Monday, October 31, 2016

Chapter 5: Base Units, Micro & Macro-Cycles

Note: To me coaching is all about stewardship, using the knowledge and experience I have gained over 40 years as a runner, and 10 years as a coach, to help others pursue their running goals.  So rather than publishing a book you have to pay for, I am publishing it here on my blog, free for all (runners and coaches alike) to read and enjoy, maybe learn something from it, or potentially have it prompt you to look at something from a slightly different viewpoint.  If any of those happen, mission accomplished. 

Now that we have covered the basics tenets of training and discussed what stress days and recovery days look like.  It is time to put that information to use and talk about how we use it to design our training cycles.  We’ll spend the next several chapters doing just that.

As our first step in that journey in this chapter we will talk about the basic building blocks of our training cycle design: base units, mico-cycles and macro-cycles so we have some common terminology and tools to work from.

Base Unit

The base unit in our training is 1 stress and recover cycle as discussed in Chapter 2.  Generally in training this is between 2 and 4 days in length made up of a stress workout day followed by 1-3 easy recovery days.  We stress the body on the first day and then allow it to recover on the subsequent days.  How many days of recovery we need depends on many factors including how long and hard the stress was, our age, fitness and all the factors discussed in the last chapter.  The fitter you are, the more running you can do on your recovery day portion of this base unit structure.

We try not to go beyond 4 days typically for a base unit because of the need to stress so many various systems on a regular basis (or some may backslide) when building our fitness. So we attack stress workouts in such a ways as they gain the adaptations we are seeking while allowing us to recover within a 1-3 easy days afterwards. If we regularly do herculean workouts and needed 5-7 days to recover we would see backsliding in fitness in the areas not worked in those herculean workouts. Instead, steady and effective win the race of building fitness.

The 3 most common base units look like this:

2 Day Base Unit:  Day 1 - stress; Day 2 - recover
3 Day Base Unit:  Day 1 - stress; Day 2 - recover; Day 3 - recover
4 Day Base Unit:  Day 1 - stress; Day 2 - recover; Day 3 - recover; Day 4 - recover


A micro-cycle is the next larger unit in our training cycle and are a repeatable pattern of between 2 and 5 base units long.  There are a few different ways to sequence these micro-cycles depending on your time constraints and recovery needs.  The 4 micro-cycle versions I have had the most success with are as follows:

7 Day Micro-Cycle
Many runners find it most convenient for them to follow a repeatable 7 day base unit.  This can be done with either 3 stress days (for athletes who recover quickly from workouts) or with 2 stress days for those who need a little more time between workouts.  Either can be very effective.  Some runners who need to work on a 7 days micro-cycle find that they can handle more than the 2 stress days per week but that the 3 stress days is not quite sustainable.  For these runners I use a two and half (2.5) stress workout micro-cycle, where we do 2 normal stress days and one lighter stress day where the amount of work is reduced.  For example, we may do a 90 minute run with 45 minutes of it easy and 45 minutes at a brisk pace, so the workout is less stressful than normal 60-90 minute brisk pace workout.  In this type of weekly set-up 2 easy/recovery days are taken after the most stressful workout of the week and a 1 easy/recovery day after the other stress day and the half stress day.     

9 Day Micro-Cycle
Many professional runners, especially marathoners, or those runners with flexible time/job schedules, find that the 9 day micro-cycle structure is ideal with its 3 x 3 day base unit structure. It allows for 2 recovery days after each stress workout which allows the runner to handle a little more mileage on those recovery days than would be possible with just 1 recovery day.
14 Day Micro-Cycle
Many marathoners who also have a regular job/career or who are in school, find that they have a hard time doing an endurance stress workout (i.e. long run) during the work week or school week (Mon-Fri) so their micro-cycle design must allow for their long runs to be done on the weekend.  A 14 day micro-cycle works very well for this. Started on a Monday, this structure gives you 5 stress workouts on Mon., Thu., Sun., Wed. and Saturday in a 2 week period.  The Sunday and following Saturday workouts can be reserved for long runs and the other 3 workouts can be some mix of speed or stamina workouts as needed for the phase the runners is in.  This schedule does leave 1 base unit with only 1 recovery day in it (Saturday long run, Sunday easy run and Monday stress day).  The way I recommend they handle this by doing half of your normal easy day run distance or duration on that Sunday to allow for ample recovery before the Monday stress workout.  

In a micro-cycle, we move through a series of stress workout categories meant to work on a specific set of fitness needs (see Chapter 3 for more on each stress workout).

How we structure which stress workouts we do on our stress workouts day in a micro-cycle depends on what training phase we are in and will be discussed in Chapters 6-10.


A macro-cycle would be our next largest building block in our training programs and is made up between 2 and 5 micro-cycles.  The purpose of a macro-cycle is to focus more heavily on a certain adaptation or sub-set of fitness within our greater training phases (discussed in Chapter 6).  An example maybe using a macro-cycle to place a slightly greater focus on developing your base speed (Fast Repeats) before moving on to a macro-cycle focused more on VO2 Max development; or focusing on building gains in lactate threshold in 1 macro-cycle before levering that into aerobic threshold gains in the next macro-cycle.  We would still seek to have a general balance to our training but with a slightly greater emphasis on a sub-set of fitness in each macro-cycle.  This allows us to sequence training and link improvements in fitness between related areas.  We can leverage gains made in one area during 1 macro-cycle to gains in another area in the next macro-cycle.  We will go into more specifics on how this is done when we discuss each training phase in great detail in later chapters.

Putting It All Together

Now that we have the workouts and building blocks to work with, over the next several chapters we'll get into how we put it all together to build a successful training program.

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