Ramp Up Your Running Program

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Airman gets in a running workout.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Logan Berry, 54th Air Refueling Squadron instructor boom operator, paces himself while running July 20, 2017, at Altus, Oklahoma. (Senior Airman Kirby Turbak/U.S. Air Force photo)

With the weather getting nicer around the country, people are seeking to start a running program and getting motivated to do so. But motivation quickly can turn painful if you do too much, too soon.

Below are a few charts for you to build up to a 5K run/walk to a marathon over several weeks, depending on your present ability. My personal rule for clients who request training plans for running long races is to build up to nearly 25-30 miles a week before you start concerning yourself with improving your performance in a half marathon or marathon. This can take from 10-15 weeks, depending upon your present running level. The standard rule of ramping up your running is adding 10%-15% of distance per week.

The first 10 weeks are designed for a beginning runner or one who is recovering from an injury, as seen in the chart below:

Running Plan I: Build up to a 5K run.

Beginner running chart

People seeking to start an exercise plan and need to lose 20 pounds: (always start a run workout with a quick 5:00 walk/light leg stretch). I highly recommend the run/walk method as you learn to run.

Do each run workout three times a week:

Week 1 Walk 20-30 minutes/stretching entire body daily (monitor weight loss*)
Week 2 Run 1:00/Walk 1-2:00 for 20-30 minutes
Week 3 Run 1:00/Walk 1:00 for 30 minutes (listen body as injuries occur this week**)
Week 4 3 Sets of Run 1:30/Walk 1:30 | 3 Sets of Run 2:00/Walk 1:00
Week 5 3 Sets of Run 2:30/Walk 1:00 | 3 Sets of Run 2:00/Walk 30 seconds
Week 6 4 Sets of Run 3:00/Walk 1:30
Week 7 Run 1 mile/try nonstop/walk 1 mile fast
Week 8 Run/walk combo 2.5 miles (from weeks 8-10, try to run as much as you can)
Week 9 Run/walk combo 2.75 miles
Week 10 Run/walk combo 3 miles

Running Plan II (intermediate runners): Build to a 10K run:

After starting a running plan, people often get injured after continuing past the three-mile run point. Add some nonimpact aerobic options to help alleviate future pains. Check out related running articles here.

Wk Mon Tues Wed Thurs Friday Sat
1 1-2 mile Bike or swim 1-2 mile Bike or swim 1-2 miles 1-2 miles
2 2-3 miles Bike or swim 2-3 miles Bike or swim 2-3 miles 2-3 miles
3 3 miles Bike or swim 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles 3 miles
4 2 miles 3 miles off 4 miles 4 miles 5 miles
5 2-3 miles 6 miles off 4-5 miles off 6 miles
6 3 miles 4 miles 5 miles off off 10 k

The following nine weeks will take you to a level where you can start to train for a 10-miler, half marathon or marathon without risk of serious injury. Just climbing to this level of running could cause tendinitis and other joint pains because of the harshness of running on the body. (According to Runner's World, 30%-60% of all runners get injured every year.) It is not recommended to start Running Plan III until you can perform week six from the Running Plan II.

Wk Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
1 4 miles 5 miles off 3 miles 4 miles 6 miles off
2 5 miles 4 miles off 6 miles 4 miles 6 miles off
3 5 miles 4 miles off 6 miles 4 miles 6 miles off
4 6 miles 4 miles off 6 miles 4 miles 6 miles off
5 7 miles 4 miles off 6 miles 4 miles 7 miles off
6 8 miles 4 miles off 6 miles 4 miles 8 miles off
7 8 miles 4 miles off 7 miles off 9 miles off
8 8 miles 4 miles off 8 miles off 10 miles off
9 9 miles 4 miles off 8 miles off 10-13 miles EVENT  

*Work on speed and goal pace during above workout (minutes/mile). ** On Tuesday and Friday, add in leg workouts with short runs to total a four-mile workout:

Option #1 Option #2 Option #3
Run 1 mile warmup Repeat 8 times Run 1/4 at goal pace rest with 10 squats and 10 lunges/leg Run 1 mile cooldown/stretch Run 1 mile at goal pace Repeat 4 times Run 1/2 mile at goal pace rest with 20 squats 10/lunges per leg Run 1 mile cooldown Run or bike 5 minutes Repeat 4-6 times Run or bike 5 minutes Leg press - 10-20 reps Wood chopper Squats 20 1/2 squats - 20 WC lunges 10/leg side step squats - 20

Once you have the foundation of running 30 miles per week under your belt, you are ready to train at your goal mile time and distance for a faster marathon. Saturday and Sunday usually make the best days for your longer run, so Monday and Friday will be off days in order to recover and prepare. The chart below is a 12-week plan for a marathon:

12-week running plan for better marathon performance -- very advanced runners:

Wk Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
1 off 8 miles 5 miles 6 miles off 6 miles 6 miles
2 off 8 miles 6 miles 6 miles off 7 miles 7 miles
3 off 9 miles 6 miles 6 miles off 8 miles 8 miles
4 off 9 miles 6 miles 6 miles off 10 miles 6 miles
5 off 10 miles 6 miles 6 miles off 12 miles 6 miles
6 off 11 miles 6 miles 6 miles off 14 miles 6 miles
7 off 12 miles 6 miles 6 miles off 16 miles 6 miles
8 off 12 miles 6 miles 6 miles off 18 miles 6 miles
9 off 12 miles 6 miles 6 miles off 19 miles 6 miles
10 off 10 miles 6 miles 6 miles off 20 miles 6 miles
11 off 8 miles 6 miles 6 miles off 10 miles 6 miles
12 off 6 miles 6 miles off off 2 miles marathon

Goal Paces:

10:00/mile = approx. 4.5 hours 9:00/mile = approx. 4 hours 8:00/mile = approx. 3.5 hours 7:00/mile = approx. 3 hours 6:00/mile = approx. 2.5 hours These workouts are recommended running programs that have worked in the past for many people, but they may not be right for you. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine, especially running.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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