Selecting the Right McMillan Training Plan
I built the library of McMillan training plans to make it super simple to find the best plan for you. And, then the training platform and app allow you to easily modify the plan so it can flow with life, keep you injury-free and race your fastest.
Training Plan Levels
To guide you to the correct training plan, I’ve created five runner “levels.”
Level 1 Novice – You’re new to running. You’ve never run before (or it’s been a long, long time) and/or you haven’t finished a race. But, you can run for at least 15 minutes on regular runs and up to 30 minutes for a long run. You’ll run 3 days per week in Level 1 plans and can use the Run/Walk method if continuous running seems too daunting.
Level 2 Novice/Intermediate– You’ve been focused on finishing races and now you want to finish faster. You run 3-5 days per week run and should be able to run at least 30 minutes for regular runs and at least 45 minutes for a long run. Level 2 plans may also include 1 specialty or “hard” workout per week.
Level 3 Intermediate– You have some experience with performance training plans and specialty workouts (like long runs, tempo runs, speed workouts, etc.). You run 4-6 days per week for at least 30-45 minutes with a long run of at least 60-75 minutes. In Level 3 plans, you’ll often run 1-2 specialty/hard workouts each week.
Level 4 Intermediate/Advanced– You’re a seasoned trainer/racer who runs 4-7 days per week for around 50-60 minutes per run and at least 90 minutes for your long run. Level 4 plans often include 1-2 hard workouts per week.
Level 5 Advanced– You’re a high volume, experienced trainer/racer who runs 5-7 days per week for around 60-80 minutes per run and at least 120 minutes for your long run. Level 5 plans often include 2 hard workouts per week plus a long run.
Combo Runner, Endurance Monster and Speedster Plans
You can read my full article here but in a nutshell, I find there are three types of runners: Combo Runners, Endurance Monsters and Speedsters.
Combo Runners – The vast majority of runners are Combo Runners. Combo Runners are fairly equal in ability in short distances and long distances. (When they put their times into the McMillan Running Calculator their race times are pretty close to matching the predictions from the shorter races to the longer races – depending on experience at all distances of course.)
Endurance Monsters – Some runners, however, are more endurance-oriented. I call them Endurance Monsters. These runners really struggle with short races and fast, speed-oriented workouts. But, they excel in the longer races and longer training runs and workouts. When they put their times in the McMillan Running Calculator, their long distance races far exceed what they can run in short distance races.
Speedster – On the other end of the spectrum, some runners are more speed-oriented. As you would expect, these “Speedsters” do really well in the short races but struggle with longer races (and the types of workouts/long runs that go with the training for those races).
Because of these nuances in runner type, I created versions of certain plans where I tweak the training plan to better match the runner type. You’ll see that when you search the library of plans.
Unsure of your type? Again, the vast majority of runners are Combo Runners and if you are unsure of your type, choose a Combo Runner plan. However, if you are a Speedster or Endurance Monster, you’ll love the way I’ve built these plans to cater to your unique strengths and help you overcome your weaknesses.
Race Plans and Preparatory Plans
I also divided the plans into race plans and preparatory plans. Race plans are what you use when you are 2-4 months before your race. As you’ll see, I have plans for every distance from 800 meters to 100 miles.
Preparatory plans are what you use in between race plans (full article here). These plans build your base, develop better hill running as well as speed and stamina so you are set up to excel in the race plans. Put together, you can build a full training cycle or even 1-2 years’ worth of plans. I even recorded a video for you on how to stack the plans.
Number of Weeks
You’ll see there are several options for the length of each plan (e.g., 8 weeks, 12 week, 16 weeks, etc.). But, it’s easy to adjust the number of weeks when you set up your plan. By entering your end date (often your race day), the plan back fills so your training fits the number of weeks you have available. Reducing a plan by 1-3 weeks is not an issue and allows the plans to fit your particular time schedule.
Things to Consider
Here is my checklist for selecting a plan that will work for you:
Be Sustainable and Consistent
A sustainable and consistent running routine is a critical lesson in running. When you are selecting your training plan, make sure you consider this. Life rarely goes according to plan, so you need a running plan that has plenty of flexibility (aka wiggle room) built into it in order to accommodate your scheduling needs and how you are feeling.
Let me give you an example. I had an athlete, Trey, start training with me right after he got out of college. He was a collegiate runner, and a good one at that, but now he is an emergency veterinarian. While his life in college was very predictable—run, eat, class, weights, run, eat, sleep—his schedule today is all over the place: He works three overnight shifts when he barely eats or sleeps and then has four days completely off from work.
When he came to me, Trey was very frustrated. He still had big running goals he wanted to accomplish, but he kept failing to stick to his training plan. Sometimes he would get out of work late and have to miss a run. Sometimes he was simply too tired. Plus, even when he did squeeze in his workouts, they were not going well. All of this had him feeling very demotivated—he felt like a failure.
What I had to do for Trey was create a plan for him that would work with his schedule. This meant scaling back a lot from what he had been doing in college, and at first this really upset him. Did I think he was a worse runner today than he had been a year ago? Of course not. But we had to get him on a plan that he could do 100%, no matter what, in order to build back his confidence. This way, when life got in the way, he could still accomplish the training, and whenever conditions were perfect, he could actually do a little more. That’s what a flexible plan allows you to do.
