Five Year Plan - help please

This is a request for any experienced runners to point me in the right direction to establish a realistic and achievable running goal in five years.

I'm fifty years old and have been running between 600 and 1000 miles per year since 1997, but haven't really pushed the boundaries of what I can achieve in terms of speed. A mistake I repeatedly make is to achieve a running goal, then slacken off (or get ill/injured) and have to repeat earlier training to get back to previous fitness levels. I seem to be targeting the same distance/times that I have already achieved up to five years ago. A mega-plateau!

The Inspiration – number 1
In 2010, Tom Williams took part in Ironman Lanzarote in an attempt to qualify for the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Although he didn't quite achieve this goal, what particularly struck me was that he had been planning his assault on the world championships for five years. It has made me think that even my longest running goals (e.g. running a marathon) are never really very long. I complete a goal (or crash and burn), then slip back while deciding what to do next.

I'm completely convinced that I will perform better if I plan ahead much further, so that each goal becomes another step towards something much loftier. Also, problems such as illness and injury will (hopefully) feel less disastrous over a five year span.

A possible goal?
Somehow I seem to keep gravitating back towards the marathon as a goal. I completed one in 2009 in 4:38, and will run another in April with a current target of 4:20-4:30. So I would like to make my “big” goal marathon related. I looked at the London Marathon “Good for Age” categories and found that my target to achieve would be an eye-watering 3:15. This, right now, sounds impossible for me. I had put my idea to the back of my mind, because suddenly it sounded a bit crazy.

The Inspiration – number 2
This week I listened to a marathon talk interview with Bob Groves. He's not an elite. He's pushing fifty years old and has a fair bit in common with me (I ditched alcohol five years ago and lost more than four stone in weight). His target is to achieve a “good for age” qualifying time. I was intrigued to know how he was doing and checked his progress. His marathon times progressed: 2009 = 4:26; 2010 = 3:49; 2011 = 3:30. This suggests that it is indeed possible to knock lumps off the marathon time with the right training and dedication towards the goal.

Help and advice needed
I've never considered making a five year fitness plan before, though I do make plans for up to five or six months at a time for running. I'm finding it very difficult to find any information on the subject of making a real long-term running/fitness plan. Everything I search for turns up the usual four month marathon plans at best.

I know this goal is very hard, but there's no point in setting a five year goal that is achievable within a year. On the other hand, there's no point in setting a goal that is truly impossible for all apart from the very gifted. I'm sure some of you guys will have a heap of experience and can offer some advice, or point me in the right direction for further information.

I would like to know what kind of progress is achievable for an average person year-on-year? The progress made by Bob Groves gives me hope, but is this typical, or is he naturally gifted? Is my goal realistic/achievable?

Thanks in advance.



  • TJ - I think you've answered all your own questions!!

    you know you're on a plateau and have been basically just playing around at running for too long so you need to set some targets and goals and apply yourself to them, in both the short and long term.

    set yourself stage targets along the lines of "at the end of Yr 1 I want to have achieved X, year 2 Y etc" and then put appropriate training programs into place to try to achieve these.

    the desire to achieve the goals has to come from within you and only you can set the target and the training. the danger is of course that the target becomes all consuming to the detriment of other things in your life so you need to build balance in.

    I set a goal of an Ironman and achieved that in 2005 (and have done 4 more since) but that goal nearly destroyed my marriage as I was too focused on the goal and was ignoring what else was going on in life. a lesson learnt and I would hope anyone else doesn't fall into that trap unless they wish to of course!!

    it's not difficult to set the plan out - the hard part is making at a) realistic to your abilities and b)achieving the goals.

    good luck!!
  • I found this quite interesting - as I am 52 now, returned to running after a 12 year break because of stuff - But just cannot imagine setting such a long term goal -

    I have set a 10 month goal and a 22 month goal  and have added in a 14 month goal - which are times for 5 miles (35 minutes 8 month goal)  the Southend Marathon (Not to disgrace myself 14 month goal and if they run the Southend Marathon (council issues)) and sub 30 minute 5 miles  18 month goal -

    I do think though the idea of a long long term goal is a good one BUT agree with Fat Buddha - you need shorter term achievable goals to if nothing else, to measure progress and to keep your interest alive.

  • Thanks for the replies FB and Grendel.

    I have no desire to destroy my marriage! Everything in balance is the aim.

    I absolutely intend to set-up interim goals to achieve the final goal. However, I want to shift my normal emphasis of short-term goals to a genuine long-term goal. If I keep repeating my current pattern of yo-yo running, I'll never really get any better.

