Determining the correct training schedule is not as easy as most assume.
As you begin to collect advice you'll find literally hundreds of options on how far and fast to train with many of them contradicting the other.
As you surf the net you'll find recommended schedules calling for anything from running everyday with lots of mileage to schedules that only recommend a few days of road work with modest distances.
So what to do? First, you absolutely must start with a goal.
This may sound overly simplistic, but this is the single most important decision you'll make before strapping on those running shoes.
Your race or fitness goals dictate everything from weekly training mileage all the way down to race-day nutrition.
When I say goals, I specifically mean the goal for which you're currently training.
Although much of this discussion is focused on races, the concept applies whether you're trying to lose 10 pounds, run a 5K or tackle a marathon.
If you're new to running, temporarily suspend your dreams of running in Boston and concentrate setting realistic goals.
You'll feel a greater sense of accomplishment as you knock down those targets and will be motivated to move forward with a positive attitude.
As you begin to formulate your goals and schedules remember that they are forever tied to each other and should never be separated.
What do I mean by this? Far too many inexperienced, but eager runners design and train around a perfectly sane schedule only to later lose their minds when the gun goes off on race day.
Regardless of the distance, if you have been training around a certain race pace, do not let your enthusiasm on race morning send you down the first half of the race at a minute-per-mile faster pace than you've trained! I can assure you that you will end up vomiting, cramping, not finishing or even worse, injured.
And in any case, you won't enjoy your race and a miserable experience could lead to you giving up on your racing and fitness plans.
So remember your training schedule and race planning must remain in sync.
Here is a great example of a disconnect between training and racing.
During a recent marathon I ran a number of miles with a very friendly, twenty-something, local fireman.
This shirtless kid appeared to be extremely fit and seemed to be moving along with ease more than halfway through the race.
He told me this was his first marathon and he was trying to qualify for Boston.
Needless to say, I was impressed with his ambition and at mile eighteen he was nearly on pace to do it.
I recalled my goal for my first five marathons was to finish upright and be able to walk the next day.
As we began to tick off the miles, I asked what pace he was running.
He smiled and nonchalantly responded "oh, I don't know".
I thought that was strange, but to each their own.
I saw my new friend after the race and he had not made his qualifying time.
He had slowed by nearly two minutes a mile after we parted around mile nineteen and likely walked much of the final few miles.
What did he do wrong? Depends how you look at it.
He ran an incredible time for a first marathon, but he ultimately failed to accomplish his goal.
Since he had set no race-pace goal for himself and was unaware of his pace during the race he was destined to finish when he finished versus when he needed in order to accomplish his goal.
This lack of orientation around a goal likely shaped his training too which lead to the walk-run finish.
My firefighting friend is not alone.
I ran my first marathon in 2007.
I was good about my training running several days a week and getting in plenty of mileage.
On race morning I was rested and excited.
At mile 15 I felt like and Olympian running much faster than I had anticipated.
At mile 20 the wheels came off and I was nearly incapacitated with cramping in my right leg.
I had proudly completed the first 20 miles in just under 3 hours.
Sadly, the final 6 miles took me nearly 2 hours to complete on one leg.
What went wrong? I had no goal! I trained for mileage, never pace, and when the race started I thought I should just run as fast as felt comfortable.
Needless to say, that is the only race I trained and ran without a specific goal in mind.
Now all of this is not to say you must always have a time oriented goal.
On the contrary, any goal will serve to motivate you as well as help you plan the proper training schedule.
Your goal may be just to complete a race.
For example, In 2010 I did the Goofy Challenge at Disney.
This is where you run the half-marathon on Saturday and then the full marathon 24 hours later on Sunday.
My goals for these races? Run a leisurely pace with my brother-in-law on Saturday and then serve as head cheerleader and pacing partner to my wife who was attempting to complete her first marathon.
By the way, she also had a goal and ran within 4 minutes of it on race day.
Realizing setting your goals is difficult when you have no baseline to start; you need to ask yourself a few specific questions.
Does the tail wag the dog in your running life? If you're like most of us it does.
Most people have obligations which extend beyond their hopes of being a world-class runner.
And because of that your race goals may be set more by real life time constraints than your true ambitions around running.
But that's OK.
You now have the framework in which you can build a training schedule.
As you develop as a runner you'll realize that a good training schedule is a living, breathing thing.
They are very individual and you'll need to play around with it as you go to see what you can fit into your life and how you physically feel between runs.
I have friends who run 7 days a week and others who run 3 times a week and they're all happy runners.
Remember your actual schedule will be dictated by the goals and obligations we've discussed here so if you're trying to qualify for the Olympics, but have only 3 days a week to train, you may want to reconsider your aspirations.