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

Monday, May 9, 2011

Training Periodization, Part 1

It's been said that my training is all-or-nothing and that I leave my best efforts in training only to get injured before racing. There's some truth to that, because I do subscribe to a high risk/ high return model of training. Recently, I heard someone refer to my training as "Crash Training," a term that seems to have arisen about 1990 and which has never been adequately described. I'm going to try to explain some more of my training ideas in this series, involving how to decide how to divide one's training into hard and easy days or weeks and I also hope to explain crash training and how it differs from my own ideas.

Three kinds of lazy

The first are runners who are of the "I'll run all day, as long as I don't have to run hard" variety. This is common among ultrarunners and more common among women then men. It is still possible to finish well in small races, especially in age and gender divisions, this way, so there are many who swear by it. These runners never plan their runs, but just go out at a comfortable pace until they feel they've done enough. They tend to do their races the same way.

The most extreme case of this first type is probably a woman I know who ran 70-100 miles every week at 9 minutes per mile and raced marathons also at 9 minutes per mile. She ran 10 miles the day before the marathon and 10 the day after. Told that those finishing around her ran only half as much, she insisted that she had to work harder than everyone else. When it was suggested that she take a day or two off before the marathon, she wouldn't. When she got convinced to try a 10K race, she let those she raced against in the marathon leave her in their dust and she ran 9 minute miles (and then ran a 10 mile cool-down). When she was told that she could win a 50 mile race just by running 9 minute miles, she refused to try because she felt it would keep her from being able to run 10 miles the next day. She'd be appalled that I think of that as lazy.

The second type is the opposite of the first. These are the "I want to get in great shape, but I only have 10 minutes" athletes. There's an entire industry that's developed around selling these people gadgets that claim will get them instant results. They like to think of themselves as efficient, rather than lazy, wanting to do the absolute minimum, because more is wasteful. Occasionally fad training plans for runners appear that are based on this, the most common at the moment being the Tabata method, which involves running extremely hard for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds rest, done 8 times; while adherents will point to (questionable) scientific literature that purports that this leads to great and fast results, it is quite telling that no world class athlete does it.

Some of each of these two types will see that others are having success following a different plan and they try to combine the long-and-slow and the fast-and-short methods. Immediately, this raises the question of how much of each to do and how to balance them. That is the essence of  the idea of periodization. Unfortunately, this usually leads to the third type of lazy: the mentally lazy athlete. Rather than understand what they're trying to do, they rely on others to do the work for them; they hire coaches, trainers and physical therapists, they take exercise classes to have an instructor tell them what to do (rather than learn what to do) and they do all their workouts with others who decide where to go and how far and how fast to run.

You can't run long and fast every day, but if you plan to race, you have to be able to run both long and fast. The challenge, then, is to figure out how to train both long and fast without doing too much of either. That's what I hope I'll explain how to do.


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

You've effectively leached any meaning from the word "lazy" when you defame the first person you describe in your "Three kinds of lazy" as "lazy". There are problems with your other two examples of "laziness", too, but the first one is the one with the most glaring problem because whatever that woman was or is, it ain't "lazy".

You squander whatever credibility you might have been shooting for with that first example of "laziness".

SteveQ said...

G: I know it's a strange way of thinking, but that's par for the course here. It's like if you told Ian to clean his room and he spent all day raking leaves to avoid it; you wouldn't call him "lazy," but what would you call him (someone else's kid, perhaps?)