    It would be fairly easy to say that I'll knock 15 minutes off my marathon time each year to achieve my five year goal, but I don't know how genuinely achievable this would be. I'm finding it difficult to research, but suspect that there will be people on these forums that have done something similar or have coaching experience.

  • I guess it does also depend on your ability. Probably most runners could run a 3:15 marathon, and most would need a pretty focused training programme to do it. However, some would have a greater innate ability, and others would probably need to devote themselves pretty much full time to do it.
    I'd set out on a 5 year programme to do it, with intermediate goals along the way, however I think you also need to bear in mind that your ultimate goal may need to change in the light of your intermediate targets. If you ended up with a 3:30 time that would represent real progress from now, and would in no way be a failure. Similarly, you may find that 3:00 is within your grasp.
  • EC - good points. I agree it's important to be reasonably flexible with the plan and perhaps revise targets along the way.

    I am also unsure of how best to structure such a plan. I suspect that simply scheduling, say, six monthly marathons would not be the best way? I have a loose idea of targeting annual spring marathons, then working to improve speed in 10k to half-marathons in the summer and Autumn. It's all a bit hairy-fairy at the moment, hence my call for guidance.

  • TJ - rather than set the goal of a 3:15 marathon time now (yes it will get more difficult as you get older) why not look at other goals along the lines of those Grendel is aspiring to. it can be a problem just to focus on one target distance so why not look at improving your half marathon times which in many ways are harder (faster) but are more easily measurable and achievable?? that way you can build it into a marathon program.

    I'm 59 soon and didn't attempt my 1st marathon until I was 50. my goal was sub-4 - I missed it 1st time but realised the aim 2 years later (same year as my 1st IM). doing the IM training helped me developed more endurance which certainly helped towards the latter stages of the marathon. so mixing up training with other disciplines can help you achieve running goals and also help get rid of the monotony that some training can become.

    I've given up now on trying to improve my marathon time as age is against me, but there are still other goals to keep me occupied - if I don't achieve them, fair enough, but I believe that to have a goal is a benefit in itself
  • Hi FB. To answer your first question, I want to get out of the cycle of going over old ground again and again. It's never something I deliberately set out to do, but somehow I find myself going backwards periodically. I want to shake things up a little in my mind to continue to improve once a more immediate goal has been reached.

    Having more than one goal makes a lot of sense. The half-marathon strikes a chord with me because it is a distance that exemplifies my stagnation. 2008 = 2:07; 2009 = 2:02; 2010 = 2:02; 2011 = 2:02. They are not all the same course, but I really want to motivate myself to make some significant improvements.

    I do have doubts whether setting a five year goal is a good idea. Nobody enjoys setting themselves up for failure. However, seeing the progress that Bob Groves made has re-ignited the idea that perhaps I can achieve more than I currently think is possible.
  • T
    The advice to date has been sound.
    As someone who returned to running in 2008 in his 50's I realised that while relatively quick improvements could be and were achieved I knew that once 'the fat loss' gains were achieved I would have to work hard to continue this.
    In 2011 I then discovered that working hard was not enough. I had to be much more clinical and keep to a programme or at least keep to an amalgum of progrmames which were on the net.
    This meant more dedicated interval, tempo, race pace runs and long slow runs in my training-every day having a purpose (including the importance of rest and active recovery runs in betweeen the above sessions.)
    I am still learning - the latest penny to drop being that you need a long period of consistent training to enable improvements in endurance and that eventually improvements come in bite size chunks once the early gains are achieved.
    McMillan Running, Hal Higdon, and Brianmac & were very useful.

    The more you read the clearer it eventually comes. Also once you have completed a block of training reflect on how successful it was and think on what suited and didn't suit you.

    In my naivety and positivity I tried to follow Mike Gratton's Hard Training programme for the marathon and eventually had to admit that I could not do the quality sessions at the required speeds as the 7 day programme was too tiring. The Higdon way has proved more sustainable.

    As ever please feel free to ignore.

  • Tenjiso,

    I always set little mini goals, so for example getting under 1hr 35 for a half this year, 3hrs 45 for a full...medium term under 3hr30. Did much the same last year, aiming to get fitter, run a half for first time in 3 years and outside chance/ dream of running a full one. Job done..put in a 1000 plus miles doing it, so a lot of time.

    Most my info has been picked up, run all on my own for the above, plus lots of gym work. Even more time committed,... I've now joined a running club, so the structured stuff John mentions I've now started doing . Much easier to do intervals & hills in groups.

