Welcome! You’re currently on our Canadian site. Would you like to switch?


Welcome! You’re currently on our U.S. site. Would you like to switch?


How to Build a Training Plan

By Kim McDevitt, MPH RD on December 10, 2015

How to Build a Training Plan

Did you just sign up for a summer race? Or are you looking for more structure around your weekly exercise routine? Following a training plan can help you meet goals, avoid overtraining and likely have far greater success come race day. Current mileage, race experience and training history, and current goal will all determine the type of plan you follow

Step 1: Set Your Goal

The first step is signing up for a race. The amount of time you have until race day and the length of the race will determine what your training schedule looks like. If you’re a new runner your goal is likely going to be around building a foundation and crossing the finish line (hopefully still smiling) on race day! If you’re a seasoned runner, your goal might be to set a new PR on a familiar course, or avoid the nagging injury that’s popped up the last 2 times you’ve trained for a race. Whatever your goal, make sure you have at minimum 4 to 6 weeks before race day.

Step 2: Mark Your Calendar

When you select a training plan you’re likely going to have to make a few adjustments, with the primary one being how much time you have between then and race day. Go old school and print out a blank calendar. Mark first the day of the race and then count backwards until the current day. Ideally you’ll have 8 weeks between then and race day.

Step 3: Increase Your Mileage

As a rule your weekly mileage should increase by approximately 10% per week. If you’re training for a half-marathon your long runs will likely fall on the weekend. For a half-marathon you’d start with 5 miles gradually increase by 10% to around 12 miles when you’re at the peak of training. So week 1 your long run would be 5 miles, the next week 5.5 miles, and onward.

Step 4: Mix up Your Runs

Don’t let every run be long and steady. Make sure you have a day at tempo pace (or race pace), speed work, and hills. While these usually aren’t your favorite type of runs, they build stronger, more efficient muscles that will serve you well on race day.

Step 5: Don’t Forget about Rest

To avoid overtraining, injury and burnout, it’s suggested every 3rd week of your training be a built-in recovery week. On this week your mileage should be significantly cut back. This week will allow you to recharge and repair so that you can go back out the following week and work harder and smarter.

Rest days are key to healthy training and help prevent overtraining and burnout. Ideally, keep your rest days consistent to the same day per week. Depending on running experience you should have 1 to 2 complete rest days per week built into your schedule.

Step 6: Add in Cross-training

Cross-train with any cardiovascular activity other than running to build different muscle groups. Developing other muscles groups is advantageous for all endurance athletes and recommended to be built into the plan. Allow 1 day to spend on cross training, doing sport such as cycling or swimming.

Incorporating strength training into your workouts at least once a week is also suggested.

Step 7: Anticipate the Taper

An essential component to your training is cutting back at the end. Depending on how long your training plan is you’ll likely be tapering for 1 to 2 weeks. While every training plan is different the main theme should be the same: run less, rest more. By sticking to easy runs and rest you’ll allow your body to replenish and repair before race day.

Step 8: Adjust For Conflicts

Finally, remember that life’s not perfect. And sometimes life gets in the way of training. Sick days, life and weather can all interfere with our schedule and while it’s important to try and stay as regimented as possible with the plan, being able to acknowledge and accommodate is just as key. If you keep your key workouts (speed, tempo, long run) somewhere in the week, you’ll be just fine. Remember, no one ever got a DNF (did not finish) on a race because they swapped the day of their long run and rest day!

Need more guidance? There are a number of resources out there to provide you with a race plan. Some are pre-set, others are customizable. Hanson’s Distance Project, Hal Higdon and Runner’s World all offer great resources, including apps for your mobile device. We also have you covered with easy-to-use running training plans for 10K, Half Marathon and Full Marathon.

My best piece of advice? Stick to the plan!


  • Humphrey L, Hanson K, Hanson K. (2012) Hansons’ Marathon Method: A Renegade Path to Your Fastest Marathon. Velo.
  • Benardot, D. (2012 )Advanced Sports Nutrition. Human Kinetics. 2nd ed. Print