Running Training Plans for 2023: Become a Better Runner

Maybe you’ve been racing a lot during the pandemic. Maybe you took some time off and you’re finally ready to get back out there. Maybe you’ve been running regularly but you’re itching to pick up the pace.

A new year is a fresh start, and wherever you’re at, 2023 has the potential to make you stronger, fitter, and faster. And it turns out, collectively, we’re off to a pretty strong start.

Runners are already running more than ever: 26.2 million people ran more than 50 times in 2020, a 4.5 per cent increase over 2019. But just upping your frequency isn’t enough when it comes to goal-chasing—you have to run smart.

Planning ahead (like, maybe way ahead) can help you be proactive about your training, whether you’ve got your sights set on speedy shorter distances this spring or a PR in a fall marathon. 

How to Make a Plan for 2022

A fresh calendar is a blank slate for race training. But filling in those months and weeks can feel totally overwhelming without the guidance of a pro.

If You Want to PR in a Half or Full Marathon:

Distance running requires a huge aerobic foundation or base, says Stowe—and that introductory phase of a training cycle can take the longest. How long depends on your experience and fitness level, but at least six to eight weeks of easy running before jumping into a training plan is a good place to start, says Stowe; Henry recommends 12 weeks if you can.

That time investment is important, because this part of training increases your aerobic capacity, improves muscular strength, and trains the mind-body connection. The second part of base training is stridden. Once you can do a comfortable 40 minutes of running at a conversational pace, you can introduce these short (about 100-meter) pickups where you almost hit your top speed, then slow back down to a jog and repeat.

Strides are all about increasing turnover and pairing your running mechanics with your cardiovascular system to make sure you’re being as efficient as possible. You can do strides two to four times a week, she says—try adding four reps of 15 to 30 seconds, with two minutes of easy running in between, to a run.

After two to four weeks of incorporating strides,  you can start layering in workouts. If you’re someone who’s done months of aerobic work, you can start with strides and jump right into lactate threshold, VO2 max, and race pace training.

If you’re looking to set a PR in a longer distance, you’re going to want 8 to 12 weeks’ worth of work where you’re running not only at half marathon and marathon paces, but pushing your ability to go faster at shorter distances. A minimum of 10 weeks for half marathon training and 16 weeks for marathon training—after your base-building period.

If You Want to PR in a 5K or 10K:

No matter the distance, you need an aerobic base. It’s not just your cardio system that needs to be ready; your muscles, tendons, and ligaments need to be prepped, too.

That’s especially important for speedier shorter distances because the faster you move, the more load you’re putting on your body. You need at least six to eight weeks minimum for a base, plus two to four weeks of strides.

At a minimum, you could be ready to cover that distance in eight weeks but for a PR effort, you still need a block of race-specific workouts. You have to run fast to get fast. This is where you get to tap into power development, both aerobic and anaerobic.

That might look like high reps of short intervals (think 200s or 400s) at a 5K pace, or lower reps of longer intervals (like 800s or 1000s) at a half marathon pace.

You may be doing shorter sessions, where the total volume is as low as two miles, but you’re doing really fast work that doubles as strength training.  Throughout the program, you’ll increase the length or intensity of those intervals as you get stronger.

And while it may seem like you need less time to get prepped for a shorter distance, it still takes time for physiological remodelling to take place to a degree where you can actually see muscle growth.

That’s why a mile, a 5K, and a 10K all call for at least eight weeks of race-specific training after establishing your base.

If You’re Injured or Have Taken More Than Two Months Away from Running:

There’s no situation where the base building is more important than when you’re returning to running after a break. You need at least six to eight weeks of low heart rate, aerobic base training with the implementation of strides before going into a training plan.  

When you haven’t run in a while, the load you’re going to be putting on your body is totally different. You may feel great because you’re so rested, but you have to make sure your tissues are ready to handle that load.

In those first six to eight weeks, supplemental work is super important—think strength training, foam rolling, stretching, and mobility. You want to make sure you’re as solid as can be to reduce the potential risk of setbacks or future injury.

New Year’s Resolution for Runners

A New Year’s Resolution is a great way to start running or create a dramatic change to your running lifestyle but carries an extremely low rate of success (some studies have pegged it as only 8% of resolutions being successfully met).

So why such a low rate of success, and what can you do about it? Like all goals, the key is to lay out and follow an actionable plan while keeping it simple as possible to meet running goals that enforce consistency before tackling greater challenges.

