Thursday, November 29, 2012


There are 4 tenets that anchor my philosophy for training distance runners.  In the last 2 blogs, I have discussed the first 2 tenets, consistency and capacity, and so today I want to talk about the 3rd tenet: frequency.  When talking about frequency in terms of training for distance running, I am referring to both the number of times you run in a given period of time and distribution of runs in that same time period.   

There are several reasons why frequency is a major tenet in my philosophy. Most important is the fact that our bodies adapt best to something that is done most frequently. There is a familiarity and efficiency, both mentally and physically, that comes only through repetition.  There are certain hormone releases and enzyme activities that occur each time we go for a significant run (> 20 minutes).  This release and activity spurs growth, speeds recovery and enhance our adaptation to the activity of running.  By running more frequently we are getting these benefits and adaptations more frequently.    
But there is a balance that needs to be struck, as there are benefits and specific adaptations that we need as distance runners that can only be achieved through extended runs.  So we must balance the benefits of running frequently with the need to run for extended periods at points in our training.   
Just like we discussed in the last blog on capacity, we need to be gradual in our build up in frequency in order to allow our bodies to adapt and adjust to the routine.  So to help distance runners (5k to marathon) find that balance and make that progression, I have generated some simple progression rules on frequency that guide how I train athletes with respect to this tenet.  The runners would step into this progression at whatever level they are currently at and stop the progression once they reached their lifestyle maximum or have reached the end of the progression.

1) Add one day per week per training cycle (12-24 weeks) until 7 days per week is achieved
2) Once you are running 7 days per week and the duration of your average easy/recovery run reaches 60 minutes, then begin to add in daily second runs into your schedule
3) Add in 1 or 2 short (20-30 minute) secondary runs per training cycle until you reach 5-7 secondary runs per week (or whatever level fits your lifestsyle/time constraints).
4) Increase the duration of the secondary and primary runs as is appropriate
Example:  If a runner is running 5 days per week this training cycle, and their time/lifestsyle permits it, they would progress to 6 days per week next training cycle and then 7 days per week the following training cycle.  Once they are at 7 days per week and they have built up their normal easy/recovery runs to 60 minutes in duration, we would begin to add in a second run of 20-30 minutes once or twice a week.  They would continue to add secondary runs, as long as time, commitment and lifestyle permits, until they are running twice per day most every day. 
Most world class distance runners run 12-14 times per week. This appears to be consistently the gold standard for runners focusing on the 5k to Marathon distances and has remained so for decades after much trial and error by runners and coaches.  Some run less and some more, but the majority of elites eventually settle on this number as what works best for developing them to their full potential. Typically this is done as 2 runs per day most days.  So this is the direction we would work towards, to the extent the runner has the time and desire to do so.
Pretty simple rules, just a gradual and incremental increase in frequency until you are running a maximum of 12-14 times per week, or stopping at whatever level is appropriate for the time and commitment you have.  

When adding a second run into a day, ideally the run should be 12 hours removed from the start of the last run and 12 hours before your next run.  But this is not always possible, so I recommend shooting for that as a goal, but at a minimum try and get at least 6-8 hours in-between the start of your 2 runs.
Note:  It is also important to note that running is a very specific sport, in which we use certain muscles fibers at certain intensities and in certain ways. Other cross training exercises, while maybe good in general for increasing heart rate and general fitness or generally working muscle groups, will not specifically work the exact same muscle fibers in the exact same way as you do in running. This means they are somewhat poor substitutes for developing and training these muscles in the ways we need to use them in running. Running is still and always will be the best way to train for running.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Work Capacity

