John Byrne– It’s an exciting time to be a runner. On any given weekend, you can enter an event with music on every corner or crawl through mud, scale walls and jump through flames in an adventure race. You can be splashed with color and cross the finish line looking like a tie-dyed shirt or run through the night covered in glow sticks.
With so much creativity and fun being infused into the world of running, why not add the same excitement and sense of adventure into training plans? Why not make training for a race as much fun as running it?
That’s the mission behind the new Level-Up training plans devised by coaches Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano (with Adam’s wife, Kara Goucher): to capture the spirit, energy, joy and achievement found in distance running and combine it with a comprehensive training system that helps new runners get to the finish line happy and healthy.
Former college cross-country and track teammates Goucher and Catalano are the authors of “Running the Edge,” a book that approaches training from a humanistic perspective and treats the reader not as a runner but as a person who runs.
Instead of trying to improve on an old model, they created a completely new paradigm of how training plans can work. The goals of the Level-Up training plans are straightforward and ambitious. Designed to be both fun and motivating, they allow runners to advance at their own pace. They are flexible, yet challenging. And they include consistent coaching and feedback.
Here’s how they work:
The Level-Up plans are laid out on a colorful game board with your cartooned coaches (Adam and Tim) offering advice or a bit of silly running humor. You earn points by completing various workouts. If you can earn enough points within seven days, you are ready to move on or, as Goucher and Catalano say, “You’re ready to level-up!”
Consistent motivation and encouragement throughout the plans keep you wanting more. Borrowing an idea from video games, Goucher and Catalano created digital finisher medals at the end of every level. Depending on how many points you earn, you can get a gold, silver or bronze medal to store in your medal collection. And you can redo a level to get a better medal.
Advance at your own pace.
Many runners ditch week-to-week training plans because the volume and intensity progresses faster than their fitness. Using levels instead of weeks solves this problem. You can take one week to finish a level or four weeks — you “level-up” only when you are physically and mentally ready to do so. This simple change can be the difference between long-term success and injury or burnout.
Runners are people. Most have jobs, kids, social obligations, unexpected interruptions, injuries, etc. Week-to-week training plans keep moving forward, regardless of what might get in your way, but Level-Up allows you to adapt your running to your busy schedule. You train on your terms. Perform the workouts in any order on any day and if the unexpected happens, you can take a “recovery level” or simply stay at your current level until you have the time to get back to training.
Runners come in all different sizes and shapes, which is why the program is organized by individual goals and unique ability levels. Goucher and Catalano created two types of training plans to match runners with the appropriate training to meet their needs for races from 5K to the marathon. The workouts are based on those the Gouchers have used in their own training.
Follow expert guidance.
Nothing can replace the value of having a live coach who can respond to your specific needs, but a virtual coach is the next best thing. At the end of every level, you will visit the virtual coach to look back at your training, assess your current status and make informed decisions for future planning. Depending on your answers to a series of questions, you are given a red, yellow or green light, along with advice on how to proceed.
The bottom line is that training for a running goal — no matter how big or small — is hard work, but it can also be enjoyable. Goucher and Catalano have created smart training plans and turned them into a fun game.