A successful training program is one that gets you to the start line feeling fit and fresh. Most endurance athletes may not struggle with getting out the door and doing some hard work, but in fact allowing themselves to rest and recover enough. We must break up our training in cycles and be as intentional (if not more) about our rest than our hard quality sessions. Below is part 3 (of a 5 part series) regarding smart training cycles:
Specific Training Phase
I want to get away from using terms “macro-cycle” and “micro-cycle” since the whole purpose of this 5-part training series on training cycles is to categorize FIVE different sized cycles … not two (small vs big … micro vs macro). With that being said, most people using “macro-cycle” terminology are probably referring to a specific training phase (this write-up) or a full key race build-up (next write-up). The specific training phase is the first time we have a bit of flexibility when nailing down how long we’d plan to have this phase. This duration will depend on multiple variables – mostly likely how long you’ve allocated for your full key-race build-up (next write-up), what system(s) you need to work specific to the race you’re training for, and what system(s) you need to work specific to your personal strengths & weaknesses. Fitting these many specific training phases together will be addressed in the next write-up as we look at a full key race build-up strategy, but let’s take a look at what goes into one specific phase of training working one specific system with some of the same concepts we’ve already discussed in our daily and weekly scheduling: rest, quality days, progress.
I like to schedule specific “down” weeks in place as part of my plan. The same concept with our weekly schedules prioritizing quality days followed by rest days, it’s important to build stress throughout the high volume and/or quality weeks followed by resting weeks. I like to build mileage and quality workouts by having 2 or 3 “up” weeks followed by a “down” week. There is some flexibility so sometimes I intentionally schedule down weeks when we take vacations, holidays, work travel, etc – times when running will be difficult to do.
A rest / down week doesn’t mean zero miles or that you have no quality (long / intense) days … I keep my quality days relatively the same, but really dial down my recovery.
Super-recovery days during a down week (and an extra day or two off that week) gives me the extra rest and recovery I need coming out of the week into the next build-up. I don’t put a specific target mileage amount for these rest weeks as the last thing we want to do is force any kind of specific mileage into a week when our primary objective is to restore ourselves. With that being said, my rest / down weeks usually work out to be ~60-75% of my normal mileage I’ve built up to overall.
Quality days in a specific training phase are to work the specific system you want to work / build in said phase. A strength-specific phase will have strength-specific quality days (long intervals, hard cut-down running). Your base phase will have mileage-building quality days (longer long runs, longer medium-long runs, longer and easier recovery days). I like to switch up my quality days week to week while in the same specific training phase as it is easier on the body and mind I believe … don’t do 8 x 800m during your Vo2 Max phase week after week after week. Will each of those workouts work the Vo2 max system and provide benefit? Of course! But it is very difficult to see true progress in your fitness week-to-week and how your times vary will most likely be because of external factors (weather, sleep, other stress, rest-week, etc). Changing things up gives your mind a break from the pressure of monitoring your fitness week to week … which brings me to my next point.
It is good to monitor your fitness and (hopefully) see yourself getting more fit throughout a longer training cycle.
I like to start and finish each main specific training phase with the same workout.
For example, coming out of a base phase where I’ve built up my base mileage the first week moving into a strength-phase I’ll run 3 x 2mi with 2min rest. This phase will last maybe 4-8 more weeks but I’ll come back to this same workout when I’m done with strength-phase and see where I’m at in comparison to when I first ran 2mi repeats … maybe I can do 4 x 2mi now at the same pace, maybe I can do 3 x 2mi faster than before, maybe I can do 3 x 2mi with only 1min rest? Monitor your progress within each phase once and don’t beat yourself up if you’re still not seeing huge leaps as there are many external factors still (I’ve mentioned before) and you’re still not tapering / fully rested yet. In fact, you’ve FURTHER into your plan now where you’re hopefully building fitness but also undergoing a larger cumulative stress.
Don’t know exactly what workouts to put in your specific training cycles? I offer many personal online coaching options for all abilities and incorporate the principles I’ve seen work first hand in my own competitive running.