How to Pick the Best Run Training Plan for You

Sarah Wassner Flynn
by Sarah Wassner Flynn
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How to Pick the Best Run Training Plan for You

Maybe you want to run your first race. Or maybe you haven’t run a step in years. You just know that you want to start running more without it feeling too hard or stressful. Wherever you are on your fitness journey, it can be baffling to figure out how to meet the running goals you’ve made.

A running-specific training plan can help. No, training plans aren’t solely designed for long-time runners who want to get faster. There are many beginner-friendly training plans out there; the trick is to find the one that best meets your needs right now.

To help you figure out the best training plan for you, we had Kim Schwabenbauer, a professional triathlete and coach behind Fuel Your Passion break down the different routes you can take.

The Plan: Run/Walk

Injecting short jogging spurts into your daily stroll around the neighborhood can help you bridge the gap between power walking and running. Plenty of runners follow this method in races, too—from a 5K all the way up to the marathon.

The pros: Peppering your power walks with bursts of jogging (think: alternating between a 4-minute walk and a 1-minute run, for 30 minutes total) is an ideal way to ease into running. The gradual approach is also gentler on your body, making you less susceptible to injury.

The cons: If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like to think when you work out, keeping a constant eye on your watch may get old, fast (which is why many runners choose to set their watches to beep at the start and end of their chosen intervals). Plus, restraining yourself from running for more than a few minutes can be mentally challenging—especially when you’re feeling good.

Pick this plan if:  You’re brand-new to running or if you’re coming back from a long layoff and you’re not sure how your body will handle running without walk breaks.

The Plan: An Online Program

You google, “run your first 5K” and up pops 15 different programs promising that you’ll cross the finish line with a smile, in just 8 weeks! Sounds simple enough—but is it really that easy?

The pros: Variety, for starters. Whether you choose a Couch to 5K program or a more advanced routine, there are tons of online options out there for every level. “They’re also free or relatively inexpensive, easy to access, and allow you to train on your own,” says Schwabenbauer.

The cons: For newbie runners, following an online program completely solo can be daunting. And, because you can’t customize most plans, their rigidity can make it tough to stay on track if you miss a few days of training. “It can be confusing to know where to start and how to adapt the workouts to your own schedule,” says Schwabenbauer.

Pick this plan if: You’re a regimented runner who trains well on your own—and you know enough about training to tweak your schedule if you have to stray from the plan.

The Plan: Join a Running Club

With weekly workouts and instant training partners, a team atmosphere may be what you need to elevate your running.

The pros: Hello, accountability. With structured workouts throughout the week, joining a club will definitely keep you honest. “Most clubs have coaches available for feedback or questions on a limited basis, and you may meet other runners training for the same race,” says Schwabenbauer. Not to mention there’s safety in numbers if you have to train early in the morning or past dark.

The cons: Joining a club typically comes with a certain expectation of commitment, which means skipping workouts because of a busy schedule may be frowned upon. There are also usually costs involved, whether it’s to join the club, for specific training programs, or a team uniform.

Pick this plan if: You are seeking a strong social element to your training program, and you’re not intimidated by training with runners of different abilities.

The Plan: Hire a Coach

A coach takes the guesswork out of your training routine—and will never roll his eyes when you gripe about that niggle in your knee (again).

The pros: You have your very own expert to show you the ropes and put together a training program tailored just for you. Plus, you’ll have a resource for all of your questions, like: “What the heck does a ‘fartlek’ mean, anyway?”

The cons: The cost of a personal coach may be tough to swallow (expect fees to start somewhere in the window of $150 a month). Depending on your arranged plan, you may be limited in how much you can actually communicate or personally interact with your coach. “And a coach isn’t going to give you a free pass to miss workouts. There had better be a reason and it better be a good one,” says Schwabenbauer.

Pick this plan if: You are ready to take your running to the next level. If you’ve spent several seasons training solo or in a group and haven’t had that big breakthrough, a personal coach will likely be able to get you there.

