Once, a friend of mine was giving a concert and called out to me in the audience, "Steve! Come up here and sing descant!" The look of shock on my face was probably priceless. For one thing, I only had a vague understanding of what "descant" means. Mostly, however, it was the fact that I can't sing a note; given weeks of practice, I might be able to string four or five notes together in tune, but it'd be iffy. It was inconceivable to him that anyone can't sing, as it comes as easily as breathing to him. He knew he was getting paid to sing because he's better than most at it, but he felt that that's because he works hard at it, not that he has some talent that others don't.
That's an important point to keep in mind when you get advice about running. Really talented people will tell you what they do and think that, if you just do what they do, you'll be as good as they are. That's why so many training plans fail; to succeed (if you're not naturally gifted), you have to understand what you're capable of doing and how to develop what little talent you might have. In my 20's, I was consistently running marathons in the 2:40's, but my times at shorter distances suggested I should be able to run 2:25-2:30, so I looked at various training plans developed by expert coaches - and I knew I couldn't do ANY of the workouts listed; in fact, I couldn't do any of the workouts they had for someone wanting to run 2:50. I decided then that I had to learn for myself how to develop a training plan [as it happens, I never officially broke 2:40 and it probably wouldn't have mattered how I trained; I didn't have the ability to run a marathon as well as I could run shorter distances].
I like planning my runs even more than doing them. I frequently get an idea of what should work, follow the plan for a while, get a new idea and abandon the old one before I get to test it thoroughly. For me, writing a training schedule is like composing music; there's a mathematical purity underlying it, but which can't be solely relied upon; there are elements combined in themes, which develop and come to the foreground and then recede as others replace them. In the end, there's a work of art, which suffers from a bad performance.
Like my musician friend, I have trouble seeing that what comes naturally and easily to me is completely alien to others. Most people don't care what goes into writing a training schedule, they just want to be told what to do. What I hope to do in this series of posts is to show how to plan one's training. Even though it's doubtful that anyone will fully adopt my way of thinking about training, there should be little nuggets along the way that one might pick up as valuable. At the very least, one should be able to look at a schedule written by someone else and be able to see if it makes sense to follow it or not.