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 5 (of a 5 part series) regarding smart training cycles:
Year Around Training
Building upon the previous four writings (found above) regarding different training cycles, the year-long approach is no different – rest is key. We must prioritize and then stress & rest the system according to this prioritization. I personally come from a more traditional track / road racing background in which I aim to be in peak fitness but only about two times per year – once in the spring and once in the fall. Winter and summer are used as building back base fitness as it’s not optimum racing weather anyways. Depending on the distance I’m training for, it lends 2 to 3 (mayyyybe 4) high priority races across two main buildups within the year.
I believe peak fitness can really only be maintained for a few weeks. The building blocks to fully cycle through different specific training phases (as discussed in part 3) lends itself to maximizing fitness but being so finely tuned and fit can only last so long. We should prioritize our race schedule to line up with our most important races during this window and work backwards from there.
With such a limited window of opportunity, race distance plays a key role to how many opportunities you’ll get at peak fitness racing. In the case of a marathon, you’ll get one crack for one build up as there isn’t enough time to recover and hit it again in a few weeks. It’s absolutely possible (if you’re durable enough) to race again and get out there (as I did two marathons in October 2011 – Twin Cities 2:27:20 and Marine Corps 2:29:xx) but to expect top fitness PR-type results in the second is a far stretch if you’re really stressing the body to PR in the first.
Recovering from a 5k, 10k, even half marathon is different … as you approach your peak window of a few weeks, you might be able to get in 2 to 3 high level PR-seeking efforts (as I ran 31:18 road 10km, 30:55 track 10,000m, and 1:10:14 hilly / hot / lonely half marathon within 21 days in the spring of 2012).
The ultra distances are great as “race-pace” is much more similar to everyday running paces so I’m much more comfortable using a 50k or 50 mile race as a low-key training long run whereas sometimes the ability to not put the pedal to the metal (or gun for a PR) in 5k or 10k tune up races is somewhat harder. But there should be a difference to top priority races and tune-up efforts – maybe not necessarily all on race day but where you are at in your different specific phases and training might lend itself to heading into a tune-up race more fatigued or not as sharp. To maximize performance (which not everybody is trying to do and that’s fine) those few peak windows & the big picture should always be kept top of mind.
The most important phase of your current buildup is how you rested after the last buildup. If you start fatigued and overloaded, there’s no chance your body will last. It is way better to feel under-trained and a bit out of shape through those first weeks / months than to feel ready to race. I take anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks TOTALLY off after each buildup … zero running, zero anything regarding fitness (I’m not a huge cross-trainer anyways). Many cross-train and continue through this period of rest with some activity, but more than anything my brain is fried just as much as my legs and I don’t want to think about any kind of schedule … I simply eat like crap (Arbys & Taco Bell … and BK Angry Whoppers) and don’t exercise until I’ve had enough. I get incredibly restless and my metabolism is out of whack by the second week and some very light very short jogging will give me some indication if my body and mind are up for another 6 months of joyful disciplined painful training.
Length of Buildup
I’ve stuck to the 2 x 6 months buildups per year for a long while now as I did a spring 5k, 10k, half marathon season followed by a fall marathon buildup for years. Moving up to ultra marathon distances, I’ve stuck with 2 x 6 months and simply altered the specific training. As one grows in their running career and accumulates more and more mileage under their legs these buildups can actually shorten as you might not have to go back to the drawing board with such a long base phase anymore … 3 x 4 month buildups might work just fine to rest and train specifically for your priority races.