A Puzzling Approach
Learn to develop a training plan
Photo by Randall Tate
Developing a training plan for a race or an entire season is much like working a jigsaw puzzle. Dumping out a box of tiny pieces that initially all look the same can provoke a daunting question: Where do I begin?
When I was younger, my dad and I would frequently work jigsaw puzzles together. He taught me to first look for the corner pieces, which was sometimes easier said than done—especially with a 5000-piece puzzle.
The key elements of a successful and purposeful training plan are just like the corner pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Through my experiences as a running coach and elite runner, I’ve identified four training “corner pieces” that will help you to develop reliable and predictable performances: simulation, effort, consistency and lifestyle.
Over my next few columns, I will explain each puzzle piece and how it fits into a comprehensive training plan. The corner pieces are not groundbreaking findings—they are simply tried-and-true training techniques that will help you achieve running success when interlocked.
The First Corner Piece: Simulation
In order to optimize your racing experience, your training should mimic the course you will encounter and the race goals you plan to accomplish. In other words, if you want to run a trail marathon, you’re not going to have the same experience if your preparation includes jumping into a handful of 5K road races and hoping for the best, than if you were to implement a few 15- to 20-mile progression runs on terrain similar to the race you intend to enter.
My client Heather Kroeger of Saint Louis, Missouri, attributes this approach to success at her first marathon: “It helped me to get a Boston [Marathon] qualifying time even though I had never run a full marathon.”
When I was training for the 2010 U.S. Mountain Running Championships, which took place at New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Road Race, I structured my entire build-up around running fast uphill. My goal was to qualify for Team USA, which meant I needed to secure one of the top four coveted women’s spots in order to travel to Slovenia for the World Championships.