The danger of generic – free – training schedules

One of my pet hates is people providing incorrect information or unqualified opinions without bothering to check what they are saying. I’ll give you an example – I know that the new film in the Bourne franchise is due out on DVD on Monday. I strolled in to my local HMV store today and asked one of the shop assistants when they would have it in stock…

Erm, It’s like not out for another three weeks or something – we’ll have it then

Why, if he clearly didn’t know the answer to my question, did he feel the need to tell me something patently not true? And worse, for HMV, he is doing his employer a massive disservice giving people false information that will potentially damage sales. Hrumpf.

But actually I don’t care about HMVs profits and to be frank, if a company employs people who stretch their earlobes and get ironic neck tattoos and think that is a good way to build the business, then they deserve what is coming to them.

What has that got to do with running?

Dis-information is all around us. Take running for example. Anywhere that runners gather, you will likely find someone spouting off about the importance of never stretching or eating your body weight in pasta every day or running around the streets of your city with no shoes on. And the internet only serves to amplify this tendency for some people to say whatever comes into their heads and expect other people to take it as the gospel truth… take free downloadable training plans for example.

A quick search of the world wide web will reveal thousands of ‘free’ marathon training plans that you can download and print out and selotape to your fridge door to guide you through the weeks and months of preparing for a marathon. The problem is that they are – to a greater or lesser degree – wrong. At least they are for you.

What is the problem with free training plans?

This little rant has been inspired by a conversation on twitter that I was involved in a few weeks ago. A contact asked a number of people for a recommendation for a training plan. I suggested a few books that I believe explain the principles of endurance training and provide useful sample training plans and then came the all too familiar response:

Oh I really don’t want to spend any money – I only want free training plans

Now why is that? Perhaps the answer is that the person looking for free plans doesn’t put any value of the years of experience and knowledge that the authors of good training manuals have acquired? Which means – and this is where I get really frustrated – that they don’t put any value on their training OR the end goal they are trying to achieve.

Can it be right that £12.99 and a few hours of reading and studying is more than our intrepid runner is prepared to spend on achieving their goal?

The truth is that generic training plans are never going to be exactly what you need for your training. How can they be? The author has never met you, knows nothing about you and doesn’t even understand the basics of you life and your goals, like whether you work in a manual job or you have three children or you are aiming to break two and a half hours for the marathon.

And I think it is stupid to expect anything useful from a free training plan that you download from a website, after all you would never expect to ask someone for directions without telling them where you are going, how long you have to get there and how you are going to travel, would you?

So what is the answer?

Which brings me back to the start – people, often without malice, will tell you rubbish from time to time. There is no way to avoid that. Worse, some of them will write down what worked for them – or what they would like the world to believe worked for them (“Oh I ran over 100 miles a week every week in training”) – and publish that as a plan for you to follow. You might get lucky – the author of the plan might be exactly like you, with the same time pressures, same biomechanical weaknesses, same unmissable social events on exactly the same days as in your training, same race date, same weather conditions… I think you get my point – but it is likely that anything you download for free won’t be exactly right for you.

What do you do? Well I think that if you are prepared to spend £100 or more on a pair of trainers and much more on a wardrobe of kit, then spend £100s on massage and physio before spending hundreds or sometimes even thousands on race entries, flights and accommodation for your chosen race, you should spend a few quid and some of you precious time working out a training plan that is right for you.

There are some amazing books out there – my favourites include Pfitzinger and Douglas’ Advanced Marathoning and Marathon Running by Richard Nerurkar – and if you read one or more of them you will know how to build a proper training programme that is right for you.

Or you could invest £60 and get half a year’s access to the tailored training plans available through the RunLounge*

The truth is that the best training programme in the world is the one that works for you. If you can manage a speed session, a threshold session, a long run and a couple of other runs each week and increase the duration and intensity of those runs as you build up to you race, you’ll be on track to do well. But beyond that, you must realise that the details of how, what and when you do your training will be unique to you. That isn’t available for free from the internet!

And then…?

And then when you have worked out exactly what you need to get you to the finish line of your key races in the time you want, you can post it on the internet and let people download it for free: you never know, they might be exactly like you!





* Disclaimer: I have a vested interest in the RunLounge as I edit and produce much of the content on there. Just so you know.

1 Comment

  1. Excellent article Simon, I totally agree.

    I believe that you owe it to yourself to get the best advice/training possible.

    Also a shout out for “The Art of Running Faster” by Julian Goater – a great book that is worth purchasing

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