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Rick's Corner

End of Season

“Well, that’s it,” I told Win Goodbody shortly after struggling to the finish of this year’s ORRC Blue Lake 15K. “Season’s over.”

“What do you mean?” asked Win, whose persistent, soft-voiced questions always make me think he missed a career as a radio interviewer. Minutes before, Win had won his age group, only two weeks after a solid marathon performance, and his season definitely wasn’t over. “Aren’t you running the cross-country series?”

I explained that indeed I was, but that it might be some time before I next gave a race an all-out effort. “I usually try to peak in early October,” I added. “This race is always a stretch.”

It wasn’t that my performance had been all that bad. Just a bit sluggish. And I had plenty of excuses for being sluggish, if I wanted them. But personal history and a training theory called “periodization” were telling me that it was time to recharge.

Periodization theory-also known as “peaking” theory-says that you should divide your running calendar into long segments, assigning different purposes to each. There are whole books on the subject, although they tend to be turgid tomes, aimed more at coaches than recreational runners. But the basics are fairly intuitive, and anyone who’s ever trained seriously for a marathon has carried out a type of periodization. The whole purpose of marathon training is to deliver you to the starting line not only trained to go the distance, but primed to do your best on that particular day. We take that for granted, but peaking can also pay dividends in shorter races.

Dispensing with the complex theory (and attendant charts and formulas), my own approach to peaking goes something like this:

  1. Pick the races, or at least the race seasons, for which you want to peak. For example, you may wish to be at your most competitive for summer scrambles. Or maybe your goal is Shamrock, or Lake Run, or the fall cross-country season. Marathons are a separate matter, which ought to be viewed as entire seasons in and of themselves. Maybe you can cash in on your marathon training to run a good 10K or half-marathon a month or so before the main event, but the ‘peak’ is the marathon itself. Most runners who practice peaking have at most three targets, each comprised of several closely spaced races. High school and college teams are forced into this by the cross-country and track seasons.
  2. Begin base training. In this stage, you’re just putting in the mileage, maybe with some mild speed work, but nothing serious. Training is putting money in the bank. Racing is withdrawing it; so don’t start spending your savings until you’re ready. If you really want to race, keep it at the level of tempo runs or fun runs. Mild speed work is possible, but don’t turn the intensity up too high, or you’ll burn out (or get injured) before your target races. Consider doing weight training.
  3. Turn up the intensity of the speed work. I start doing this about two months ahead of my planned racing season. Go to twice-a-week speed workouts if you can handle it, but there are some caveats on this which I’ll address in a future post. Cut down on the weight training, or eliminate it if you can’t fit it in. Don’t do speed workouts and weight training on back-to-back days.
  4. Reduce the intensity of your speed work. I do this in the week leading up to my first peaked-for race longer than a 5K. I don’t cut back by much, but I was shocked the first time I tried it and discovered how much faster I got in races, simply by slowing down my mile-repeat time by about 10 seconds.
  5. Don’t try to over-extend your peak. I try to hit two peaks, one in the spring, one in the fall. The spring peak is a minor one, extending for a maximum of a month: two or three solid races, and I’m done. The fall one is longer, running from Hood to Coast through (if I’m lucky) ORRC Blue Lake, in late October. Occasionally, I’ll hit a minor peak for a single summer race. This fall, my peaking formula scored me four performances with which I was well pleased. Blue Lake wasn’t one of them. Conclusion: “Season’s over.” Trying to stretch for even one extra race is a formula for getting hurt.
  6. Recover. Elite runners often take two weeks completely off at the end of the season. College coaches sometimes make that mandatory. Other runners head directly back into step 2, though they may keep the mileage low for a few weeks.

I’m sure there are other peaking formulas that are also effective. This is mine, and it’s served me well for 25 years.

© 2004 by Richard A. Lovett. All rights reserved.

See this at http://running.richardalovett.com. If people want to come to my site, that’s great.

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