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How to Improve Your Running: Stop Thinking in Training Cycles

Jan 7, 2017 | Running, Running Advice | 11 comments

How often do you sign up for a race and set yourself a two, three, four month training plan? You turn up to race day having followed the weekly tempo, speed, long runs (or not), race then recover.

You then pick another race, and start all over again.

Perhaps you gave yourself some time off during your recovery period. Maybe, like me after my first marathon, you stopped running completely for a while (OK, 8 months).

I typically run a marathon a year, although I would probably run more if finances, and Tom, allowed it. I think in training cycles, counting down until I allow myself to begin my four month marathon plan, race, and recover.

Although I desperately want to run a BQ, and that is my ultimate running goal, I never think about my running long term. But that’s changing now that I’m working with a coach on a year long commitment (although I see this as a long term relationship).

I’m not a professional athlete, but if I’m willing to put so much time and money into my sport, then I need to start thinking like an athlete. They have ‘on seasons’ and ‘off seasons’, with a couple of goal races each year, however they spend the ‘off season’ recovering, building strength and fitness, year on year.

Running is not an instant gratification sport.

Few sports are. If we want to improve then we need to put the work in, and having a long term vision as well as short term goals, will help you achieve your potential. Steady training, hard work and patience will produce results.

I had a comment on my blog recently telling me that I should stop obsessing over the marathon, and aim to run faster 5Ks, 10Ks, and halfs, to improve my speed – and although I dismissed the comment at the time, they are right. I have only ever raced 3 half marathons, and have never trained specifically for one, and I want a new PB/PR (my current one is 1.52 from October 2013).

By changing your training, you can develop your body and running efficiency. Focusing on a 5K will help build your VO2 max, efficiency and speed endurance which will in turn help your longer distance running.

So this January, instead of just thinking about your running goals for a Spring race or even just for 2017, think about what your ONE DAY goals are for your running career.

My long LONG term goals are;

  • Run a BQ (a Boston Qualifier, which means running a sub 3.35 for my age group)
  • Run a sub 1.45 half marathon
  • Run a sub 22 min 5K (I fear this one will hurt the most)

For now, my April London marathon goal is to run a PB (sub 3.49) although I’m not going to give a specific time. In all honesty, I don’t want to sell myself short if training goes really well over the next 100 days, or to announce a huge lofty goal only to fall spectacularly short. My London goal needs to be scary but achievable – and so for that I will trust my coach.

Try sitting down and planning out your year, not just the next marathon training cycle. Pinpointing goal races of varying distances to fit with your life (for me September is a write off with wedding and honeymoon – I think Tom would divorce me if I tried training properly on our honeymoon). There are plenty of training plans out there that are specifically for marathon training, but there are also affordable plans you can sign up to on a monthly basis, group coaching, and one-to-one coaching that will help you achieve these goals.

What are your long term running goals? Do you have any races that you’d love to run? Or distances you want to try to PR in? Perhaps giving an ultra a go is on your list? 


  1. shannanenjoyslife

    I am really new to becoming “serious” about my running; this month I begin training for my first half. I have ran a 10K, and a number of 5Ks over the past four years or so.
    But like you, I want this to be my sport and am wondering for long-term planning what should I do? Love your idea of a coach. Do you know any great virtual coaches? I am in the States.
    I just found your blog last month when I did a search for running books and found your book club pick. Thank you for the informative content!

    • charlotte

      Thank you so much for reading! I just started working with McKirdy Trained for virtual coaching and really really love it. They work with athletes of all levels and work to create tailored plans for you. Highly recommend them!

      • shannanenjoyslife

        Thank you so much for responding to my inquiry. I will check them out.
        When will the Running Book Club meet?

    • Cathryn

      If I can comment on this, I’m also based in the States and I’ve just started using RunCoach, on the recommendation of a running friend who I respect enormously and who has just had the marathon of her life with them! I’m only one month in but I’ve been impressed so far and have enjoyed (?) the workouts they’ve scheduled me. Not yet seen much improvement but frankly the holiday eating scuppered that! But I would recommend you check them out at least.

      • charlotte

        Ooh thanks Cathryn! Will check them out and pass on 🙂 xx

  2. Danielle @ Wild Coast Tales

    Marathon training and reading about others training have definitely helped make me realize how long-term running is – especially since it can take several marathons to cut down your time and BQ (also a long-term goal for me). I’ve recently taken a few weeks off running to kick an injury and thinking long-term has actually helped me get through it – realizing I need to do this now in order to run a lot and run far this year!

  3. lazyw

    This is perfect timing for me to read. I so appreciate your perspective. I fell in love with running a few years ago, ran a few halves and fulls, and know I have endurance but have been seduced by the notion of speed. That said, I don’t really want to run public races?? Maybe weird, but I just feel like running for myself for a while, so setting short term, feel-good goals is probably where I’m at for a while. Yes to learning more about efficiency. Thinking big picture but also short term. Thank you for sharing this, and best wishes for your goals in the new year!!

  4. Eve

    I like your goals, and have many similar long-term goals myself. 2016 was a huge year for my running. I PRed twice in the half, which included breaking 1:50 at the end of December. I also broke 4 hours in my second full marathon in June, which was such a great feeling! However, my 5K PR is from years ago (before I started doing speedwork), and I find I’m so focused on marathon (half and full) training that I haven’t made the 5K/10K a training priority. I need to fix that! My long-term running goals are to BQ, to run all the World Majors, and to run a race in each of the 50 states.

    As an aside, we went on our honeymoon in Tahiti so feel free to hit me up if you’re looking for recs:-). Best wishes as you train for London!

  5. Hannah

    I’m glad you’ve changed your mind about shorter distances! It really will help, I promise! And of course, I meant obsessing in the nicest possible way – nothing wrong with being focused and determined to achieve your goals.

  6. Martha

    I’m also training on shorter distances, it’s easier when you’re a beginner. What running app do you guys use for marathon training? I’ll stick to my SportMe running app, which calculates distance, pace, time and calories and adjusts running plans to my progress.


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