When I build training plans—including the one I made for Trey—I make sure they have the following four elements of flexibility:
Make sure your plan has a range for the number of days you’ll run per week. For example, I give Trey four to six days of running. On the good weeks, you can run the maximum number of days, and during the challenging weeks, you can run the minimum number of days. Without this flexibility, runners often get demoralized because they can’t keep to their schedule and “miss” days of running.
Make sure your plan includes a range for volume each day. (An example from Trey’s run this past Friday was a 45–60-minute easy run.) If you’re feeling good and have plenty of time, run the higher end of the volume. If you feel tired, stressed, or just off one day, run the lower end of the volume. In this way, you are training optimally for what your body, mind, and life give you on the day.
Make sure you have a pace range to hit and not just one pace. (You’ll see the optimal range in the training paces in the McMillanRunning.com calculator.) Because you will feel different from day to day, adhering to a single pace could be overtraining or undertraining based on how you feel. Having a range gives you the flexibility to adjust according to what your body needs.
Make sure your plan has options for your recovery days (i.e., the days after a hard and/or long workout). This is key, since the bulk of the adaptations occur during the recovery after the key training sessions. I provide my athletes with the options to run easy, cross-train, or take the day off. Again, this allows you to train optimally, because you are always adjusting based on how you feel. If you can do this successfully, you’ll never get overly fatigued, and the quality of your upcoming training will stay very high.
Stay Injury Free
As has already been mentioned a number of times in this book, it is imperative that you stay injury free. The benefits of running come from consistency, so you need to choose a training plan that will keep you healthy. While it’s fun to look at really hard, “scary” workouts, you can’t include too many too often in your plan, even if they make sense in theory.
Here’s a good example: There is a theory that running on tired legs will help you in the marathon. It conditions the mind and body to the feeling you will have late in the race and stimulates the legs to grow stronger. This is true; however, running on tired legs introduces a big risk of injury. Therefore, if you are a runner who gets hurt frequently, then you’ll want to avoid this strategy. It’s not that the strategy/theory is wrong, it’s just that it’s wrong for you.
As mentioned before, you also need to make sure your plan has enough recovery in it and is flexible so you can add more recovery if you need it. Older, competitive runners face this issue all the time with training plans. Because many older runners need more recovery, rigid plans that don’t allow them to add more recovery if they need it just don’t work.
Lastly, make sure your plan includes prehab training. Doing runner-centric core, strength, and mobility exercises is key to warding off injuries so you can race faster and enjoy a lifetime of happy running. I build prehab routines right into my plans, and I’ll share some of those routines with you later in the book. However, if you aren’t going to use my plans, then make sure the plan you choose includes prehab training.
Capitalize on Your Strengths, Limit Your Weaknesses
Another aspect of choosing the right plan for you is determining if it capitalizes on your strengths and limits your weaknesses. For years, I’ve taught the idea that not all runners are the same, so not all training plans should be the same either. Yes, there are general training principles, but how they are applied should vary based on the athlete.
Some athletes are naturally better at speed workouts and short races, whereas others are better at longer workouts and long races. This does not mean that athletes with a certain set of strengths can’t do races or workouts that aren’t their natural fit. It just means that the training plan should be adjusted so that it works better with their unique traits.
For example, I have race plans for the half-marathon with versions for those who are better at speed (called Speedster plans), those who are equally good at speed and endurance (called Combo plans), and those whom I call “Endurance Monsters.” All of the plans will get you ready for the challenges of the race (a half-marathon in our example), but the tweaks I made to each version help that plan to work better for that type of runner. This means that the training will work with the runner and not against the runner. It’s my way of recognizing and appreciating your uniqueness and creating a program that will better fit you. And that always results in better training, which nearly always results in better racing.
Plans on McMillanRunning.com
Naturally, I built all of my training plans to include all of these concepts and you can find my full library here. You’ll find plans arranged by your experience level (novice, intermediate, advanced), by your runner type (Speedster, Combo, Endurance Monster), and by the distance (800 meters to 100 miles) and type of race you’re running (e.g., flat > downhill > hilly marathon). I even offer preparatory plans (aka off-season plans like base-building, hills, etc.) so you can improve your capabilities before even starting a race plan. I find that the better prep you do, the better your race-specific training goes. As a result, I built my plans to stack together like LEGOs to build a full training cycle that addresses exactly what you need to get ready to be your best. Have a look at my plans. I think you’ll really like what you find.
Coach Q&A: How do I know if the plan I’m considering is too aggressive or too wimpy?
If you’re being honest with yourself and truly listening, your body and mind will tell you if your training plan is serving you well. Chronic tightness, aches, and pains are a sure sign the training load is too much. And if you lose your enthusiasm for training, that’s a big red flag. If your running becomes a chore, more often than not your training is too aggressive. Likewise, if you’re constantly not hitting your paces in workouts, then you need to adjust.
On the other hand, if you constantly feel like you want to and could run more and you’re easily hitting your training paces, then it may be time to step it up. Since most runners are very driven, this scenario is not as common as picking a plan that is too aggressive (which plays no small part in why so many runners get injured). However, it’s worth keeping tabs so that if training seems too easy for too long, you’ll know to step up your game.