Running: Step 1 ... Getting it going; developing a plan

by Mike Naylor

Hi folks, my name is Mike Naylor and I am an independent coach for runners and track athletes. I have been coaching for over 30 years. I originally started out working with world class ice skaters, and from there I moved on to track and field and cross country runners. This is the first of twelve monthly articles I will be submitting that will provide both the novice and seasoned runners/athletes with helpful tips and training aids. Each month I will focus on a specific topic, and I will make sure they are fun and easy to digest as you move forward toward your ultimate goals.

Let me begin with the planning phase of your journey. When I first started out, I mostly listened to and followed other seasoned runners in their workout plans and race schedules. In addition, I would read every book and magazine article on running and workout plans, to reinforce what I thought at the time was the way I should go to become a great runner.

What I learned was that maybe these seasoned runners I was listening to and all the reference articles I was reading were just pieces to a puzzle that I had to put together. I had to come up with my own plan. I had to find my own direction that would fit into my lifestyle.

No matter how many plans and schedules I put together, there always seemed to be a roadblock of some sort, and I would find myself frustrated and angry and not really enjoying what running is all about. I needed to find a new plan of action. I needed to fit it to my life and my family obligations.

Becoming a world class athlete was not an option. But I found out one day that I was pretty good at helping others to attain their goals. I found out that my personal approach to coaching runners worked, and my athletes soon began to lower their times to become very competitive. And it all started with sitting down with the person to create their own individual plan to drive their competitive spirit forward.

As a young coach, I was constantly told that one could not prepare individual plans for each track and field athlete. In my head I knew that in order to get the most out of a young athlete you had to find that one thing that was driving them and the one thing that caused them to work the hardest.

I didn’t want to produce a cookie cutter plan that I could slap up on the locker room door for my runners to read and to follow for that daily workout plan. I wanted my athletes to want to come to practice and want to know what they were doing, to see how their training and hard work would lead them on to things they never thought they could accomplish.

Honestly, it was a bit scary and exciting at the same time for me to let loose my theory on individual workout plans for these young athletes. If I was wrong and an athlete failed, then I probably would have gone away and taken up golf. But my positive attitude and ability to constantly be working on my theories and plans for my athletes ultimately produced talented runners.

So how does it work? And how can you put together a plan that is simple, fun, and rewarding?

Here is what I did. I would sit down with a runner and talk about what they wanted to accomplish. I would listen to what they were saying and I would try to get them to openly admit their deepest secrets (win a local road race; beat another runner; or become a world class or Olympic athlete).

Once it was out in the open, then it was time to figure out how we were going to accomplish it. In order to do this I would first have them sit down and provide me with some information on past races, injuries, and training plans. This would give to me a better understanding of that person, and what they needed to change in order to move forward.

Most of the time, history showed that they were overtraining or over-racing, or not training properly for what they were trying to accomplish. For the most part, they didn’t really know what they wanted nor what they were really good at doing.

Here is where my theory came in to play. We would sit down again to map out a racing schedule with an ultimate goal we would be shooting for in the future. Then we would backtrack (here is where my secret comes out) from that day to the present day, working on daily workout plans , easy and hard workout days, and fitting them onto a calendar, so we could actually see the plan laid out in front of us.

It is an amazingly simple process that does take some time (hours) and hard work to complete, but once it is done, you are good to go.

Obviously, there are so many variables that go into developing a plan that I can’t really outline all of them in this article. But I will get you started by showing you what I mean by using an example.

You find yourself seated in front of your computer, trying to organize your thoughts on what races you are going to run in, and what your training schedule will look like. Here is where honesty comes into play. Pick one race that you really want to do well in, or you want to finish (maybe a marathon, corporate challenge, etc.). That race becomes the endpoint of your first planned schedule. You should give yourself plenty of time to prepare for that one event. It might be 12 months to 48 months away.

Now backtrack and place other races or events you want to compete in and place them on the calendar. Take a good look at what appears in front of you. Is it realistic for your lifestyle? Do you have enough time between events to recover and continue training? (One of my hints it to use some races or events as part of your training schedule.) Are there events that should be added to this schedule, such as vacations, time with your family, work related issues, etc.? If there are, then add these to the schedule, too.

Next, add the days you will be open to train (some of you might be training multiple times in the day, so make note of that on the calendar). After each entry is completed, look at the calendar and make additions and deletions to it as you see fit. By this point, each day of the calendar should have an entry or multiple entries.

Now the fun begins. From your major goal we start to backtrack and we begin to develop the workouts needed to accomplish your goal. We determine where you should be at a certain time to show that you are progressing toward the times you need to attain the goal.

For example, say you want to run a 10k in 60 minutes. Two weeks before that event you should schedule a 5k race to see if you can run it in less than 30 minutes. If you do, then you know you are on pace to run the 10k time and your confidence in doing so should be at a very high level.

The training tips necessary to accomplish your goals will be outlined in future columns, or you can contact me at and I will help you to put together a successful plan of action.

I hope this first step will help you to organize your thoughts and to place them out in an orderly way that takes the guess work out of developing a plan.

Have a great day! Hug someone you love!

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