How to plan for long term racing (running)
It’s not too hard to find a training schedule that gives you a couch to 5km race plan. And for most people, this is highly effective and works great. It’s on the phone, it’s motivating and hitting the goals gives you a sense of accomplishment.
Once you start taking your running more seriously, you must look beyond the 12 – 16-week programs in order to build yourself up over the long haul. Being a good racer is a 10-year plan built upon a lot of running year-round. Here are a few things I consider when programming for my athletes (OCR Race team).
The Race Seasons
I look at each athlete’s race season in 4 parts (not always equal). The pre-season, in-season, post-season and off-season. When considering how to program for an athlete, all these seasons will have different approaches dependent on the athlete’s goals, strengths and weaknesses. An athlete that can run fast, gets injured often and can’t sustain their speed, will need a very different program than an athlete that runs slow for a long time, can’t get their speed up but can stay injury free.
As a general guideline, I keep strength training to the off-season (true strength training – I don’t consider injury prevention strength training to be the same because the effort level and recovery times are very different. I will also program upper body strength for grip and pull power, etc.).
Most base building (aerobic) is done in the off-season. Most of the speed work and motor skill development (anaerobic) is done in the pre-season and during the season, but that will also depend on the athlete, their goals and their strengths and weaknesses.
Cross-training is often programmed when an athlete is injured, recovering from a hard event, or in the off-season to change things up.
Within a season, there are macro, meso and micro cycles. The Macro plan looks at the entire season. The meso cycle looks at four weeks (one month) at a time in a season. The micro cycle looks at a single week of training.
Keep in mind these cycles are different for different coaches. Some coaches look at the macro cycle as an entire year or two and break it down from there. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong, just different approaches to the same concept.
When looking at cycles, I consider the individual athlete and what they have done in the past and what they can handle moving forward. Three hard micro-cycles followed by one easy micro-cycle might work great for some and crush others depending on the speeds and distances involved with each day of training.
Some Rules of Running
Here are a few rules of running that I like to use to maximize the results of individual athletes.
- In most cases, 80% of your running volume will be aerobic and 20% anaerobic and motor skill development. Unless you are racing under 10-minute races, you’re going to need a good aerobic engine and that means running easy.
- Avoid the grey zone. The grey zone is a heart rate zone that is too anaerobic to bring value to your aerobic training and too anaerobic to bring value to your anaerobic system. Generally, this is near the effort zone of a race. Unfortunately, a lot of people train in this zone and their results aren’t great in the long term. Every run should have a goal and you may need to take a step back in order to take a step forward.
- Build up no more than 5 – 10% volume per week with a break on the fourth week to get a bit of rest. Most people who try to “catch up” to where they should be because they didn’t train properly leading up to the event, get injured or never hit their goal.
- Depending on the season, no more than two really hard efforts a week. The workouts break you down. Rest builds you back up. If you aren’t resting enough, you aren’t getting the adaptations you’re looking for and you’re basically just kicking your own butt into the ground. This might work for a little while, but you’ll burn out or get injured. That’s why most athletes can’t strength train in the morning, do speed work in the afternoon and run a tempo the next day. It doesn’t work. You should rest at least one day after a hard effort and do no more than a light run.
- Mobility, flexibility and minor muscle strength is important any time of the year. Spend 10 – 20 minutes a day rolling, stretching and working on weak muscles. Rest days can include more time working on these.
Of courses there’s a lot more to consider and every athlete will be different. What I love about coaching athletes is seeing how they progress with little adjustments in training as they follow the plan. This type of system also allows me to be frank with people who want to do too much; I’m just not the right coach for you.