Planning your running training

In our clinic, we see a lot of runners. Some have been running for a long time, others have just registered for a running event or started running to help improve their fitness, and still others have had a more serious injury and are wanting to get back into running. Almost all of them ask us how they should be training.

This is very difficult to answer, as there are many factors that influence the answer, such as:

  • What is your goal?
  • How long have you got to achieve that goal?
  • How far and fast can you run at the moment?
  • What is your lifestyle like? Do you work long hours? Get enough sleep? Eat well?
  • What injuries or niggles do you currently have?

Starting point: your goal

Most people don’t start by trying to run a marathon. Your local 5k Park Run or a half marathon may feel like a more achievable and a realistic goal. Whatever it is, your goal will be based on your current fitness or running ability; you may run 5k twice a week already or the only running you may be doing could be sprinting to avoid a car as you cross the road.

Also when choosing an event you need to ask yourself: what is my overall goal for the event? Is it getting a PB or just getting across the finishing line?

Once you’ve decided on a goal you need to think about how long you need to be able to achieve it. If you never run and want to achieve 5k, I would normally suggest an interval programme over 6 to 12 weeks depending on what other exercise you do. Whereas if you’re considering a half marathon, you may need up to 20 weeks to train for it.

When choosing an event make sure you give yourself enough time to fully train for it otherwise you could end up with a running injury that stops you getting to the start line.

Time available to train

Unless you’re a professional runner, there are other activities that you need to fit into your day. Such as work, commuting (which may be via public transport or cycling), children, food shopping… the list can go on and on. You need to take these into consideration when you’re planning your training programme. These other activities of daily living will determine how much time or energy you have for your running training.

Typically, we would suggest:

  • Running 2 to 3 times a week with different aims for each run
  • Strength and conditioning 1 to 2 times a week
  • Rest 2 days a week.

Each element of this training regime is as important as the others, so make time for all of them and avoid 2 of the same activities next to each other, for example leaving all your runs to the weekend!

The rule of thumb is that you don’t increase either your running time or your running distance by more than 10% a week.

If you’re working up to running a 5k, we advise you train alternating intervals of running and walking. So, walk for 30 seconds and run for 30 seconds for 5 to 10 minutes. The next time you can increase your running time so that you’re walking for 30 seconds/ running for 1 minute for 10 to 15 minutes, etc. You should still be running 2 to 3 times a week.

Here is an example of a training programme for a half-marathon courtesy of Tom Goom.

Strength and conditioning

For lots of runners, it’s all about exercising outdoors and being stuck in a gym would be their worst nightmare. But strength and conditioning your body for running faster or longer is important and it can help you avoid injuries. But it doesn’t have to be in a gym and with lots of equipment.

If you don’t want to commit to a gym membership, you could use different strengths of resistance bands, such as ones from or, with stairs or a bench in the park to get an effective workout. You need to aim your workout at the muscle groups in your legs, such as your quadriceps, gluteals, hamstrings and calves.

It’s always good to target all muscle groups, but if you are unsure where to start or what areas are particularly weak for you, it may be worthwhile having a session with a physiotherapist or personal trainer to get a tailored programme that you can use either in a gym, at home or in the park with the equipment that you have access to.


As my friend who is a doctor of nutrition always tells me, a colourful plate is a healthy plate. That’s because different food groups provide us with different nutritional benefit. This is still important when training for a running event or recovering from a strengthening session, but you need to make sure that you’re getting these in the right proportions and at the right times of the day. You need to fuel yourself for your training and then eat to replenish and repair after training.

For muscle building and tissue repair, protein is really important to have in your diet, especially after a training session. The research shows that you need from 0.75g to 1.6g of protein per kg of your body weight for muscle repair and growth. It is also better for you to have this protein in food form, as chicken, lentils or cheese for example, rather than as a protein powder.

Carbohydrate is also not the enemy. You need small amounts pre-training to provide initial energy for your session as it takes longer for fats to be converted into energy. Then have some afterwards to replenish the glycogen stores in your muscles in preparation for active tasks that you need to complete. It is not good to completely deplete your stores of glycogen whilst you are training and then think carbo-loading with a huge bowl of pasta the day before your event will provide you with efficient energy.

Most importantly, you need to make sure you keep yourself hydrated before your run and rehydrate after your run.

If you want to know what foods, portions and timings are right for you during your training, I would highly recommend talking to a nutritionist who can put together an eating programme that works for you.


Yes, it is ok to have a rest day. Actually it is really important to enable your body to fully recover and repair itself after the load and stress you have placed upon it from running and strengthening sessions.

A lot of running-related injuries come about from inadequate rest and overtraining. If you start to get a persistent pain or ache, it may be your body’s way of telling you to stop and even run a shorter distance or choose an activity that has less load on your body, such as cycling or swimming.

Putting it all together

A good running training regime requires realistic goals and good planning. Take some time to think about your time, your body and your motivation right at the beginning to help you develop a plan that gives you the best chance of reaching your goal and helps you avoid running injuries.

All physios will agree that we can give you expert advice on getting back to running and advise you on a training regime that will help you do it. But to help you reach your optimum performance we recommend you speak to other experts in their field such as running coaches, strength and conditioning coaches and nutritionists, to name a few.