Steve Smith’s Blog

Periodized Training for Amateur Runners

It’s racing season and we have a full line up of events on the calendar. Runners tend to get excited during racing season and push for faster times. Putting a chip on your shoe and a number on your chest causes some disturbing personality changes in many runners! Going out too fast and then running through the fatigue that follows can get you into real trouble when your gait and form degrades before you make the final sprint to the finish line. Right when you need to be on top of your game, you turn into a dilapidated mess with feet whipping around and your knees rotating out of control. While all this is going on your distorted mind is streaming live video coverage of you winning an olympic event while crossing the finish line into a throbbing crowd of admiring spectators followed by gold and glory! The injury that you think you have avoided will not show up until a week later during your next easy run. Funny how you can run a half marathon only to be taken out later by a measly 8 miler. The first sign of trouble starts early on at about 4 miles and you think, “This is probably nothing, it will go away” but the pain only worsens with each passing stride. Without getting into the particulars why, I can assure you that this is the usual pattern of onset.

So how do you avoid these bedeviling injuries? Training! Proper training and a lot of it will qualify you to run faster races while having the strength to avoid getting injured. But runners just love to run, and run they do, lots of it. If you are going to run a lot of races consider this. Professional athletes go to training camps where they train by a progression known as periodization. The first phase would consist of testing. This means that you measure your ability to run a mile, three miles or 6 miles. You could also use your past performances to evaluate your ability level. Keep in mind that the half or full marathon you ran a few months ago has no bearing on your current fitness level. Recency of training is the only factor that determines your current fitness level. For this reason I like the use of the mile run to set up training intensities. Next in the order comes base training. If you have only been running 6 to 8 miles on Saturdays, you have not been training consistently and you will need to get in more mileage before your aerobic base conditioning is good enough for the next phase of training. Generally, 6 weeks of base training is enough time to prepare you for the next phase, strength. During the strength phase you will need to develop gait muscles including Gluteals, legs, and core. The strength of these muscle groups can easily be measured by doing my complete runners workout of 10 reps each and using the rating of perceived exertion. The rating of perceived exertion can be found on the Pacers website. I like to use closed chain exercises for this phase but resistance training in the gym is also an important aspect of strength training. Resistance machines are convenient for evaluation purposes, since they have metrics in pounds. After you have developed sufficient base and strength you are now ready to progress on to plyometric exercises. Doing plyometric exercises before you have sufficient strength is an invitation to a disaster in my opinion. Many people can do plyometrics because their overall fitness and strength is adequate. You are probably not one of them!  Just look at it this way and you will stay out of trouble. The last period of training is racing. This means that you have a base, you are strong, you are fast but you need a couple of practice races to get you to the big event you have been training for all these weeks. Heres what a periodized training program might look like:

Period 1, Base training:

6 weeks, build up to 25 to 35 miles per week.

Period 2, Strength training:

6 weeks while maintaining your base. Kinetic conditioning involving tri-planar closed chain exercises for the first 3 weeks followed by resistance training at the gym. At the end of this period incorporate hill repeats and trail runs as a regular part of your training.

Period 3, Speed and agility:

6 weeks using plyometrics and tempo runs for the first 3 weeks, after that add track workouts with progressive 400, 800 and mile repeats.

Period 4, Racing:

This phase gives you the mental preparation to run your main event. You may want to include a short race such as a 10K and a race of the same distance as your main event prior to your competition. This helps you establish pace so that you can manage your energy on race day.

Now you are ready to take down that big race with a PR. After this you have about 8 weeks of top conditioning and you can pour on the coals and race your heart out. The many complexities that can be discussed about each of these periods are best addressed by a professional coach. Fortunately, the Pacers has Armand Crespo, who will get you on the right training program and keep you from getting hurt while you become a better runner. Our Wednesday workouts with Armand are open to all Pacers at a very modest price. I am at the Pacers every weekend and for the next several months I am not training for anything important, so I’m happy to help out with any injury or training questions. I’ll be in the office this Saturday at 9:00 AM and will do a free runners analysis for any Pacer. Just call the office so we can schedule enough time for you.

After a season of competition it is time for a rest. Rest doesn’t mean that you lie around doing nothing. Rest is relative to the intense training and racing you have been doing over the last several months. Back down on the intensity and cut back on mileage. Sit out the next several races and cheer for your friends or pace them for a few miles. Professionals rest up after a season. Ball teams have a couple of easy months without competition, then the cycle begins anew. Runners not so much, what they do instead is just hang together for the next race. What I have observed in recreational distance runners is the tendency to sign up for a lot of races and then just cope with the training enough to get to the next starting line. After several seasons of continuous racing without the benefit of adequate base training or strength conditioning, weakened muscles give way to an injury. What is worse is that the runner never develops to their full potential. That PR that has been eluding you for several years only improves by a few minutes and a plateau is reached with no progress in sight.

It is a new year and goals are being set. Let us set the goal to include new and different training. Include strength before speed and base before strength. Give yourself a definite goal race and then train smart and then go out there and smash that plateau and achieve a new personal record. Don’t have the race in you and never run it, you’ve got what it takes and a lot more! Now let’s turn that potential into a reality!

See you on the Road,

Steve Smith

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