The Plan: The Buddy System

You and your best friend both want to run a race this year. So you should totally train together, right?

The pros: Like a club, you’ll have the accountability factor: “Knowing someone is counting on you to show up is a great motivator since your credibility as a friend and training partner is on the line,” says Schwabenbauer.

The cons: In a perfect world, you and your training buddy will run every step together. But life (or an injury) may get in the way, and you may find yourself on your own—and a little miffed—when you have to churn out a 6-mile long run all by yourself.

Pick this plan if: You know your running buddy well enough to trust she won’t flake out. And if you have a strong enough relationship to forgive your friend if she does.

Make Your Training Plan Work For You

Whatever program you pick, here are some tips on seeing it through all the way to the finish line—and beyond.

Track It: For added motivation—and to stay in tune with your progress—log all of your workouts into an online tracking program (like MyFitnessPal, natch!). “You can examine your training to help you make smart decisions and gather confidence leading to a race,” says Schwabenbauer. “And seeing the calendar fill up with completed workouts will make you want to keep your streak alive.”

Stay Smart: Look out for any red flags that may indicate that your training isn’t working for you. “If you’re bored or completely unmotivated to take on your next session, you aren’t feeling challenged, or you aren’t seeing any progress after a few months, you probably need to switch things up,” says Schwabenbauer.

Stay Patient: No matter the training plan, know that you likely won’t see results in a snap. “When beginning a program, break things down into smaller, more manageable pieces so you can focus in on the process versus the outcome,” says Schwabenbauer. “With the right recipe of patience, support and training, you’ll achieve your goal.”

About the Author

Sarah Wassner Flynn
Sarah Wassner Flynn

A longtime runner and triathlete, Sarah has been able to blend her passions for endurance sports and writing into a freelance career. She’s covered everything from profiles on Olympic gold medalists to tips on training for your first 5K for numerous media outlets. When she’s not writing about races, Sarah is usually training or competing in one. She also writes kid’s and teen nonfiction books and articles for National Geographic and Girls’ Life Magazine. Sarah lives just outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, Mark, and their three children. Follow her on Instagram (@athletemoms) and Twitter (@athletemoms).


7 responses to “How to Pick the Best Run Training Plan for You”

  1. Avatar jim Gold says:

    I run out of steam about 8 miles into a 1/2 an suggestions???

    • Avatar Carvahel says:

      You’re likely not getting in enough long runs, or runs which are long enough, into your training program.

    • Avatar Stacey says:

      I had the same problem when my long runs were too big a % of my weekly mileage. I added an extra day of running (fr 4 to 5 days) and then increased the length of some of my weekday runs. the extra mileage solved the problem

    • Avatar Lisa says:

      Upper body strength and a strong core (ab workouts) will help endure longer runs. Push-ups, shoulder work, etc for strength training at least 2 days a week. Hope that helps!

  2. Avatar MC0084 says:

    I used the C25K app. It was perfect. I never ran in my life until I started last year. I then did the C210K app. One year later I am running my first 10K in a few weeks and then onto training for my first 1/2 marathon

  3. Avatar May says:

    I have always wanted to run but I haven’t found any info for someone who is seriously morbidly obese. I looked at the couch to 5k but I think that may even be too much too soon?

    • Avatar rabbitlady says:

      I’m in the same boat, but I’m doing it! Start with very small jogging spurts — maybe just 20 seconds. If you just jog for 20 seconds the first day and walk the rest, that’s fine. Gradually intensify the variables: increase the number of jogging intervals you do, increase the length of the jogging intervals, or decrease the length of the walking intervals. When you can manage doing intervals of 60 secs jogging and 90 secs walking for 20 minutes, you are ready for C25K. Note that you can always spend more than one week on each week of C25K.

      Be sure you’ve got shoes with good support. Also be sure to warm up and cool down. And drink plenty of water, especially after your workout.

      And check out Fit Fatties on Facebook for lots of inspiration.

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