Posted by: Joe Nuss on Feb 05, 2009
By Jay Crooker, PhD
It's still not too late to sign up for that big race in 2009 or set a goal to set a new PR at your favorite distance. Here are some general guidelines for creating a successful workout plan that will see you through an exciting year of training and racing.
#1: Set Specific Goals
Rather than saying, "I want to run faster", write down specific goals that will motivate your training. Creating smaller, intermediate goals is a good way to create milestones that you can check off along the way. For example, if your Big Goal is to finish your first marathon, set smaller goals along the way, such as "Run a 20 miler at least five weeks before the marathon" or "Run 5 days per week for 6 weeks in a row".
#2: Create a Season Plan: Count Backwards and Periodize your Training
Once you have decided on your Big Goal, grab a calendar and count the weeks before the date of the goal. Giving yourself at least 10-12 weeks before that goal, you can then break that up into three different "periods" of training.
Period 1 - Preparation (4-8 weeks):
This is the most overlooked period of run training, as most athletes want to just jump right in to the hard core, structured workouts. Rather than doing specific types of run workouts each week (long run, tempo, hills, etc), instead look at this as a "just run" period. Aim to get out 4-6 days per week, for between 20 and 45 minutes each run. By keeping it loosely structured, you can listen closely to your body and not overdo it too early in your training. Most athletes, after several weeks of "just running", are surprised with how well their bodies adapt to mileage that has resulted in injury in the past. I've seen athletes I coach run personal best times in races after this type of training, well before we launch into race-specific training.
Period 2 - Build (4-8 weeks):
After preparing your body for the rigors of harder run training, it is time to increase the mileage and/or intensity. This is when you can start increasing your long runs, and incorporating speed work into one (or two) of your weekly runs. The trick here is not increasing BOTH mileage and intensity at the same time : it is wise to let your body adapt to a higher mileage first, then the following week include a harder run or two while running the same weekly mileage.
Period 3 - Race Preparation (2-4 weeks)
You can sharpen your running fitness with a couple or more weeks of lower mileage, race-specific intensity running. This period would be on the longer side for half-marathon and up. Careful with defining "race-specific" : if your goal marathon pace is 8 minutes per mile, lots of running at 6 minute pace will not help much on race day. Limit your race-specific intervals to up to one-half the distance of your Goal event.
#3: Rest for Optimum Performance
The hardest part of training for most athletes is the REST required to maximize performance. Keep in mind that the human body gets stronger when at rest. This is easy to forget when in the Race Preparation period, which is when most athletes are itching to go out and test their race fitness every day. Be patient, stick to your goal paces and mileage, and you'll be rewarded with a great performance on race day!
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