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October 22, 1999
by Chris Graff
To be a successful runner requires hard work and determination, but hard work can be easily wasted without the right direction. Experienced runners do not do the same workout every day, and on a larger scale, do not do the same workouts during the fall as they do during the spring or summer. They go through different periods of training where they work on specific aspects of their running. The term periodization, refers to the different phases or periods of training that an athlete passes through during the year. For the most part, there are three main phases of training: the base building phase, the pre competition phase, and the competition phase.
The base building phase is the first of the three steps. During this time period, the athlete begins to slowly increase their weekly volume of mileage until they reach their desired volume. The athlete is often coming off of a period of little to no running due to a much deserved rest, injury, or competition period. In the beginning of the phase, the athlete will run at a comfortable pace and simply get used to running again. The goal of the period is to build general strength as well as heart and lung capacity. The steady increase in volume alone will make one tired enough that attempting to run quickly would not be advisable. After several weeks, some faster running begins to be introduced. Tempo runs, fartleks, and long intervals are introduced and as time goes on, the paces become faster while the rest between surges or intervals becomes less and less. In this way the intensity of the weekly program can be closely controlled, as too much work too soon usually only leads to extreme fatigue (unpleasant) or injury (very unpleasant). The base period is by far the longest of the three, since the greatest room for improvement in an athlete lies in their nearly limitless potential to increase heart and lung strength, and for elite runners can last for 30 or more weeks.
The second phase is the pre competition phase. During this second
period, the athlete gets callused to running at the desired race pace. The
concentration of the program changes from volume of the base phase, to intensity.
Interval workouts, and especially ones that simulate races, are critical
during this time. For example, most races begin quickly, then settle into
a cruising pace, and then end with a final sprint or kick. Thus in a workout,
you want to teach your body how to deal with the stresses it will experience
in a race situation. For example my workout group will meet on a Saturday
morning and run the following workout:
This workout prepares us to go out very quickly and then continue to run at a good effort before finishing quickly again.
The third phase is the competition phase. During this time, runs and workouts decrease in length so that all signs of fatigue are erased and maximum physical performance can be achieved. Track work consists mainly of short sprints to increase the athlete's top speed and efficiency while keeping him/her loose and ready to race. All efforts are put in to recovering from one race and preparing for another, since races are run most often during this period, thus it is necessary to cut the volume of mileage to about 60% of base training. This is where most of the fun of racing is had because you are able to run quickly and feel good doing it. Racing strategy and tactics become more important.
How far in advance an athlete wants to prepare for a race or series of races will dictate how long each of the period's lasts for, and the schedule is of course flexible to the needs of the athlete. Each period brings a critical piece to the puzzle that is running, and if assembled properly, the puzzle of your own running can be solved.