Early in your career, you can stress the body appropriately, give it some recovery, and you will improve. However, the more experienced you become as a competitive runner, the more difficult it becomes to garner the results you want in the sport. Sometimes you train hard for months on end to only come up short of your goal, but other times… Well, we all know what that magic can feel like. This series of articles on EndurElite aims to help you experience that thrill of success more often in your personal running. Whether your goal is to win a major race, set a new lifetime PR, or achieve an age-group best, we are going to help guide you towards your goal in a step-by-step fashion that you can easily incorporate into your personal training.
Who is this series designed to help?- Anyone who has experienced the highs and lows of distance running and needs a change from the same old cookie cutter training programs available at larger.
What distances are we focusing on in this series?- We will cover training for every distance from the 5K to the Marathon.
I’m not fast. This probably isn’t for me.- You don’t have to be fast to train to run your best! This series will cover training for all ability levels. The only requirement is that you are willing to push your body appropriately and have some clear goals in mind!
I’m really fast. This probably isn’t for me – This series will help you get faster, and learn how to become your own best coach by truly listening to your body, pushing when it’s time to push, and recovering appropriately to get the most out of your body from the 5K to the Marathon. You will have some new tools in your training repertoire that will help you gain greater enjoyment from your training, provide some new stimuli to spur improvement, and reinvigorate your body to maximize success.
Okay, sounds great. Where do I start?- Everyone will have a different starting point based on their training history (see below), but I would recommend some basic guidelines before jumping into any new training program. This series will cover in detail the features of a non-linear periodization model where we begin constructing a positive race outcome from the very beginning. Speaking of periodization….
Old school periodized training programs generally follow these basic concepts- the aerobic base phase, a period of gradually increasing intensity via hills, stamina training, and non-specific speed play, and then a sharpening period where you train most intensely as your goal race nears. However, when we go long periods of time without doing some faster/mixed-intensity running, we greatly increase our chance of injury once harder training is resumed. Even if you are resistant to injuries thanks to good biomechanics and a long history of running, you may not absorb each added element as you should because they will shock the system too expressly. This will lead to maladaptation, and you not running as fast as you could.
For example, a runner does just easy running for eight weeks while training for a marathon, and then suddenly moves ahead to their competitive period with track intervals, hills, and tempo runs. For three more weeks, they feel great and seem to be improving. However, in the fourth week, they develop some knee pain and start to feel exhausted. A week later, they are reconsidering their goal. A week later, they are in the doctor’s office pleading for rehab exercises, etc. as they try to scrap the few weeks remaining before their goal race. Let’s avoid this all too common scenario!
Our periodization will be slightly different, as we will introduce more training elements sooner in the plan so we can organically build upon these facets of balanced training all the way to our goal race (no matter the distance). This will allow your muscles, tendons, and bones to adapt at the same rate as your aerobic system, and keep you strong all the way through your training cycle. Our periodization will look like the below. Find your starting point based on these parameters, and let’s start working towards designing your next PR.
Rest and recovery for 1-4 weeks following a challenging period of training and a goal race. Generally, the longer the race, the more time you will need to truly recovery between cycles. Injury status, motivation, and how the race itself went should also dictate how long you stay in this phase of training. This period can include some lighter cross training, gym exercises, etc, but nothing should be hard on the body. This is a great time to start establishing some positive pre-hab/re-hab routines to work on your individual problem areas so you resume training as healthy as possible.
This period will typically last 4-8 weeks, and serves as the foundation from which your next training cycle will be built. This should be a more relaxed phase of training where your goal is to reintroduce various training elements in an incremental way, and gradually increase your overall training load to spur new adaptations. The key features of this phase will be discussed in detail below.
The developmental period of training serves as the most important phase in my process. Here we will introduce four distinct elements that are research-based and field-tested designed to help runners training for the 5K-Marathon equally well with only slight modifications. You will largely maintain everything that you included in the fundamental period, and will try to add these elements into the mix without reducing overall volume. A successful developmental period will enable you to capitalize on new fitness ahead of your target race/s, and allow you to absorb the more specific stresses to come. This period should last 6-8 weeks.
The specific period should only last 4-8 weeks for most runners regardless of your target race distance once you have established gains in the developmental period. I think many people extend this phase out too long and begin to lose some of their fundamental gains in endurance and strength as they stagnate doing track intervals, tempo runs, and non-key races. Volume and intensity during this period will be dependent on your experience and target race distance, and the elements introduced in the previous two periods will largely still be visible in your training each week. The specific sessions you incorporate should all focus on paces from 95-105% of your target goal race, and the total volume of these key workouts should be commensurate with your race distance (ie- for a 5K goal race, an experienced runner would want to accrue 5K-7K of volume close to race pace, usually in the form of well-designed interval workouts). The specific period will culminate in a brief sharpening phase of 1-2 weeks where we will hone-in on getting ready to race to the best of our ability.
For the purposes of this series, we will be discussing training for three general categories of competitive runner. See which one best suits you from the below.
This category of runner will encompass many reading this series that A) Love to run and compete, B) Race for bragging rights as well as high-profile awards in the Masters category (over 40 years old), C) Are newer to the sport and are climbing the ranks. Take note, this very general classification is not for “slower” runners at all, but for those who are more limited in their available training time, are aging, or who may be coming back from a training hiatus and need to take things cautiously. The race times and volume levels assigned to our Age Group Aces are very fluid, as many runners may be running more than these recommendations, or far less and still achieving these basic time standards.
The Regional Racer is your local fast guy or girl, your hometown ringer, who might have run competitively in high school/college and still races at a high level with lofty goals and aspirations. They are always seeking a new personal best, can place high in most regional road races, and may occasionally hop in a track or cross country meet to test their ability against a quick field. This classification of runner was my target audience for comprising this book, and represents the type of runner that I work with most regularly in my private coaching practice. They are not bound by age or ability level as much as by their willingness to train hard, stretch an hour into a minute of spare time, and are VERY serious about their running (even if it isn’t the most important thing in their life). These runners’ potential is typically only limited by available training time and raw genetics, but they post fast times and kick ass in races nonetheless.
These runners are at the top of their game and may have their sights set on an Olympic Trials qualifying time, high-placing at a prestigious marathon, and/or top finish at a major USATF championship event. These runners likely do not work full time, have some training resources at their disposal (medical benefits, travel stipends, gear sponsorships, etc.), and can devote most of their time to training, recovering, and adapting to ever increasing workloads. Volume recommendations for these runners and tentative performance marks are below, but bear in mind that some elite youth or masters runners may fall outside these broad strokes to varying degrees.
Once you have your appropriate starting point identified, we can now start to talk shop with our next installment in the series- the fundamental period of training!
Peyton Hoyal was a 2009 NAIA Track & Field All-American at Berry College in Georgia, and now resides in Charlottesville, VA where he works as a sales manager in the running footwear industry. A former high school teacher and coach, he honed his craft with young runners before taking-on a private coaching enterprise in 2013.
Peyton has worked with the ZAP Fitness Olympic Development Group as an adult coach, writes extensively on the sport through various media sites, and has spoken at such events as the annual Endurance Magazine Fitness Expo in Raleigh, NC. He still trains at a high level himself, and is available for personal coaching to anyone who wants to take their running to the next level. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.