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It’s that time of the year when we stand back, look at the big calendar and start filling in our race dates. Luckily, here on RaceRaves it’s easy to fill that calendar with your perfect races. But before you start committing to all those amazing events, have you planned your training cycles?

If you are starting 2019 with a list of resolutions that includes running and racing more, this is a good time to map out periods of training, race, rest, repeat. Training cycles are NOT just for elite athletes. The flow and phases of these training cycles are as follows.

Training Cycles: An Overview

Macrocycle
The entire training period for each race. The duration will depend on race distance and fitness level and includes a recovery period if coming off a race, followed by 8-26 weeks of training and ultimately the race. This cycle includes the:

Mesocycle
Phases of specific workouts that include base-building and strength/speed/endurance training, with each phase having different physiological and psychological goals. This cycle includes the:

Microcycle
The training week

Also referred to as Periodization, this training cycle concept was introduced by legendary running coach Arthur Lydiard and subsequently refined by coach and author Jack Daniels. Clearly not new ideas, the wisdom of running legends has stood the test of time and results.

Training cycles are like an atlas that includes smaller maps or phases. The phases allow your body to adapt to ever-increasing workloads before moving to the next type of stress: from base-building to endurance to speed and hill training to peak performance and rest.  

By using the concept of “progressive overload”, the runner endures stress, recovery, stress, recovery with the work becoming increasingly harder until the taper (or peak) phase. At the end of your heavy workload pyramid, the taper offers an “active rest” period, before you get out there and show the results of those tough weeks by running the race you mapped out for yourself.

Training Cycles: Details

The entire training period leading to and including the race event and rest period is the macrocycle, and a runner usually has 2-3 macrocycles per season (based on 2-3 races). These preferably last 12-16 weeks for marathons, ultras and triathlons and 8-12 weeks for half marathons, although they can be longer or shorter depending on current fitness level or race history.

The mesocycle is made up of progressive training phases for specific purposes (endurance, speed, etc.), and the goal of each phase is to Introduce, Improve and Perfect, or IIP. Each mesocycle typically lasts 2-3 weeks with 4-5 phases per macrocycle or per race.

The easiest way to develop your training mesocycles is to see them as a pyramid that peaks with the goal race. The phases outlined below are overviews, and your specific workouts will vary depending on your current fitness, experience, the training plans you follow and your health. However, these cycles can guide your “train, race, rest, repeat” roadmap throughout your racing season. 

In February, we will look at each phase/mesocycle along with specific workouts and goals to add to that phase. For now, here are some basic definitions:

Base-building or conditioning

  • Coming off a rest period after a race or starting/returning to running is when the base-building phase is critical.
  • The good news for new or returning runners is less stress is required for significant improvement.
  • A Mindful Running note: consider and appreciate the benefits you are gaining from starting slowly, rebuilding and being wise with effort levels.

Strength

  • After you have completed your base-building phase, your strength workouts begin. Note that some of the base runs will flow into this next mesocycle, such as your long and easy/recovery runs.
  • There will be 2-3 week-long sections, each focusing on a different purpose such as speed, endurance and hills to adapt to various stressors.
  • Remember the goal of all training is to stress your body and then allow recovery and IIP, so each microcycle includes hard and easy running, again each with a specific purpose. Even within the workout itself there is a warm up, effort and a cool down.

Race-specific

  • After your prescribed weeks of strength training you move into your harder-effort workouts, usually including long and short intervals. Intervals are high-intensity run efforts of 400 to 1600 meters with rest periods between each repeated run.
  • As in the strength phase, earlier workouts will flow into this phase, and as you progress, hard effort days per microcycle may increase, depending on fitness level, health and race distance.
  • These power-building workouts prepare you for race effort and allow you to enter your taper period at peak fitness with an attitude that comes from knowing you are physically and mentally prepared for the event.

Finally, the microcycle is the training week (or series of days if you prefer not to follow the 7-day calendar).

  • Schedule at least one rest day per microcycle (can include cross-training or any non-running effort)
  • Cross-training, a night out dancing, moving furniture are all part of your “effort”; try to have at least one No Effort Day!
  • It’s okay to rearrange workouts in a microcycle, but avoid running back-to-back hard-effort workouts which could lead to overuse injury or overtraining syndrome.

For more details on training cycles or season training, I recommend Daniel’s Running Formula, by Jack Daniels, PhD (rev. 2014).  It is a font of running information including workouts for every race distance. Or feel free to contact me at [email protected]


Want to receive Coach Bette’s monthly column in your Inbox? Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter or sign up as a RaceRaves member (it’s free)! And read her previous columns from Sept, Oct, Nov and Dec.

About our columnist:

Betty Hagerty columnist photoBette Hagerty decided to run a 5K in 1992 after a few months of running around her neighborhood, using her car’s odometer to measure distances. When she found herself among a few hundred people talking about running, she knew she had found her community. Since then she has run several hundred races, from 5K to marathon distance and helped form two running groups.

Bette is an RRCA Certified Running Coach and posts weekly Tuesday workouts on instagram as @BetteRunning. Her passions for running and writing have finally run into each other, and she looks forward to sharing her experiences and knowledge. She welcomes your glowing compliments at [email protected].

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