The Legend of Milo illustrates increase in capacity
In my last blog, I talked about the one of the tenets of my training philosophy: consistency.  In it I explained that I believe while short regeneration breaks (1-2 weeks) are in order after goal races at the end of long training cycles (≈2 times a year), for the most of the year we want to adopt a consistent, sustainable training approach so that we can slowly build our fitness and capacity over time.   
In today’s blog, I want to talk to about another tenet in my training philosophy, and that is: capacity. Capacity refers to the amount of work we can handle in training on a sustainable basis.  By work I am referring to both the quantity of the mileage and the quality of the mileage we run.  We all know that running 80 miles a week by running 11-12 miles at an easy pace each day, is not the same as running 80 miles a week with 2 quality workouts and long run included.  So we cannot just look strictly at mileage when looking at capacity, but must consider the quality of that mileage as well.  In his book “Daniels’ Running Formula”, Dr. Jack Daniels attempts to address this issue of a mixture of quality and quantity in total training capacity, by developing a chart (Table 2-2 in his book)which assigns a point value for each minute spent running at different intensity levels.  While I don’t directly use Dr. Daniels’ charts, I like his approach in considering the value of each component in determining and equating total training capacity. 
My philosophy on capacity is simple: the greater our sustainable work capacity is, the more we can accomplish in training and thus the higher we can raise our fitness level.   As such, we should seek to increase our work capacity over time until our maximum effective capacity is reached. 
The human body has amazing adaptive abilities if the changes are made gradually and we are consistent in its execution.   Each of these points, gradual changes and consistent execution, are keys to success in increasing our work capacity.   Gradual changes mean that we need to keep the incremental increases small and we need to allow plenty of time for the body to fully adjust to the new work capacity level before another increase is made.  Consistent execution means that we keep our work load at roughly the same (new) level as consistently as possible in training, so that our body can adapt to it.  If we fluctuate our work capacity levels too much in training, our body struggles to adapt to the new level as it is constantly changing.   Thus I think of work capacity as the total sustainable work we can do, not just the highest one week total we have hit.
When I say we keep our capacity level consistent in a training cycle, please don’t mistake that with doing the same thing each week.  The types of workouts we do and our phases of training will change and progress as talked about in previous blogs, but the total amount of work performed (combo or quality and quantity) will remain consistent for the most part on a week to week basis.   But one week’s capacity total may include fast repeats and LT wave run while the next weeks capacity total may include groove repeats and an AT tempo run.  I’ll get more into that when I talk about the tenet of mixture in a later blog.
Useful Maximums
Each runner will find they have a useful maximum in terms of work capacity.  This is the maximum work capacity that they can sustain and that provides good results.  This maximum will be determined by numerous factors, including physical build and make-up, age, lifestyle and other life obligations.  These useful maximums can and will change with time, as the various factors change.  It often takes many years, decades even, for most runners to each their useful maximums.
My Approach
The way I like to approach building capacity, to make a small increase in each training cycle, and keep it consistent at the new level for the whole cycle, in order to allow the body to fully adjust to that new level.   As most of my training cycles are between 12 and 24 weeks in length, this allows several (3-6) months for the body to fully adjust to the new capacity level before another small change is made.  The size of the change will depend on the level and background of the runner, but changes are kept relatively small (example: an extra 5-7 miles per week on similar quality levels) and conservative, with the knowledge that future increases can be made but over-use injuries cannot be undone.
This approach takes great patience, planning and discipline in execution. But I have found that this approach greatly reduces the risk of over-use injury, and helps the runner work towards and eventually find their maximum useful capacity. 
Common Mistakes
The three most common mistakes I see with runners trying to build their work capacity are:  making their increases too big, making increases too frequently and lack of consistency.
Too big:  many runners are impatient.  Their passion for the sport and desire to improve cause them to bite off increases in their work capacity that is too big.  Their bodies struggle to adapt to the size of the increase and they end up coming down with an over-use injury or illness.
Too frequent:  again a sign of impatience.  In a desire to get better quickly, many runners increase their capacity level too frequently, not allowing enough time for their body to fully adapt to one capacity level before they change it again.  After a series of too frequent changes in capacity, their bodies eventually fail to keep up with the adaptations asked of them, and they come down with an over-use injury or illness.
Lack of consistency:  The body requires consistency in order to fully adapt to new work capacity level.  Many runners adopt training routines that do not provide for a consistent level of work to be performed.  The body then never fully adapts to a new level of capacity, or takes longer to adapt to it.  The lack of consistency compromises the adaptation process making it less likely for future increases to be possible or at least as successful.
Synergy of Tenets
Each of the 4 tenets of my training philosophy (consistency, capacity, frequency and mixture) are inter-related and provide a synergy when balanced together.  Consistency (as talked about in the last blog) and capacity are very closely related.  As I just talked about, the building of capacity is most efficiently and effectively accomplished in an environment of consistency.   Consistency enables work capacity to be built, and an increase in work capacity provides additional fruits from our consistency. 
Next Blog Topic:  The tenet of frequency

