Daily vs. Weekly Training Schedules

Recently I’ve been reading through portions of Tim Noakes’ tome on running, The Lore of Running. This 900-something-page books is an excellent resource for runners, covering everything from physiology to the history of running as a sport to the mental aspect of training. In his chapter on “Developing a Training Foundation,” Noakes outlines 15 laws of training. Several of these laws are common and essential pieces of running advice, such as “prevent overtraining,” “train gradually and train gently,” and “train with a coach.” One law that stood out to me as interesting was his fourth law: “Don’t set your daily training schedule in stone.”

Many runners, myself included, have the tendency to follow our training plan by the letter every single day. If Monday calls for 7 miles with 5 at half marathon pace, then we do 7 miles with 5 at half marathon pace, even if it’s pouring rain outside, 100% humid, and we finished soaked to the bone and shivering (I totally did that in my half marathon training). If Saturdays are our long run days, then we run long on Saturdays, even if we have to wake up at 4 am to accommodate the rest of the activities of the day.

If it was possible, every run would be done here.
If it was possible, every run would be done here.

Admittedly, I’m slightly more relaxed during winter running and base building. If the weather’s bad outside, I move my speed work to the treadmill, or move my long run so I can do it the day before the snowstorm. Still, I prefer to set a daily schedule and follow it; the only modifications I make are to add on more miles if I’m feeling good.

Instead of developing a prearranged, set-in-stone daily schedule, Noakes suggests using the daily schedule as only a guideline and focusing on a weekly training schedule. You establish a mileage goal and decide on two or three key workouts; then you arrange your running schedule to fit your week. Each day you evaluate how you are feeling at the start of each run and during each run, and adapt accordingly. For example, if you have a speed workout planned on Monday, but you’re struggling too much with just the first interval, you would turn that run into an easy run and try the speed workout tomorrow. Or if it was storming on the day of your tempo run, you would do some cross-training and do your tempo run the following day.

Snow-covered streets and sidewalks are not the place for hard speed workouts.
Snow-covered streets and sidewalks are not the place for hard speed workouts.

A weekly schedule definitely has the benefits of helping you stay attuned to your body. By monitoring how you feel and not pushing yourself when you feel fatigued, you decrease your risk of overtraining. A more adaptable weekly schedule helps you adapt running to your life, so that you’re doing shorter workouts on days you have to be up early and harder or longer workouts when you have more time in the day.

However, a weekly schedule could have some downsides. If you need a firm schedule to stay on track, you could delay your important workouts throughout the entire week. For example, on Monday you want to sleep in so you skip your tempo run, on Tuesday you feel fatigued, on Wednesday it’s raining, and so on until before you know it, it’s Sunday and you never did your tempo workout. A weekly schedule could also work against you if you become fixated on achieving a certain mileage goal each week. Say, for example, you want to run 35 miles this week, but you get sick mid-week and skip a couple runs; there’s then the temptation to long an extra long run on the weekend to get in your missed miles, which could lead to overtraining.

However, a weekly schedule can teach you discipline as much as a daily schedule. You have to be careful with your planning and not let yourself skip the essential workouts. Whether it’s a loosely-outlined weekly training schedule or a strict day-by-day, your training should emphasize discipline, alternate between hard and easy days, and teach you to tune into your body and distinguish between normal training fatigue and actual pain.

Additionally, there are just some days in race training that are not going to feel good, but we are supposed to push through the workout because that particular run on that day in training is designed to teach us to push through the last difficult miles of a race. It may never feel good to run on the day after a hard workout, but doing so teaches your legs to run through fatigue, just as they need to do at the end of the race.

In my personal experience, I find it’s best to set a daily schedule and to be flexible about it. Running should fit to your life. I usually study the weather forecast on Sunday, plan my workouts accordingly, and then follow a schedule unless I feel absolutely awful (which usually only happens a couple times a year). If I have to, I move a run to the treadmill but continue it as scheduled. Still, I know that if I miss a run or if a workout does not go as planned, it’s not the end of the world or even the end of my training. One missed workout is not going to derail a time goal or months of training.

The treadmill is always better than not running due to bad weather.
The treadmill is always better than not running due to bad weather.

The best piece Noakes’ advice here is to listen to your body and make adjustments accordingly. While I’m not one to cut a run short unless I absolutely feel I need to, I will definitely adjust my pace if my regular easy day pace feels too difficult. This happened a lot in half marathon training; on the day between my interval workouts and tempo runs, I started dropping my pace significantly so I could get in my miles but deal with the fatigue and help my legs recover.


Question of the Day:
Do you prefer to run according to a daily schedule or a weekly schedule?

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2 Responses

  1. This is great info…I am pretty strict with a weekly training plan and my goal moving forward is to be more relaxed about it and willing to skip a run or change things up from time to time. Lately I have been planning out my week of workouts but adjusting them as I go…and of course taking the weather into account! I feel like I learned last winter that I need to be flexible and work around any snow or ice since I have a tough time doing hard workouts on the treadmill.

    1. Nothing like winter and all the snow and ice to teach us runners how to be flexible! I think it’s good to be more relaxed about it and probably healthier for sustainable running, but I can be such a type A that I need to work on it also.

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