"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Friday, February 26, 2010

Training Philosophy 3: Peaking

With high mileage, one races regularly, year-round. With low mileage, one races frequently when one feels like racing. With peaking strategies, one picks one future race as a goal. Peaking has become ingrained in athletics; in high school one peaks for the state championship, then in college for the national championship, after that one peaks for the world championships and Olympics. If one does well there, one then writes training programs for others to follow to match that success.

While there are dozens (if not hundreds) of training schedules available to help you "Run Your Best Race," they are all based on the very simple idea that the faster you run, the less you can run. They try to take advantage of both the high mileage and low mileage methods by switching from one to the other.

The standard peaking method begins with a base period of long easy runs. Then one incorporates fast continuous runs, often about a third of one's race distance done at race pace, but decreases mileage. Then one adds interval sessions to build speed and decreases mileage again. Finally, one decreases mileage once more as a taper for the race itself. It's not a bad system, but it has some flaws which I'll try to explain through my own struggles.

One starts with a lot of endurance running, which can lead to overuse injuries. One later runs a lot of speedwork, which can also lead to overuse injuries. One makes sudden transitions from one type of training to another, which can also lead to injuries. I've been injured all three ways.

If one sends too much time in each phase, one loses the benefits of the early ones. I ran 80 miles per week, then got to running 40 miles per week of speedwork, only to find I no longer had the endurance of 80 mpw, but of 40.

The standard peaking procedure works well if training for distances up to 10K, but not as well for marathons, as one goes from longer endurance runs to shorter speed runs. If I tried to keep my stamina by regular long runs through the speed phase, I found I was in shape to run 1)long and slow and 2) short and fast, but not long and fast.

An alternative peaking strategy for the marathon is to start with long endurance runs, then add some short sprints. One then increases the length of the interval sessions, while cutting down the speed. One ends up running as far as possible at race pace in continuous runs. I tried this, training for a 2:50 marathon, with three 1/2-marathons 7,5&3 weeks before the marathon, which I planned to run at marathon pace. I ran the races in 1:22-1:25 and felt secure in my ability. I ran the first half of the marathon a little fast and hit the half-way mark in 1:20; I was dead on my feet only a few miles later. In retrospect, I had trained myself to run a half-marathon in about 1:20 and to be able to do it at any time, but hadn't trained well for the marathon. I might have been able to run the marathon in 3:00, had I run the first half in 1:30, but ended up finishing walking in at (I think) 3:16.

I ended up having years of mediocre marathons and believing I just wasn't cut out to do them.

Next up: my own method


Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...
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Psyche said...

It's interesting hearing about your previous experiences. Can't wait to hear about "your own" method.

I'm in the same situation- trying to figure out what mix of training I need to reach my potential in the marathon. It's a hard distance for so many reasons.

My newest venture finds me training somewhat according to the Brad Hudson philosophy- no real periodization, staying fit year round, moving closer to the race distance by increasing how long you run race goal pace in training.

We'll see come April..Experiment of one!

Thanks again for the great series of posts...