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sustainability Debate


There is an interesting dynamic and debate going on in the sport of long distance running and I wanted to weigh in with my take on it.  The debate is about 2 different approaches, one is intense training with regular scheduled breaks, and the second is long term sustainable training with little to no breaks.   As usual there are people lined up and passionate on both sides of this debate, convinced they are right and the other side is flawed.
Before I weigh in on my view, let’s start with an over view of each side, its origins and the reasoning supporting each side. 
Intense Season/Cycle with Regular Breaks
This is the classic sports model.  You work hard and intensely in training and racing and follow that with an off season to recover from the intense demands of the season.   Often the need for the break is both mental and physical because of the intensity of the training and/or racing.  We see this especially in the scholastic side of the sport, where there are 3 seasons and each season is followed by several weeks of down time before the athlete begins to gear up for the next season.   The reasoning is simple, if high intensity is maintained for too long then a physical and/or mental breakdown is likely to happen, so the regular breaks give the athlete the rest and down time they need to recover and be ready to undergo another intense season again. 
In longer distance races (outside of a scholastic or seasonal setting), this usually equates to an intense period of training (usually 8-16 weeks) for a specific race followed by down time recovering before preparation for the next goal race commences.    The intensity (mentally and physically) of the training will dictate the length that the cycle can be before a break is needed.
The down sides of such an approach is that a substantial portion of each training cycle (or season) is spent on a break or regaining past fitness, thereby making  the athlete  only ready to race at a high level for a fraction of the year.  Additionally the coach and athlete must carefully gauge the intensity of training and racing so that a break is not mandated before the goal race occurs, making timing and tapering less predictable.
Sustainable Training
This is an approach that differs from the classic sports model, in that training and racing is engaged in a sustainable fashion so that it is able to be continued all year long (and year after year) with little to no sustained breaks.  In order for this to work the integrity of the stress and recover cycle must be strictly maintained so that lingering, long term fatigue does not build-up (mentally or physically) to the point where a break from training is mandatory.   The reasoning behind this approach is 2 fold, 1 it works well for a sport in which there is no definable season (such as road racing) in that the athlete can be ready to race at any point during the year, and it allows for a long-term gradual build-up of training capacity and fitness which is very beneficial in endurance sports. 
In longer distance races (outside of a scholastic or seasonal setting), this usually means yearlong  training with regular (but not too frequent) racing with small breaks only taken after major efforts (such as a goal marathon) and then the breaks are kept only to the length needed to physically fully recover from the race.  (i.e. a completing of the stress and recover cycle – a super hard stress – the race - requires a somewhat extended recovery – short break).
The downside of this approach is that an athlete (and coach) must be careful to make sure the integrity of the stress and recover cycle is maintained and that lingering mental or physical fatigue is not built up.  This is a learned skill and contrary to how many of us were introduced to the sport in a season/scholastic setting.  As such the athlete’s life must be set-up for extended training with regular sustainable routines.
My View
I center my coaching mainly on the longer distances (10k – Marathon) and on road racing primarily.  As such I find the sustainability model the most appealing and to most closely match my training philosophy (the 4 tenets of training).   As such I encourage many of my athletes to engage in this approach if possible for their life style.  
There are several benefits for longer distance athletes I see to this sustainability model:
