Developing a Training Plan Part IV: Lifestyle

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The key elements of a successful training plan are just like the corner pieces of a jigsaw puzzle—find them and it’s easier to fill in the rest.

Photo by Kevin Winzeler

The key elements of a successful training plan are just like the corner pieces of a jigsaw puzzle—find them and it’s easier to fill in the rest.

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. Last column, I discussed consistency (you can read that post here); this month’s segment is lifestyle.

As I have said before, the corner pieces are not groundbreaking findings; they are simply tried-and-true training techniques that, when interlocked, will help you achieve running success.

The Fourth Corner Piece: Lifestyle

An elite runner’s daily life often revolves around a routine schedule: eat, sleep, run and repeat. Incorporating a structured approach like this into your own training will not only provide more purposed training, but will also lead to enhanced performance.

As repetitive—and potentially boring—as this elite-runner lifestyle might sound, eating, sleeping and running are arguably the most important elements of training and the commitment extended to those areas often dictates progression and therefore success. Realistically, though, not everyone has the same amount of time, energy and money for training, so it’s important to balance what is important to you independent of running with your training.


Like anything else, if you want to do well at something, like running, you must be committed to working hard and making decisions that reflect your goals. For example, my client Tanya is not a morning person. However, she lives in Arizona where temperatures this time of year average well over 100 degrees. The coolest time of day is between 4 and 5 a.m. She’s training for a marathon and wants to run a PR (personal record) this fall and knows that there is no way she can efficiently complete her workouts in the heat of the day. So she forces herself to get up at 4 a.m. because she’s committed to seeing the clock at the finish line read well under 3:50.

Simply setting an alarm for 4:30 a.m. won’t always get you out the door. Recruiting friends to consistently run with is a great way to remain accountable to yourself, your training and your running partners. Creating an environment that is conducive to and supportive of your training greatly increases the likelihood that you’ll follow through with your daily training plan. Additionally, surround yourself with like-minded people who have accomplished similar goals. Consider joining a running club, or hiring a running coach for both support and training advice.


What we do when we’re not running can have a major impact on our performance. That’s why adopting a lifestyle that is conducive to your training plan is so important. Your goal should be to maintain a healthy balance between managing your running and recreation (exertion) with eating and sleeping (recovery).

I encourage my clients to establish short- and long-term goals for a given training period. Having goals gives your training purpose and direction. Furthermore, when faced with opportunities that could affect training, I challenge my clients to ask themselves: “Is this going to contribute to or interfere with my goals?” I’m not necessarily advocating that your life revolve around running, but when you are in pursuit of something you value (a successful race finish for example), questioning your actions will make you a wiser contributor to your training investment.

In addition to working a full-time job and training for an ultramarathon, my client Jeanne also participates in Pure Barre, yoga and tennis and deejays for private parties. If she were to implement even half of these activities everyday, she would soon find herself literally sick and tired, performing marginally (if at all!) at any of her favorite activities. Thus, we work together to divide her daily time primarily between work and running and then add classes and gigs each week when she has the time and energy. Your energy level is limited, so manage it wisely to consistently run well.


Eating is much more than simply meeting the caloric demands your body requires. In order to run well, your body not only needs quality carbohydrates, protein and fat, but also vitamins, minerals, fiber and water. I encourage clients to eat “real” food and limit eating things that contain ingredients that you’ve either never heard of, or can’t pronounce. Generally eating plants and high-quality meat, fish and poultry is the best way to satisfy your body’s nutritional requirements.

Stock your kitchen with healthy options, and pack nutrient-dense snacks that you can keep in your purse, backpack, car etc. Munch on fruit, nuts and veggies to keep your energy level up and your blood glucose levels stable. Plan your meals for the week in advance so you don’t find yourself suddenly starving with no idea what to eat for dinner.
Catching ZZZs is essential, allowing your body to heal and regenerate cells. To benefit from a given workout, you need to stress your body then follow it with a rest period to adapt to the training. Furthermore, our bodies behave similar to sponges: we can soak up a lot of stress to a point, but then we need to be rung out in order to subsequently soak up additional stress. Just as a sponge can become saturated with liquid and no longer absorb, so our bodies reach a point of diminishing returns in which we can no longer efficiently respond to the demands of training and then fatigue or de-training ensues.

Ideally, sleep eight to 10 hours a night. Making adequate sleep a priority can be challenging, but getting into a routine and viewing it as another component of training will improve your running.

Megan Lizotte is an elite distance runner and online running coach at She is a three-time World Mountain Running Championships competitor, two-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier and 2011 USATF Trail Marathon Champion.

Read Megan’s first column, about simulation, here.

Read Megan’s second column, about effort, here.

Read Megan’s third column, about consistency, here.

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