Periodization isn’t just a training methodology reserved for running coaches or elite frontrunners. Every athlete can learn and employ the basic principles to achieve race-day success. This training framework provides well-timed, realistic, and varied workouts that aid an athlete in reaching his/her optimal fitness level by race day and lowering the risk of injury and/or burnout.
Though training specifics differ depending on the goal event (i.e., distance, intensity, and terrain), there are core concepts that hold true for all training cycles and, if respected, can provide a gratifying training experience.
Every good book develops its characters and plot before moving toward a climactic scene and resolution. Your training should follow suit. Proper scheduling is paramount to a successful training plan. In order to parse out training stressors (read more about understanding training stress) and allow the body and mind to adapt and grow in fitness, break the running schedule into organized, manageable chunks. Focus on four phases:
Our body best remembers what we’ve most recently subjected it to—so timing is crucial. When developing your plan, make sure to include race-specific workouts, or the training that reproduces the stresses you’ll encounter during your goal event, during the aforementioned 1.5- to three-month specific phase of training. Adding too much specific training before this window can lead to burnout, overtraining, and injury.
We should celebrate the fact that we’re not all the same. Genetics, age, running experience, injury disposition, life outside of running, and our own ambitions set the tone of our training, not what we or other athletes have done in the past. Here are some examples of how an athlete might mold his training to best fit his needs.
Problem: I’m consistently beat up, sore, and fatigued after workouts.
Solution: Break your workouts into smaller, manageable pieces. For example, instead of an eight-mile tempo run, break the workout into four x two-mile chunks with a few minutes of recovery between each repeat. Give yourself an extra day or two to recover before the next tough effort.
Problem: I feel slow.
Solution: Integrate more fast-twitch speedwork, like strides, short fartleks, and drills into your base and introductory phases of training.
Problem: I don’t have any climbing legs.
Solution: Include short, hard hill repeats into your base and introductory phases of training. Add a running-specific strength-training component that focuses on lower-body power.
Problem: I always get injured during track workouts.
Solution: Try incorporating more stamina, hill, and/or targeted strength work (focus on your injury-prone areas) in your base and introductory phases to increase your durability for the track.
Problem: I’m crushed by the competition in races with a lot of technical downhill.
Solution: Place emphasis on refining your downhill running technique during the meat of your training (read more about what downhill training entails). In the meantime, build confidence by entering an event that aligns with your running strengths.
How many times have you been caught off guard at an event? Race day arrives and, when pressured by fellow competitors, mountainous terrain, difficult conditions, and/or impending cutoffs, you must unexpectedly work harder or mentally suffer more. Pace- and terrain-changing workouts force us to practice shifting frequently between easy, moderate, and hard running paces and footing so that it becomes second nature after we push off from the start line. These workouts also add necessary change to routine and boost fitness. (Learn more about gear-changing workouts.)
Regularly review the components of your training. Make positive modifications by altering or eliminating counterproductive practices. Examples of game-changing fixes might include:
For most, running is a lifelong endeavor that comes with an immense learning curve filled with successes and failures. Learn from past mistakes, be creative, and seek alternatives so that you can continue to enjoy the sport.
A video interview (with transcript) with Sébastien Spehler and Thibaut Garrivier after their first and third-place finishes, respectively, at the…