    Sure someone will say you can achieve your goals if you put in 60-70 miles a week or more?

    You've got some little targets in close range, sub 2hrs for half, sub 4h30 for full ? Start there and work in 10-15 minute bands seems one approach.

  • Fit-Running-Cat wrote (see)
    Sure someone will say you can achieve your goals if you put in 60-70 miles a week or more?
    Based on your OP you've been running, on average, between 12 and 20 miles per week. I don't run marathons, because I don't have the time to commit to the 70 mile weeks I feel I should do to run one effectively. I think you would notice a massive improvement by just doubling (slowly over time!) your weekly mileage.
  • I don't think I have much to add, as I'm relatively new to this running lark. But since that never stops anyone on the internet from having an opinion or two, here's mine:

    - good for you to want to stay fit, whatever the goals

    - instead of setting a 5 year goal that's written in stone (ie, 3:15), make the goal to do 5 one-year programs that have their own intrinsic goals. You might find that at the end of the 5 years, it's a perfectly sane and sensible thing to run 3:15, but you won't really know until year 4... (those years, of course, can be broken down even further... it's the old, 'eat the elephant one bite at a time' thing)

    - prioritise injury prevention, even if it means cutting back on the printed schedule and its underlying goal. You aren't going to beat the yo-yo cycle if you're on the bench half the time

  • chubby bloke wrote (see)
    Fit-Running-Cat wrote (see)
    Sure someone will say you can achieve your goals if you put in 60-70 miles a week or more?
    Based on your OP you've been running, on average, between 12 and 20 miles per week. I don't run marathons, because I don't have the time to commit to the 70 mile weeks I feel I should do to run one effectively. I think you would notice a massive improvement by just doubling (slowly over time!) your weekly mileage.

    You're telling me to run 60-70 miles chubby bloke? I was actually meaning Tenjiso!  image or expected someone to say to him to put the miles in.

    My 1000 miles was actually 1250, and not all equal months.. slow & steady to a half, bit of a rest, injured in May, then built up steadly for October marathon, getting to 45-50ish mile weeks at peak.

    I'm around 25-35 miles weekly now, was fine doing sub 4 on that anyway, plus I cross train a lot. 2 marathons booked this year, so mileage will go higher.

  • I really appreciate all of the input and it's giving me a lot of food for thought. I can see that I'm making a mistake by trying to set a target without really knowing what is involved in achieving that particular target.

    I'm going to dig around for schedules for 3:15 marathon as a starting point to see what is involved in the training. At least then I know whether I can attempt to reach that level over the years. From there (assuming I still believe it to be do-able) I should be able to follow your other suggestions and set interim targets for each year to monitor my progress and adjust accordingly.

    I haven't absorbed all of your suggestions yet, and I'm going to keep re-reading the responses to let it sink in. I'll re-post with progress.

    Thanks again.
  • Misunderstanding FRC. I was agreeing with you that Tenjiso needs to up the mileage! Doubling 12-20 per week will put him on 24-40 so in line with you.
  • Curly45Curly45 ✭✭✭

    I have a six year plan if thats any help image

    The target itself is a secret and I dont make concrete plans for anymore than a year ahead. It may be a purely aspirational goal so I train to my current fitness and intermediate goals each year but keep one eye on the final goal when picking the intermediate ones. 

    I know the sort of shorter distance times I need to run a marathon at my final target pace so I am spending a few years working towards those before going back to the marathon to work on my endurance, but I am sure there are many ways to skin the long term target cat.

    I also am not fixed on six years or on the goal, obviously I wantto get there and as quickly as possible, but it takes as long as it will take and I will get bloody fit having a go. 

    The long term target does keep me going when all else is rubbish - its definitely good training motivation to think of each run as a little + in the "movement towards goal" column. 

    Sorry I cant be more specific, but I think a longer term plan has to be vague since so much can change year on year with fitness and health and training. 

  • CB - my general average mileage is 30 miles a week when I am focused. It will increase to around 40 as I approach the spring marathon.

    Curly45, I think you have hit the nail on the head with it being an aspirational target.

    I've just had a look at the RW sub 3:15 schedule. The training mileage is less than I had envisaged and is not too daunting, but the pace certainly is very daunting.

    On reflection, I think I focus too much on endurance, without putting in enough speed-work. Would I be better (once I have completed my Spring marathon) to shift my focus on achieving, for example, a sub-40:00 10k?
  • ah, got you now chubby bloke. crossed lines!

