Why You Should Follow a Training Plan – Even If You Aren’t Training For a Race

Some runners don’t like to follow a training plan.

They love nothing more than to head out the door and run however long they feel like. Or they bristle against being told what they ‘should do’ even if it is a well thought out training plan that’s telling them how far to run.

I am not that runner.

I’m a planner. Few things make me happier than making a plan and following it.

Why You Should Follow a Training Plan – Even If You Aren’t Training For a Race

I long ago realized that if I’m training for an event, I’ll follow a training plan religiously. If I’m not in training for an event, I’ll never get out the door to run. But it’s embarrassingly easy to trick myself.

I know I’ll run if I’m training for an event, so what do I do if I want to run, but it’s March and my next marathon isn’t until October?

Easy – create a 25 week training plan!

I’ll think of myself as ‘in training’ and run.

I’m sure there is some deep-seated rule-following psychology that explains what’s going on, but I won’t go there. I know it works for me, so I won’t question it.

My reason for always wanting to follow a training plan may be unique to me, but I still think most runners can benefit from following a training plan, even if they aren’t training for a specific race.

It Removes the Need For Motivation or ‘Feeling Like’ a Run

One of the worst things you can do when trying to work out is to ask yourself any version of the question: ‘What do I feel like doing today?’

Spoiler alert: on most days, even if you love running or working out, you’ll probably feel like sitting in front of the TV, binging Netflix in sweatpants, not running.

Having a plan in place removes the whole ‘how far do I feel like running today’ question.

The plan says run 3 miles, or run hills, or whatever else it says.

That is what you do.

What you ‘feel like’ running is irrelevant.

It’s Harder To Bail On Something When It’s Specific and On the Calendar

Which run is more likely to happen?

A: A run, of some distance, at some location, at some point today.


B: A 3-mile run, at the lake, with Susan, at 7:30am.

A run is much more likely to happen when it’s specific and scheduled.

A training plan helps you not think of your run as optional.

You Should Always Be Working Towards a Running Goal

There are so many running related goals in the world that don’t involve a race.

Even if you aren’t training for an event of a particular distance, you should still have some running goal in mind that you are working towards.

To accomplish those goals, you need to have a plan that will help you get there.

Enter: a training plan developed to help you accomplish your running goal of choice.

Even if that goal isn’t a race.

A Plan Helps Keep It All In Balance

Many factors make up a healthy and well-balanced runner. Running (obviously), but also strength training, stretching, yoga, cross training, diet, sleep and a dozen other factors.

Having (and following) a training plan makes sure that everything remains in balance.

It Helps Prevent Over or Under Training

You can still be over trained or under trained, even if there isn’t a specific event on the calendar.

There is a correct level of off-season fitness I want to maintain, so that when I do start event-specific training again, it doesn’t feel like I am starting over from zero.

A training plan will help me accomplish that.

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Multiple Marathons In A Year

Even if that isn’t true for you, you can easily overdo it if there is no rhyme or reason to your training.

Creating a Non-Race Specific Training Plan

I’ve written before about how I schedule my running when I’m not training for an event. A detailed (3 miles on Tuesday, 8 miles on Thursday) plan just doesn’t do the trick for me when I’m not training for a specific event.

But I have found a hybrid, non-training-plan-plan does work for me.

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running schedule

My non-event specific training plans (if you can call them that) aren’t as detailed, but I instead create ‘categories’ of runs – social, scenic, long, hill/challenging – whatever are my priorities at that moment.

I then make sure I do one run in each of my categories each week.

It’s specific enough to keep me moving and focused on whatever my running goal is at the moment (in the off-season, usually some version of ‘just get out the damn door’) while remaining flexible enough to fit my life.

Try this approach, build a specific training plan, or simply find a balanced running week that works for you and repeat it over and over.

Work with whatever kind of training plan works for you, even if you aren’t training for a race.

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