Planning to Succeed....
Would you say you are a runner who comes up with a list of races, perhaps 4 or 5 half marathons, a few 10kms maybe even a marathon or two chucked in each year? Do you run your list hoping to see your times eek down race by race as you develop more experience and more confidence?
Are you someone who enters a race on the spur of the moment, even entering on the day perhaps, or a month in advance after chatting it through with running friends?
Have you considered that you might be selling yourself short? In this article we take a leaf out of the pro’s book and see how longer term planning can help to dramatically improve your PBs and enjoy enjoyment of both training and racing.
Where to start – become a cyclist!
Or more specifically a runner who trains through different ‘cycles’ – macrocycles, mesocycles and microcycles. In simple terms this means aim to look at your training on a long, medium and short-term basis. Taking the time to plan and make your training specific to you can be a hugely rewarding experience.
How to do it...
Sit down with a calendar; consider your goals, injuries, lifestyle and your current fitness and target a race that will allow you the time to peak at your optimum physical condition. For a marathon or a half this might require 12 months, for a 10km you might try to peak twice in a year but give yourself the time to incorporate some of the advice below. This is your macrocycle.
Within this period you should aim to break your year down into smaller chunks that give you the opportunity to develop different elements of your fitness – your endurance, your strength, your speed, your race pace, your taper…these are your mesocycles which typically last 4-8 weeks.
The actual training runs you include on a weekly or biweekly basis represent your microcycle.
Endurance sport is long-term game. Look at how many years of training it takes for a top marathon runner to reach their potential. Paula Radcliffe won her first world title at the junior cross-country championships in 1992; it took 13 more years of training before she won the championship marathon. In that time was Paula doing the same training week in, week out? for 13 years? Of course not! But from recreational runners to competitive club athletes we still believe that we can do the same training every month, packing our year with races with little or no build up and yet get a different, faster result. Instead we improve, plateau and see relatively limited gains over the weeks, months and years.
We can give you loads of ideas about training and different sessions to give you greater variety in your microcycles. However with limited time how do you get in your base training, your threshold, hills, track work, cross training and your rest? There just isn’t enough time in the week to do everything especially if you are racing every week or fortnight. That’s where long term planning comes in allowing you to move through different phases in the year where your training includes more of some sessions, and less of others.
The benefits are also psychological – changing and phasing your training across a year helps to keep you fresh, interested and motivated and also helps stimulate and stress your nervous system as well as your muscles, heart and lungs!
Tips for getting it done!
* Plan to peak – Christine Ohuruogu is a wonderful example of an athlete who mentally and physically targets her goal race to ensure she delivers on the day. Pick your goal carefully, ensuring you give yourself the time to train fully and that it falls at a time of the year when you know you’ll be able to invest yourself physically and emotionally in giving it 100% with no distractions.
* Get FITT – Your long term planning should see you vary and develop the frequency, intensity, time (duration) and type of your training. These are called the FITT principles. As you progress through your mesocycles you will adjust these 4 areas to ensure you are developing and progressing as the year goes on.
* Overload and progression – if you are not asking your body to work at a greater volume or greater intensity than you have before it will not develop. Gradually and incrementally building your training will allow you to do this safely and ensure you reap the gains in your races.
* Plan rest – Planning proper rest is vital for your body to absorb training, heal and improve. Have a regular rest day, a minimum of one each week to 12 days (depending on your experience) in your microcycles. Long term planning goes beyond this though. Mesocycles should also include rest with lighter weeks every 4-5 weeks. At a macro level having between 2 and 4 weeks to cut your running back to recover and recharge will help keep you injury free after a big key race such as a marathon.
* Keep specific to your race – The exact make up of your mesocycles will depend on your key race. The aim though, no matter what the distance, is to ensure that your training gets you progressively better able to cope with the demands you will face on race day. Don’t always assume that every plan has to start easy and build through months to end with faster, shorter intervals. This depends on your goal. Don’t forget to include threshold and even race pace running throughout all of your mesocycles.
* Maintain quality – As a distance runner it is tempting to assume progression always means running more. Faster sessions should always be present in your training plans to ensure you continually overload your body and nervous system, it is the volume and type of faster running that changes with each mesocycle.
* Take measures – use your GPS, or a training log to measure your progression, it will help keep you focused on your new, longer term journey. Either keep a paper based training diary or log or use tools such as Strava to help. If you use an online tool remember to keep some notes on how you feel, your energy levels and motivation. This will all help you build a picture of progression over time. Consider low key races at the end of each meso-cycle to check progress or set some non-running targets to benchmark your progress...has your flexibility improved? (ask us for ways to measure this!), are you stronger? Are you hitting better paces or running more economically in your key trianing sessions?
Challenge yourself by trying something different!
Taking a longer term view of your training will allow you to take advantage of the seasons to try different types of training and racing at different times of year.
* Use races to set yourself interim goals – breaking that long term challenge into smaller targets will keep you focused.
* If you are a regular 10km-marathon runner how about spending time developing your speed through targeting different races in the summer, 1500m-5km races can be used in to help you push yourself harder
* If you are a little more experienced how about using the cross country season to develop your strength and competitive edge?
* Consider multisport events to overload your body differently running on tired legs at the end of a triathlon can provide a good way of challenging your goal race pace
* Plan to include phases of the year where you focus on your strength and conditioning through core or gym work or a great volume of hill training to give you the conditioning to progress your training as you get closer to your goal