Running Performance…Designing an Effective Training Program

Fall is either here or on the way, depending on where you live. It’s my favorite time of the year. The weather is often pleasant, the light takes on a golden hue, and it’s just a great time to be outside doing things you enjoy.

Since this is the Running Performance Series, let’s recognize that fall is a great time, maybe even the best time, to be out running. In the last edition of the RPS, I talked about types of running workouts that you can use to enhance your performance. This equates to the typical goals of most runners: to run faster, farther, or both. Now, we are going to take a look at how you can combine workouts on a timeline to achieve your goals.

My overarching focus with any program that I develop for my coaching clients is to get results, have fun, and not get hurt. I see these 3 premises as being equally important. If your running has seemed like it’s going nowhere for a while, putting together a good program can get you somewhere (that you want to be).

There are 4 basic considerations in designing a training program.

  • Assessment…Where are you at (with your conditioning level or abilities)?
  • Goal…Where do you want to be (with your performance)?
  • Timeline…How long will it take (to accomplish your objective)?
  • Plan…What do you need to do (to make the magic happen)?

These essential elements can be combined to create an effective, personalized training system. I’ll touch on each of these individually.


This may seem obvious but an assessment is merely an objective evaluation or measure of your current status. Your metric may be pace-driven, such as how fast can you run a certain distance, time trial, or race. An example here is your most recent 5k time. Another parameter is distance or duration, as in how far (miles or kilometers) or long (time) can you comfortably run. If you’ve been training somewhat regularly, I always recommend doing a test to see where you are at. It gives us a finite starting point for designing the training program.


Your goal is YOUR goal. What do you hope to accomplish? What’s meaningful to you? There are tons of resources available in the area of goal-setting but I usually mention a few key principles. Make your goal clear and specific. As opposed to saying you only want to run farther or faster or feel better doing it (all are valid), give it a little more substance by saying you want to run a specific distance in a fairly precise time. Make your goal challenging. Push yourself, at least a little. However, make that goal reasonable and relatively attainable. You can always tier this at multiple levels, but I find that focusing and doing, the 1 major “thang” is key. Be optimistic but not delusional. Set things up so that success is a strong possibility if you put in the necessary work.


This goes right along with the last paragraph. Determine what is a reasonable time frame in which to accomplish your goal. You can approach this in several ways. You can have an event picked out and set up your program to work toward it (this is very popular). Or, you can plot out the time period most likely to yield your target performance level and then have a testing zone of several weeks in which to seize the opportunity. The latter is my favorite. The reason I like this is that it’s difficult to make the stars align on one specific day, and it’s a little easier to have a window of readiness of several weeks in which to pursue your outcome. Either way, you are going to want a time window of 2-6 months in most cases. Sure, many elite runners train with a periodized plan for a full year or multiple years, but this is overkill for most recreational athletes. One month isn’t long enough to make enough change, and beyond 6 is just too long for most people to stay in a program and concentrate on a goal. 3-4 months tends to be the sweet spot. Most folks can stay motivated and locked in for that long, and I’d even say that 12 weeks is better than 16. I’ve seen too many people drop out of a plan they created which was just too long. Keep your timeline reasonable and know you can balance work and family life for a couple months.


Creating a plan or schedule around which to train is almost endless in possibility. You certainly can build in some block periodization (a chunk of time with a specific performance focus, such as aerobic base building) or have very specific microcyles (such as a week or two of intense speedwork). However, a blended or undulating schedule which meshes the workouts you need will probably work best. For the most part, distance running requires aerobic endurance, which is accomplished via long runs and increased average mileage over time. But beyond that, you’ll want to take a look at your assessment. Do you lack raw speed and mechanical efficiency? Do more speed workouts. Is your top end or redline not much higher than your everyday jog pace? Add in some power intervals to increase your maximal oxygen uptake. Need to feel stronger near race pace? Stamina or tempo workouts are key. Tired a lot? Space out more time between your fitness maker sessions and do easy recovery work until you feel fresh enough to train hard again. Just adjust your workout mixology and keep adding workouts in the area you lack most (or need most for your goal) while doing a little less of the ones in which you are already highly proficient.

Also related to your plan is that concept of schedule. This breaks down two ways. 

  1. What is your preferred revolving time period for each cycle of training? You can get really fancy here but most people live in a world, and a mindset, which centers upon the week. Consequently, a weekly training schedule, with perhaps a glance at each month (especially concerning overall volume) is fine for most of us. Each week should have 2-3 key workouts (long run, interval workout, etc.) and a few recovery sessions spread appropriately. Some cross training (XT) which is alternative mode aerobic work like cycling is great to squeeze in as well as supplemental conditioning (strength and mobility work) if you keep things efficient for your time.
  2. How rigid should your schedule be? This really depends on the person and it provides an outstanding coaching opportunity. Some folks really do well with a set plan from which they rarely deviate. If a person tolerates workouts well, is able to make subtle adjustments in the sessions, and is adapting and recovering ideally, he/she can designate each day with an assignment and peg it. Others, like myself, do better with a loose structure in which each week has a couple key workouts that need to be hit, we put them where they work best, and then fill in around them with the recovery, XT, and supplemental work. Either way works. My only advice is not to be a slave to your schedule. Use it for structure and discipline, but tweak it where you need. Remember, the goal is a performance and health outcome, not necessarily a perfectly fleshed-out training log. 

I tried to stay fairly brief today with this topic. It can be taken to very, very deep levels. If you are interested in going deeper with your training program, consider working with me in a coaching capacity. I hope this information has provided you with some insights into better training, running, and health. I’ll be taking a break from the RPS for a while because I have some great topics that just can’t be held back any longer, but we’ll return in the future with more pearls of wisdom on running, injuries, and long-term athletic development. Thank you for reading.

Share a comment or question!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.