·       You are able to race at a high level for much of the year – as opposed to the “regular break model” in which the major portion of year you are either in a break or training to regain past fitness, leaving on a fraction of the year where you can race at or near your best.   In a sport like road racing, one without well-defined seasons, being able to race at a high level for most of the year is very advantageous for competitors.
·       Progressions in fitness can continue on an on-going basis.  By being able to stack stress and recover cycle upon stress and recover cycle on an on-going basis, you are never very far removed having worked on any component of fitness and as such you are better able to sequence training for long term gains and progressions.  As such the capacity (volume and/or intensity) you can sustain on your stress days continue to build/increase over time.  But this process of building is interrupted continually in a “regular break” model.  
·       I believe this method of training is best for the long term development of the runner because it fully adheres to the basic principle of all physical training: stress and recover.   By the very nature of the “regular breaks” method you are always at some state of being over trained because the intensity or volume is not sustainable.   This means you are not fully recovering from the stress and as such are not gaining the full benefits from it (cutting the super compensation short).  Eventually this causes the needs for sustained breaks.  But in the sustained method, your training and thus fitness level can continually progress.
·      Tapering/resting for races in a sustainable training program becomes short and simple and predictable. 
One of the arguments I usually hear against the sustainability model is that many coaches/athletes believe it does not allow for peaking.  I do not believe this is necessarily true.  I find that you can still go through a phased training cycle, as I described in my last blog, while training in a sustainable manner.  What changes is not the intensity or sustainability of your workouts but rather the sequencing of what type of workouts you do within a sustainable setting.  By increasing the frequency of certain workout types in my sustainable training model, I am able to increase my fitness and adaptations to and race more effectively (i.e. peak) for a certain race distance.  While I caution against a lopsided program (in terms of workout types) for a prolonged basis, a carefully phased sequencing to produce optimal results in a key race in a sustainable program is very much possible.  Then after the goal race, my recover break only needs to be as long as is physically necessary to recover from the stress of the goal race, as I don’t have the added need of recovering from over-training.
Requirements of Sustainable Training 
In order to make the “sustainable model” work, the athlete and coach needs to set-up a regular routine that ensures all aspects of training and life are addressed on a regular basis.
·         Establishing a repeatable base unit (one stress and recover cycle) that includes ample stress (workout), recovery (including recovery therapies),  and ancillary work.  For many longer distance runners I find the following 3 day base unit to work well for promoting sustainability:
o   Day 1:  Stress Workout(s) + core circuit
o   Day 2:  Recovery/Easy Run(s) + strength/drill circuit (that includes strides)
o   Day 3:  Recovery/Easy Run(s) + core circuit
Often the athlete will schedule a certain recovery therapy (ice bath, whirlpool, massage, chiro, ART, rolling, etc.) on one of these days on a regular basis, often after certain types of stress workouts.
·         Also important to this is a making sure there is a balance in the athletes life so that training is mentally sustainable as well.  If the athlete does not have other interests or activities in their life, they can often become mentally burn-out during sustained training.  The key is finding a sustainable level of other activities that fit in a sustainable program.
·         Guard against deficiencies – in a sustainable program each area needs to be looked at and addressed so that over time no deficiencies manifest themselves.  Areas that need to be looked at include:  vitamin/minerals intake, sleep, ancillary/strength work, workout types, recovery therapies, non-running activities.
As with all training, sometimes small adjustments will need to be made for unforeseen circumstances or to catch or adjust for deficiencies before they become a problem or grow to require a sustained break.    

