Getting Your Act Together, Part I:
How to Periodize Running
©1999 Joe Friel
In talking with duathletes, I’ve found that there are some who don’t take advantage of the many insights which coaches, athletes, and sport scientists have brought to training in the last few decades. Many still train as if it was the 1950s.
One of the most basic of these insights is the concept of periodization that grew out of the Communist Bloc countries’ sports programs of the 1960s. Periodization is a system of organizing training so that fitness is built in stages with fitness coming to a peak at prescribed times. Today most elite athletes, regardless of sport, apply the concepts of periodization to their training.
This month and next I’d like to share with you some basic concepts on how I periodize training for duathletes I coach. This month I cover running, and next month cycling.
I divide the training year into six broad periods:
· Transition. Twice each year, the athletes I train take a break from training. These are called “transitions.” They are periods in which there is no “serious” training and the emphasis is on rest and recovery. The longest transition, that lasts two to four weeks, comes at the end of the racing season. The other is typically a week long and generally occurs after the first A-priority race of the season. There may be three or four such A-priority races in a season.
· Preparation. This is a short period in which the athlete readapts to training following a transition period. Volume is moderate and intensity is low. Variety in training modes is encouraged—other activities besides running and cycling are OK.
· Base. At eight to 12 weeks, this is the longest period. The purpose is to establish a high, general-level of fitness that is not necessarily race-specific. The emphasis is on aerobic endurance, strength, technique, and muscular endurance. It starts 18 to 22 weeks before the first A-priority race of the season, and ends eight to 10 weeks before.
· Build. During this period, volume gradually decreases as race-specific intensity increases. The Build period typically lasts 6 to 8 weeks ending one to three weeks before A-priority races. There may be more than one A-priority in the season. Each is preceded by a Build period.
· Peak. This is a one- or two-week period of tapering volume that is intended to allow for recovery from hard training. More rest is taken between hard workouts, which now closely simulate race intensity, but are shorter than race duration.
· Race. In the week before the A-priority race, volume is dramatically tapered and fitness is maintained with brief, high-intensity workouts.
The following is a summary of running workouts for the Base, Build, Peak, and Race periods. They are prioritized with the most important ones listed first. Your unique constraints on training, such as time and energy available, may not allow for all of these runs to be done every week. Doing those listed first will keep your fitness increasing throughout the season and bring you to a peak on race day.
· Long run. Run 90 to 150 minutes on a flat to gently rolling course with a soft surface. Trails are best. Per mile pace should be 90 to 150 seconds slower than your 10k pace. If you use heart rate and know your lactate threshold (LT), stay 15 to 50 beats below it. Do this weekly. The long run will improve aerobic function with a low risk of injury.
· Hilly run. On a course with lots of hills and a soft surface, run 50% to 70% of the duration of your longest run. Keep the effort all aerobic. On some very steep hills you may need to walk to do this. It’s best to select a course that is just hilly enough that you can run all the way without going anaerobic. Emphasize good form on the uphills, especially knee lift, push off, and arm action. Go easy on the downhills. Run hills weekly except in rest weeks that are every third or fourth week.
· Strides. Take a long, easy warm-up, and then do five to eight, 20-second, downhill accelerations on grass at about your best 400-meter effort. Walk 60 to 70 seconds back up the hill to your starting point after each one. Focus on relaxation. Also count your strides for each acceleration. You should count 30 or more right foot strikes for 20 seconds. Do this weekly.
· Tempo. After a long warm-up, run 20 to 30 minutes steady with heart rate 10 to 15 beats per minute below LT. This is about your 10-mile to half marathon race pace. This workout may be combined with strides, with the tempo portion coming last. Do this each week except in rest weeks, that are every third or fourth week.
· Other runs, if any, may include a second long run, or easy recovery run, depending on your personal workload capacity.
· Intervals. These are done at near race-intensity to prepare you for the effort demanded of the event. In a standard duathlon, the first run is typically done at a pace that is 10 to 30 seconds per mile faster than the last run. A workout that prepares you for such an event may be something like 4-6 x 800 meters run slightly faster than 5k pace for a run-only race. The recovery after each is as long as the preceding interval’s duration. Immediately following the last recovery, run half of the last-run distance at goal race pace for the upcoming A-priority race. The interval portion may also be done on a hill if your goal race is hilly. Do this workout weekly, except in rest weeks which are every third or fourth week.
· Endurance brick. Every week include a brick that is either long ride-short run, or short ride-long run. Alternate these weekly. The long-run portion is the same as the long run described in the Base period. You should find that your pace is now faster for the same heart rate or efforts.
· Other runs are for recovery only with heart rate 25 or more beats below LT, or at a pace that is two or more minutes slower than 10k race pace.
· Race-tempo brick. Complete a ride that includes long intervals totaling 25 to 50% of the goal race’s distance. Do these at planned race intensity based on heart rate, speed, or perceived exertion. Then transition to a run that is about race duration including 25 to 50% of it at goal race pace. Do this weekly.
· Run tune-up. Run a road race that is goal-race distance or slightly longer at goal race pace. Or, if there is no race available, run intervals as above with an emphasis on longer intervals, such as five- to six-minute durations. Do this each week.
· Other runs are strictly for recovery.
Race—Week of Race
· Pick-ups. Once or twice during this week, preferably spaced such as Tuesday and Thursday, do a short run that includes two to four, 90-second pick-ups run at about 10k pace. Recover for three minutes by jogging easily after each one. These are short runs including only a warm-up, the pick-ups, and a cool down.
· Day before. Complete a short brick such as 30 minutes of riding and 15 minutes of running. Include race-pace accelerations. This is best done on the race course.
· Other runs, if any, are strictly for recovery, and they are quite short.
Next month I’ll cover the key bike workouts of a periodization plan.
Joe Friel is the author of The Triathlete’s Training Bible. Frequently asked questions on this article’s topic and more are available on his web site at http://www.ultrafit.com.