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In 2015, I ran four races of three different distances - 2 5ks (9:20/mile and 9:04/mile), a 10k (11:15/mile), and a half marathon (11:50/mile). In 2016, I'm planning on running 2-4 5ks, 1-2 10ks, a 15k, and a half marathon. I'm about to start generating my training plans for the off-season and into next year.

Previously, I planned race-to-race. I did a very generic workout in the off-season, but I really need something more structured, and run-oriented, so I'm looking to start planning. Race season is April-October, so I'm starting to plan for how I'm going to train in the off-season.

The training plan generator that I use takes the input of a recent race time and distance, a distance that I'm training for, an intensity level, a current distance per week, when to start the plan, when the race is, and when I long run.

Runner's World SmartCoach Training Plan Generator

The only thing that I have a question about is how to appropriately chose what recent training run I provide. I plan to adjust the distance I'm training for, intensity, and distance per week appropriately for improvement and maintenance throughout the year as the dates for the races settle.

I see a few options:

  • I should always choose my most recent race time and distance. No matter what I enter for the distance I'm training for, I always look at my most recent race time and generate a plan based on that.
  • I should always choose my longest race time and distance. No matter what distance I'm training for, I would use my longest race.
  • I should always choose my fastest pace. Regardless of what I'm training for, I build my plan around the fastest mile pace I've ever run, using that race's distance and time.
  • I should choose a race time and distance closest to the distance I'm training for. For example, if I'm training for a 5k, I'd use my most recent 5k time. For 10k or 15k training, I'd choose a recent 10k or half marathon. For half marathon training, I'd choose my most recent half marathon.

Which option is preferable?

Keep in mind:

  • I will be regenerating plans throughout the year, based on race distances and dates and performances in previous races. I'm just interested in what baseline I should be using for past performance every time I generate a new plan.
  • Not using a training plan is not an option. I need structure, so a very generic template is not suitable. I need something that is specific, day-by-day, with distances and target times.
  • I'm not interested in switching tools. Using plans generated by this tool, I managed to reduce times in the 5k (both between 2014 and 2015 and between my two 5ks in 2015) and train enough to finish my first 10k and half marathon.
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I would use the half marathon.

The half marathon plan should give you the most complete training for the other distances, as some of the finer details in a half marathon plan are going to be a different emphasis than a 5k plan.

If you do the 5k or 10k plans, they may or may not give you enough distance work for the 15k and the half, and may place a little too much emphasis on the speed aspects. The half plan should give you enough distance base to easily complete the other events, and you can always play with the speedwork as needed to accommodate the shorter races.

  • I'm not asking about what plan to use.I'm asking about what race time I should input as the initial baseline from my races this year - a 5k with a 9:20/mile, a 5k with a 9:04/mile, a 10k with an 11:15 mile, or a half with an 11:50/mile. Regardless of the plan (a race distance, an intensity, a miles/week, and a race date), I need to enter a recent race time and distance. I'm not sure what race time and distance I should enter, out of the 4 I completed this year. – Thomas Owens Oct 13 '15 at 0:36
  • I stated that in my first sentence. :) The rest was comparisons as to why using the 5k or 10k times might not fit your overall goal the best. – JohnP Oct 13 '15 at 2:36
  • OK - that wasn't very clear from the answer wording. To me, "plan" refers to the distance that I'm training for, the intensity of the training, and the duration of the training. not the time of a recent run that is one input used to generate the plan. I could very easily generate a half marathon training plan based on a 5k time. – Thomas Owens Oct 13 '15 at 8:38
  • "I could very easily generate a half marathon training plan based on a 5k time." - that can NOT be true (5k means speed and strategy, 21k means endurance). My final advice, don't think so much, just go and run. – speedyGonzales Oct 13 '15 at 11:14
  • @speedyGonzales The generator allows for it. I just enter a 5k time into the box and select my race distance as half marathon and I get a plan to get me to a half marathon race. – Thomas Owens Oct 13 '15 at 11:33
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You should use your most recent training time, even if you aren't going to be focusing on that distance this season. One mistake that people often make is that they assume they should be running as fast as their PRs, or relative PRs over several distances, tell them. Instead, fitness changes throughout the training and racing season. Your most recent time will indicate what fitness you are in at the moment, and training at that fitness level will facilitate high quality training much more effectively than a different fitness level.

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I would go for the following approach:

You should at least start with a base that allows you to do at least 2 workouts (speed, tempo, hills etc) and one long run. Consider this your daily driver. This will give you some base that you can work off of. You should always consider your mileage and how that will be increased over time. The wonderful thing about 21k races is they don't beat you up like a marathon does. You could race every other weekend if you wanted to. (Depending on age and body of course)

Now I would look at your Half Marathon race date and then do your Half Marathon plan around that date. So a half plan is normally 12-16 weeks. Pick your race and go back from that date and do the training for that race.

You could then do speed work for your 10k/5k training during the rest of the year. You can slightly modify your basic weekly training to give you the results you want for your race.

For example if you have a 5k race in 8 weeks then you would start on shorter speed workouts and perhaps even shorten your weekend long run to 15k or less. The key is getting that short speed work in on the track. You should also start to pick some goal times that will allow you to see your progression.

Your first goal time maybe 24 minutes. You can use a pace calculator to determine what speed you should be doing your shorter increments at.

If you plug in 24 minutes to a 5k race calculator you will find that you should be able to do 800m in 3:06 and 1 miles in 6:54. Of course the time is arbitrary but it will give you an idea of where you are at and what you need to do to get where you want to be.

Here is a great tool for determining pace. https://www.mcmillanrunning.com/

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  • Which distance & times should you use?

You need a RECENT time as it is obviously used to determine how fit you are at the start of the program.

So you want a time from the last 1-2 months at most. If you have had several races in the last 2 months, then you can chose the one closest to the distances you want to run as it will be the most representative of your performance for that distance. But don't go taking the times from a race in January. It needs to be recent. What matters is how fit you are right now, not how fit/unfit you were.

If in doubt, follow their advice: go to a track and run a mile at top speed and use that.

Personally, that's what I would do: Enter the last race details and generate a plan. Then go to the track and do a mile run as as fast as I can and generate another plan for that. Compare both plans and see how different they are.

They should be pretty much the same, but maybe you have changed since your last race:

For instance, if your last race was 90 days ago and you have been training regularly since, you are probably better now than your last race's time would suggest.

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