February 21st, 2014

How to use cycles of training to run your best

Pregnancy has reminded me that running has cycles and phases.  And in fact, it gives me comfort because I know I’m not necessarily “losing” fitness when I’m not running at my peak miles and intensity.  Each phase has an important role.

Pregnant Running

Do you plan out your running (or training) with cycles?

These are the major cycles that you should be rotating through:

1) Base building

In this phase, you are running consistently but they are mostly easy miles as you maintain fitness and conditioning and get ready to start a training program.  It should last at least four weeks, but can be longer.   This is also a great time to use MAF training (heart rate based training to build aerobic fitness over 3-4 months).

2) Training

Once you have a goal or a race on the calendar, you can plan out your training weeks.  You want about 16-20 weeks for a marathon, and 12-16 for a half marathon.  You can train for a 5k or 10k in about 10-12 weeks.

In the training phase, you are incorporating a variety of runs to improve your performance and prepare your body for the race distance.  Depending on your previous experience and whether you are a beginner or an experienced runner, this may include weekly tempo and/or speed workouts, easy paced runs, and a distance run.

Your training should build every 2-3 weeks (distance and/or intensity) and then you want to incorporate a cut back week to allow your body to recover and adapt to the demands of your training.

3) Peak Training and Taper

In the final weeks before your race, you will peak your mileage and intensity (4-6 weeks out for the marathon, 2-3 weeks out from the 5k) and then begin slowly cutting back in order to have fresh legs and run your best on race day.  Taper 2-3 weeks for a marathon and 1-2 weeks for shorter distances.

4) Recovery

Post race, you should enjoy some down time guilt free! Your body needs approximately one day for every mile raced to rebuild micro muscle tears and to repair itself from the inflammation and work of a hard racing effort.  You can ease back into running during this time, but mostly running shorter distances than in your training and at an easy pace.  When you’re recovered, you begin again at the base building stage and repeat the cycles.

Running cycles(You can also break the training phase down into cycles of strength, tempo and speed- cycles inside of cycles!)

It can be helpful to plan out your running cycles over the course of an entire year.  You can start by choosing 1-3 goal races, and then working backwards from each race to fit in each cycle of running.

Of course, you can also have multiple races mixed into a training plan on your way toward one goal race, and you can choose to do mini tapers or to use them as part of your training.

The benefits of using cycles of training includes:

  • a healthier, stronger body with careful planning
  • injury prevention from adequate build up and recovery time
  • planning your peak fitness to prepare you for best performance on race day
  • less risk of burn out mentally from planned down time
  • confidence in a “plan” so you can run with purpose

We can’t be at our “peak” all of the time.  I’m entering an extended base training phase until after this little one is born, and then I’ll pick things up again.  But even the base training can be useful in improving and maintaining fitness and endurance.

(PS- If the planning phase is overwhelming, I have a few slots left for spring running coaching.  Contact me for details!)

How many goal races do you aim for in a year?

Do you plan out your training to include base building and recovery phases?

A few related articles that might be helpful:

How often do you REST?

8 Tips for New Runners

How do you choose a training plan?


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