    Tenjiso, your PB for marathon is 4.38 at moment? 3.15 is a long way off but I guess possible if you really really want it.. and put 5 years of hard effort in. Every year you are looking at knocking off a minute time per mile roughily starting this year?

    what is your 10k PB? I'd guess at 50-55 mins based on your half marathon time?

    Off the back of the sub 4 marathon marathon, I knocked nearly 4 minutes off my 10k time and 3min30 off my half times... lot of hard effort getting there though, lots of early mornings, 100s of hours in gym.

    are you a member of a running club?

    I did lots of hills in my training, and lots hard at nearly marathon and half pace, but very little speed stuff, maybe once or twice. I have joined a running club in the last few weeks now and can imagine the differences this will make. Also started at another gym, even harder. More effort.

  • FRC - my last 10k race time was 54:51 in 2010.

    I'm not a member of a running club. I looked at my local club, but they tend to meet at inconvenient times for me.

    I confess that I don't do a lot of hills in training, so this is something for me to add more regularly. I have my own treadmill, because my Gym closed down a number of years ago, and other gyms I looked at had restrictive time limits for using their treadmills (15 minutes!).

    Rennur - I now agree that the long-term goal should not be cast in stone, and will be viewing it with more flexibility as others have also suggested. Prioritising injury prevention is another aspect that strikes a chord with me, having suffered groin strain at the start of this week as I started to increase pace in a training run image One of my reasons for wanting to establish a long term goal is to help me get through periods of illness/injury and jump straight back onto the fitness wagon. As Curly said - to keep me going when all else is rubbish.

    JohnPollock - I'll have a look at those sites.

    I'm already getting some good ideas to keep me motivated well beyond my Spring Marathon, which is my main aim.
  • so a sub 40 minute 10k is a long way off as well.

    I did 44.30 end of November, previous PB was 48m but sub 40 seems like light years away for me.. but putting the effort in mileage for marathon helps for the half and 10k I found.. plus hills and intervals like last night (10 x I think 400m part uphill with 400m recovery).

    little targets per year are much easier..

    so you're really close to a sub 2hr half, then 1.55.. doing these might start getting you to low 50 minutes and eventually sub 50. Ditto the marathon... 4.30 first and then 4.15.

    You've got to really really want it and to take the pain of getting there...(click for me last year)

  • It's all a long way off for me image

    I fancy having a go at the Liverpool Marathon sometime, because I have a friend that lives near New Brighton. Looking at the date on your blog, I was there just a week after the race last year without knowing about it. The weather was fantastic for October!
  • Tenjiso, with regards to injury prevention, some stabilisation work on the midsection and below can work wonders in staving off injuries. I've had atrocious luck over the last two years, but more recently cranking out the squats and so forth on a fairly regular basis has had a very pleasing effect. Perhaps it's something you could introduce very gradually to supplement your running, and keep your routine fresh?

    As for long term plans, everyone is different and it sounds like you've settled on something that's going to work for you. Five years is a long time, but I think juggling the short-term goals whilst vaguely keeping in mind the bigger picture is a good idea. Just don't let your ultimate goal alter your training too much in the shorter term!

    Best of luck - it's very inspiring to see people have such motivation later in life.
  • Hi Moonlight, ironically I believe it was doing squats that may have led to my current groin strain. I did some heavy (for me) sets on Sunday, then attempted to do an interval session on Monday when the injury occurred. My fault for not applying the hard/easy principle to all forms of training.

    Up until then, I had been weight training twice a week (full body) for the last few months, building up slowly. I'll have to rethink how I approach heavier sessions so I don't conflict with running goals.

    Admittedly, if you ask whether I stretch, I would have to say "not as much as I should!" image

  • In that case, please disregard my previous squat advice as I look a bit of an idiot now image

    I know the feeling regarding the heavy sessions though, it can be tough to rein it in at times especially since that sort of core work really can have large benefits. I suppose just building up slowly is the best way, with the lower weights. I prefer this way since I'm lacking in muscle mass, so the more intense gym sessions are a bit wince-inducing!

    As for stretching, that's a whole other debate image as long as you stretch a bit after rigorous exercise I'd say you'd be fine. Anyway, I'm wittering on - let us know how it goes in the coming weeks and months!
  • I do also think that squats help. My stupidity was doing a heavy session and not allowing enough recovery (or stretching) before my interval session.

