Online plans and what to think about by ultra runner and coach Kerry Sutton

Posted on: December 12, 2019

If you are a planning on running a race in the first half of next year, you may find yourself browsing Google for the right training plan to have you standing on the start line fit, fresh and ready to give your best.

You’ll quickly notice, however, that there’s a tonne of training plans to choose from. Your first hurdle is deciphering which one will best suit you, your current ability and your ambitions. Once you have identified whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced runner and you have settled on a plan, you can start to figure out how to accommodate the sessions within your week.

Most plans focus on steadily increasing mileage week on week (probably with a few easy weeks in there too), culminating in a final long run a couple of weeks out from the race. It should also include fast sessions and possibly hills for strength, but what they don’t factor in is the hugely important part of this: YOU.

We have ascertained that an online plan acts as a guide to give you structure on how to build your mileage appropriately and when to add in specific sessions. However, in order to make it more tailored to you, keep in mind these 5 things.

1) Be realistic about how much time you have to run. This must not be dictated by the plan. We all have different time commitments so look at YOUR life and what can YOU do. Running must add value and not become another burden or ‘must do’ on a long list of to dos. Yes, you will need to dedicate time to it and sometimes run when you don’t feel like it, but on the whole it should be enjoyable. If you start missing sessions because you have committed to one more run a week than you can realistically get done, you will very soon become disheartened and lose confidence that you are going to get to the start ready and prepped.

2) Consistency is your number one goal. Far better to get more regular shorter runs in than do a huge week one week and then only one run the next. Yo yo’ing like this is not the best way to get to the start line prepped and ready for a great run. Make your run sessions important, they must become priorities in your week. Work out when getting out for a run causes the least amount of disruption and get loved ones involved so they can provide support and motivation.

3) Be specific. Is the race hilly or flat? On road or trails? Make sure you train for this terrain and spend at least some of your runs on similar terrain.

4) Be aware of – and work on – your weaknesses. If you have developed an injury before, don’t run pretending it didn’t happen and hope it won’t return. Start a strength program early. If you are worried about large crowds, do a couple of smaller races in your training to prepare you for the crush of the start. If you know you always go out too fast and then die, get a couple of training races in where you practise keeping an even split.

This next one is a tough one.

5) A big stumbling block for many runners is knowing when to ease off due to a niggle or sniffles and when you push on through. An online plan can’t support you through this but at some stage every runner will face this question.

• If you face a structural problem follow the RICE protocol. You can do a fair amount of diagnosis online and that will get you so far in answering what to do and what not to do. However, if after a couple of days this is not working then you will need to consult a professional. Use the time to also think about why it may have occurred so you get to the root course. Perhaps your shoe choice doesn’t provide enough support or cushioning? Maybe you need stronger glutes? Perhaps your gait needs checking out?
• It’s hard to know whether your symptoms are significant enough to skip a session and whether training will prolong the illness or if the endorphins will help you kick it into touch. At times like this, I always encourage my athletes to err on the side of caution and take the foot off the gas intensity-wise but you might be able to keep your easy runs in. Prioritise sleep which is a major cure all and focus on hydration.

The one take away is that we are all very individual and a generic plan needs to be individualised in order for you to improve and at the same time enjoy the process. Now that you have that covered, it’s time to get out there and get it done!

Kerry Sutton is head coach at Perpetual Motion. An endurance athlete with an unmatched CV, Kerry has completed ultramarathons in mountains, deserts and jungles around the world, as well as dozens on home soil. She’s a highly experienced and deeply passionate coach who takes a personalised, athlete-centric approach.