Resolutions for those Beginning/New to Running

Do you want to go for a run or become a runner? Most with only a minimal amount of training could work themselves into struggling through a 5K.

However, it’s far better to embrace the running lifestyle and enjoy all the health benefits that come with it than push your body into discomfort forcing you to leave running altogether.

This is the ultimate goal of the New Year’s Resolution for Runners to become a runner enjoying a lifetime of running versus quitting after meeting a singular goal, such as a 5K.

Be Realistic

Beginner runners need to focus on a training program that underlines the goal of consistent running versus running a race, where the race is just a reward for all your efforts. 

This is critical to maintaining your New Year’s Resolution since it forces you to get a strong base that takes time, reinforcing the habit of running while setting the stage to make your 5K as easy as possible from an endurance perspective before you can take on larger distances such as a 10K.

The same methodology is true for the 5K training guide, in that the goal is not to complete the race (as the Couch to 5K would set as the goal), but rather to become a runner where the race is a reward/simply a milestone on the way to a long and happy running career.

In essence, if you set goals such as running a Marathon as your New Year’s Resolution, the stage is set for failure unless you are already in a great running habit with a strong running base.

Get Running Accountability

For beginner runners, it is especially important to find a running group/support to keep your New Year’s Resolution intact, as this creates accountability. It also makes it easier on the tough days to either run together or “talk” through what happened in a run or race.

In planning for your first race, the aim should be for late March to early April, as this gives you a few months of base running before attempting your first 5K. Again, the critical rationale is to make it as easy as possible from an endurance perspective, acknowledging that the greatest challenge to meeting your resolution will not be race day but all the days leading up to it.

For this reason, you need a constant reminder of your goal, so sign up for the race on January 1st and mark your calendar. If, for some reason, you have a running setback or can’t make the race, don’t worry!

There will likely be another race the next weekend, and since you are more in the mindset of a “runner” versus “going for a run,” you will find it easier to adjust to missing a race.

Get a Clean Running Slate

By wiping the slate clean, you could reset your running by following the same schedule for new and beginner runners, as you will be pleasantly surprised by how fast things come back and possibly discover new capabilities.

You may also discover through this process why you left running in the first place, whether it was an injury due to poor stretching approaches or not getting the support of the running community.

Whatever the case, starting fresh takes the pressure off of you since you no longer have to race the most intimating runner of all the old you!

Schedule the Race and Get to Training

Akin to the new runner, schedule a race for late March/early April to test the waters after a few months of the foundation have been built. You may be capable of running more than a 5K and better suited for the 10K, but don’t overdo the distance or pace as the goal of this first race is to feel good after the finish whereas the next day you are looking forward to running again.

From this point forward, you can evaluate your training to determine if a longer distance/challenge like the Marathon is in your future. To be clear, all because you may have run a Marathon or multiple Marathon before doesn’t mean that you should and could run those again. During this running reset, you need to discover what your running goals should be, not what others may pressure you into.

Keeping Your Resolution Simple and Having the Support to Keep It Going

Too many times, New Year’s Resolutions are lost and completely abandoned because they are too complex, contain too many goals, or don’t fit in with other life responsibilities. Using these three points as guidelines, you should measure your resolution to first determine if it is too complex.

Begin by asking yourself, “do I understand the concepts?”, “does it add stress to think about?”, or “does it feel overwhelming?”. If so, strive for simplicity in your resolution. As an example, instead of advanced training for a competitive trail run, focus on running your first 5K.

Don’t Be Too Aggressive

Having an overly aggressive goal is a quick way to end a resolution. Don’t set your running goal as completing a Marathon if you are just beginning to run, but rather focus your goals on slowly building your miles up and becoming a runner.

There is no threshold to becoming a runner beyond that you run consistently, so whether you are running 1 mile three times a week or running 50 miles a week, you have met the criteria… and can sustain your resolution.

Get a Run/Life Balance

Running, like all things, takes time and dedication. Unfortunately, there is only so much time in the day, and if you attempt to radically adjust your life all at once, you will likely fail in your resolution and negatively affect life outside of running.

The underlying goal should always be to make running part of your life, and this takes time. This is why it is so critical to start with low mileage and not overcommit your time.

If you discover that you don’t have time to run anything beyond 15 miles a week, this still lays a great foundation for a lifetime of running.


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