Friday, November 2, 2012

Marathon Training Cycle

What I would like to share with you today is the base marathon training cycle design that I use for  competitive marathoners.   This base model is where I start from and then I customization the training cycle as needed for each individual runner's strengths, weaknesses and personal situation.
When training for a marathon, I prefer a 9 day micro-cycle that includes 3 stress workouts and has 2 easy/recovery days after each.  Some runners can handle a 7 day micro-cycle (3 stress days with 1-2 easy recovery days between them) just fine, and I do use those with many of my runners, but my base model is a 9 day cycle as I feel it promotes recovery and sustainability, it increases the mileage level we can maintain, and enhances our ability to get in other ancillary training (drill & core circuits, etc.) on a regular basis.   9 days certainly isn’t a mandate but is the base from which I start.

3 Phase Training Cycle
I utilize a 3 phase training cycle when training someone for a marathon.  Those 3 phases are:

Fundamental Phase
The Fundamental Phase is the first phase in our training cycle and lasts between 8 and 12 micro-cycles long.  The calling card of the Fundamental Phase is the balanced approach to improving fitness levels.  In this phase we utilize an even balance of each category of workout (speed, stamina and endurance).  Most training micro-cycles in the Fundamental Phase will have 1 speed workout, 1 stamina workout and 1 endurance workout.  Our focus during this phase is to slowly build up our fitness in each category. 
Speed workouts are intensive in nature during this phase, meaning we work to increase the paces we can do our workouts at.  We utilize all 3 types of speed workouts (fast repeats, VO2 max repeats and groove repeats - see workout blog) on a regular basis. 
Stamina workouts are also intensive during this phase and we use a 2 to 1 ratio of lactate threshold (LT) workouts to aerobic threshold (AT) workouts.  A good variety of each type of LT and AT workout are used during the cycle.  This focus on intensive progression and lactate threshold work, coupled with our regular speed workouts helps us to build our aerobic power during the Fundamental Phase. 
Endurance workouts in this phase are done using a 2 to 1 ratio for easy longs runs versus quality long runs.   This means we get in 2 easy longs for every one steady state or fast finish long run.  Our endurance workouts are extensive in nature during the Fundamental Phase, as we gradually lengthen the distance/duration of our runs shooting for a maximal level (see workout blog) by the end of the phase.
Racing: because of the balanced nature of our training during the Fundamental Phase, we can usually race very effectively at distances ranging from 5k to the Half Marathon in this phase, and I plan 2-3 times (or once every 3-6 micro-cycles) during the Fundamental Phase.
Specific Phase

The specific phase is the second phase in our training cycle and it takes the balanced running fitness established in the fundamental phase and builds it to a peak for the marathon.  The mixture of workouts in the Specific Phase increases the focus to the demands of the marathon distance, and as such leans more heavily towards stamina workouts and more lightly on speed workouts, and the quality component is increased in endurance workouts (i.e. more steady state and fast finished long runs utilized).  The specific phase lasts 6-8 micro-cycles long.

Speed Workouts:  These are reduced in frequency by roughly half.  It is important to still include some speed workouts in our mix of workouts but we utilize this category less frequently as speed takes on a supportive roll in our marathon preparation and is not a specific requirement of the goal race.  Speed workouts emphasis  in this phase is on smoothness and rhythm and maintaining stride power and economy.

Stamina Workouts:  These workouts are increased in frequency (by the amount speed workouts are decreased) as they are a major component of our goal race.  Additionally the ratio of lactate threshold (LT) to aerobic threshold (AT) centered workouts flips from what it was in the Fundamental Phase to become 2 AT workouts per 1 LT workout.   Stamina workouts in this phase become extensive in nature, working to increase the length (distance/duration) we can hold certain paces.

Endurance Workouts:  These workouts continue to be prevalent in our training, with the mixture of long run types moving more toward the quality components  (steady state and fast finish) once our easy paced long runs reach the lesser of 105% of marathon goal duration or 180 minutes.   Quality long runs are at least on a 1 to 1 ratio with easy paced long runs, if not greater. 

Races (other than the goal race) are used sparingly or not at all during a Specific Phase, as the focus is on preparing for and maximizing the performance in the goal marathon.  Races, such as a half marathon, are sometimes included but are not tapered for and used as extended AT tempo workouts.

Regeneration Phase

Following a goal marathon race a regeneration break is taken as the third and last phase in our training cycle. 

This Regeneration Phase serves as a down period in which the runner recharges their physical and mental batteries and recovers from the demands of the training cycle and goal race.  In essence it is a prolonged recovery phase of the stress and recover base unit.  The regeneration phase is made up of rest days, regeneration runs and easy runs only.  This phase primarily includes easy/regeneration running of between 20-60 minutes per day. 

The length of a Regeneration Phase will depend on the length of the training cycle, the demands of the goal race and general fatigue level or the athlete.  In general the Regeneration Phase will last between 10 and 20 days.  If training is done in a sustainable fashion, then this length will be plenty sufficient to achieve our regeneration objective.