So you’d like to get more serious about running. This means you’ll have to find a solid training routine. How do you make sense of all the endless varieties of advice? Here’s a simple guide to sifting through it all, for a safe, enjoyable schedule tailored to your needs.

• Your goals

• Your current fitness level

• Your available time

Training is a process of subjecting your body to stresses it’s unaccustomed to, then allowing it to get stronger while you recover. How much stress is appropriate, and how much recovery is necessary, will vary enormously from person to person. Your fitness level, experience, age, and any previous injuries will be factors. So please—when interpreting any advice, err on the side of taking it easy. If your ambition is rewarded by a foot injury that sidelines you for six weeks ... so much for ambition!

Here are some guidelines for evaluating any training program:

1) Are there adequate rest days? A rest day can mean total relaxation, or it can it can mean a shorter, more gentle run. It just needs to allow you to recover from your harder efforts. Everyone needs a minimum of two rest days per week, with no more than three harder training days in between.

2) Is there variety within the week? The most effective programs combine shorter intense days (such as tempo and interval runs) with longer endurance days. The exact mix should fit the nature of what you’re training for.

3) Is the program periodized? This means, does it evolve in distinct stages throughout the year? A good program might include:

• A gentle pre-season period for building a fitness base.

• An intense mid-season directly working toward your goal.

• A race season that includes whatever events you’re training for. This period will include longer recovery stretches before events.

• An off-season, for recovery. This is a good time to run casually and occasionally, or to cross train. This means switching off with a different sport that you enjoy. Consider hiking, swimming, mountain biking, or cross-country skiing, to give your skeleton a rest from the running season, and to give your mind something different to think about. Periodization is vital if you’re a competitive athlete. It’s also helpful for recreational athletes and for anyone just trying to stay fit, because it helps keep things interesting. It absolutely helps to keep you from burning out mentally or physically. You may feel especially enthusiastic to start each new season after a relaxing off-season.

Closing note: please don’t overtrain! Listen to your body. If a foot or a knee starts to hurt, don’t try to power through it. Back off and give yourself time to recover. This is especially important as you get older. Even minor injuries will set you back. Also avoid mentally overtraining. Take steps to keep your routine fun and interesting. If you find yourself dreading a run, consider changing up your routine to make it rewarding again.