. I am jealous of your chart! I don’t have the patience (or computer knowledge) to make my plan look like that, lol! I’ve never worked with a coach before either. I want someone local, but it’s hard to find ultra coaches around here.

  4. Love the charts…you are a girl after my type A heart. I can’t train without a plan like this I need to have everything laid our and planned or I would go crazy

    1. Me too!!! I put together my own training plan for my 50K in Excel but I never though to make a chart of planned/actual mileage… love it 🙂

    2. Me too!!! I put together my own training plan for my 50K in Excel but I never though to make a chart of planned/actual mileage… and I LOVE charts 🙂

  5. First off, I love the chart and hope you’ll post the line graph in your weekly training logs. I create spreadsheets and charts like that for myself throughout training and training plans. I particularly like the planned/active view.

    I’ve never run a marathon or trained for one (2 HM done plus one that I trained for and it was cancelled due to a torrential thunderstorm ) and I’m not ever likely to come close to a BQ. I guess what strikes me about your plan is having only one step-back week. Do most plans have them more frequently? I guess I’ve read and listened to podcasts talking about step-back weeks every 3-4 weeks. Will your body be just exhausted after 18 weeks of training with only one step-back week? Like I said, you know your body and running a BQ better than I do but it looks like a lot.

    Good luck and I can’t wait to continue reading and reading as you work toward your goal.

    1. My chart will be updated tomorrow!

      In response to your step-back questions – I consider the 12 mile runs to be step-backs for me. That being said, if I’m feeling like I’m overtraining and/or just need a break, I’ll step away from the training plan and take an easier week. The reason I don’t schedule more of them in is that I need them at different times and for different reasons so I know there will be weeks like that in there, I’m just not sure when I’ll need them (for example, I took one this week because of a hamstring pull).

  6. One other tiny little thing. I think this article that is somewhat mis-titled. I would have titled it “Choosing a Training Plan That’s Right for Me.” rather than “… for You.” I enjoy the column and find it interesting but it’s not very applicable to me. You aren’t asking open-ended questions about what components do a TP need or what do I look for in a training plan or even what are the constraints on the choices we make. This article is about your process in compiling your plan and that is great and interesting and worth reading but it’s not about how I (meaning any reader) can create our own Training Plan or should we use a pre-packaged one, get a coach, etc.

    1. Good point – I appreciate it. It definitely has to be personal, and the steps I take to do that are definitely different (and should be) than the next runner. Training plans and training are inherently personal.