To expand upon my last blog on the 5 most important factors to getting faster, number 2 was having a purpose to each run. Well, in order to have a purpose to each run you need to have set training plan. By set, I mean some guidelines to what phase of training you are in, so your workouts can enhance the right systems. I have based my 4 phases of training off some of the best coaches around and my personal experience. See if you are following a proper training program, if not, it may be time to prioritize your training.
The first phase of training, which basically everybody knows about, but many fail to really utilize, is the base training phase. In this phase your primary goal is to build up your weekly mileage to near peak mileage. Most of these runs will consist of easy days and moderate aerobic workouts. The main focus of base training phase is to build up your aerobic base, increase lower extremity muscular strength and endurance, and improve your ability to utilize fat as a fuel source. In this phase you want to avoid running too hard or fast putting yourself in oxygen debt. This can cause increase lactic waste build up and limit your ability to recover and build base mileage. Although this is one of the more "boring" phases, it is by far the most essential!
2. Aerobic Endurance Phase (4 to 6 weeks)
This phase is very often misunderstood by the typical runner. Most athletes I would say understand the importance of base training and building your aerobic base. After that, things can get a little cloudy/convoluted. This phase is basically to progress your base training into something more aerobically demanding. In this phase we start to introduce nueromuscular type workouts, hills, and fartleks to initiate faster leg turnover. In this phase you will also begin true tempo and marathon pace workouts to improve your ability to maintain long sustained efforts. There are many fun ways to enhance your fitness in this phase, with your primary goal in mind of improving your aerobic endurance.
It is in this phase where, depending on the distance and race you are training for, your purpose of each workout can really differ. If your primary goal is to run a fast 5k or 10k, then this is where you may start getting on the track and start some interval/ladder type sessions. Your workouts may include VO2 max efforts to really enhance your ability to uptake and utilize oxygen. If you are training for a half or full marathon, then this is where you may begin some more race specific workouts, such as repeats or tempo runs based off marathon goal pace(MGP). In this phase you may even begin to reduce your long run length if you are training for a shorter race, or get into increased long run distance if you are training for a marathon. Your main purpose of this phase is to focus your workouts toward the distance your are racing and get specific!
This phase is where if you are training for a marathon or half marathon you finally get to decrease your mileage, do a little sharpening, and get your body healthy and ready for a great race. In this phase I typically like to see that your intensity in the workouts stays about the same as the last phase, but the workouts are only about 60-70% of the normal distance. If you are training for more of a 5k or 10k, this is where you want to have your most important races planned out. Most experts would agree that you can only hold your best fitness for about 4 to 6 weeks. I tend to lean on the side of 4 weeks as most high school, college and even professional seasons culminate their championship season in about a month.
So this is a basic outline of what a good training plan should have. There is obviously a lot of difference in how much time you may spend in each phase depending on your goal race and schedule. I believe, an ideal training schedule before a goal race should be anywhere from 16 to 28 weeks. However, the real magic in utilizing a proper training program is to learn your personal strengths and weaknesses, so you can differentiate your workouts to enhance your weaknesses and foster your strengths. Remember, always have a purpose to your run each day!