    I'm sure my "heavy" session would be laughably light to many people, but I'm just trying to retain some muscle while losing weight. The leg work really gets the heart pumping too.
  • I just thought I would update on where I am at with this idea. Hopefully I've taken on board all of the advice offered to me so far.

    Rather than casting a five year plan in stone, I'm approaching the same idea more flexibly. My dream goal remains to run a good for age in the marathon (3:15), which is way beyond my current capability and will take years to achieve (assuming it is even achievable for me - but there is only one way to find out).

    This spring, my target is to complete my marathon in 4:20 - 4:30 and I'm making good progress towards that target.

    All being well, my target for next year will be to run a sub-4:00 marathon. With this in mind, I have looked at the times that I should be achieving at shorter distances in order to achieve this target. I will try to achieve them this year. These will be sub-50:00 10K, and sub 1:50 Half-Marathon. Then I will be ready for marathon training to commence again Dec/Jan. So this gives me good focus on goals for the remainder of the year.

    I've used this technique to pencil in goals for subsequent years, though I have no idea what rate of improvement is likely over the years - so I won't be surprised if they are a bit too ambitious (loosely 10 to 15 minute improvement in marathon time year-on-year). It's the speed increases that look scary, rather than mileage, because I read about people plagued with injury once they reach a certain level. So they remain dream goals for the time being.

    Anyway, I'm happy now, and I feel very motivated to achieving as much as I can over the coming years. It's having an effect already and I can see myself closing in on previous PB's. I'd love to start clocking up some new PB's this year image Mega-plateau be gone!

    Thanks to everyone for their comments, as I was struggling with turning my vague idea into an action plan. I still welcome any further comments and advice.
  • Progress Update:

    I ran the spring marathon in a time of 4:38, which I might have been disappointed with.  However, it was a godawful day weather-wise and around a quarter of participants didn't even bother showing up (Milton Keynes).  

    This is where my long-term plan has really helped.  Rather than feel disappointed, I knew that the time wasn't really reflective of where I was with my training, so following recovery I have pushed on towards my next targets.

    Getting a sub-4 hour marathon next year means that I must improve my speed and stop plodding along.  So I have been focussed on my speedwork, while increasing my normal base mileage.  My weekly mileage is now closer to forty miles and I will work on maintaining it as much as possible.

    Last week I had my first test with a 10k race over reasonably hilly terrain (Luton AC 10k).  My previous PB was 54:51 on a flat course, so I was hoping for closer to 52 minutes on this course, with a view to going sub-50 in my next (flatter) 10k.   However, I'm delighted to have completed the race in 49:50!  The five minute PB represents a whole kilometre improvement image.  I'm hoping to get another PB in my next 10k in another month.  I also want to run a 5k parkrun soon to test my speed a bit more.

    I've got a ten mile race booked in September, then will run a couple of half- marathons before the end of the year.  I'm booked into the Brighton Marathon for next spring.  Having a longer term outlook to my goals is really helping my motivation and getting new PB's is validation that I am making progress.

  • Tenjiso , re all the excellent advice above, go with that ( pick and choose the bits that are good for you)!

    All that I can add is my own experience of doing an ironman this year aged 46. I did 9 months training with no running at all as old knee surgery makes them swell up and I have to stop training. Had only ever run 13 miles twice -under protest!   Despite this I believed that I could do it and on the day I was right, the marathon was 6 hours 26 mins. My one year plan is to do it again next year , a bit faster, but I have a plan and some ambition , and I think that's all we need.....

  • Hey Tenjiso,

    Great improvement. 54:50 to 49:50 is fabulous. That shows some real effort right there.

    Going off to watch Olympics but will post in later.

    Since we last talked, ive PBed at every distance. And I really mean every. 5k, 10k, 10 mi, half, 20 mile and marathon.

    As a taster, my blog has one update this year, 2nd marathon. First one is above somewhere, 3:48. Have a read of this one.

    So reaping the benefits of long term thinking, gym work and aims.
  • citizen -  It's good to see that you achieved your goal in spite of the injury problem.  Much of my "yo-yo" training stagnation has been caused by succumbing to illness/injury and not making any significant progress.  The longer-term plan keeps me focussed on continous improvement, regardless of missed/underperformed races.  I'm convinced it is making a diffeerence to my approach.

    thundercat - fabulous progress and a great marathon time!  Hopefully I'll also be getting more PB's as the year progresses.  I'm hoping to knock more than ten minutes off my half-marathon PB.  This is because a sub-1:50 will give me confidence that I can achieve a sub-four hour marathon next year.  My new 10k PB is a step in the right direction for sure.

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