Saturday, March 8, 2014

Run Training Phase 3 - This One Might Hurt a Little

Wow, where did the time go. I sit here writing and growing my beard as we are finishing week 2 of the Phase 3 of the run training program. That means we are 14 weeks into the 24 weeks. Luckily my running is so much better than my beard.

So what does Phase 3 mean and why would it hurt a little? Well so far we have established our base, we have built our endurance and we have pushed our aerobic engine a little bit. This means our bodies are primed for learning how to deal with a little bit of speed. This means intervals and repetitions.

Phase 3 adds to our key workouts. So far we have had two key workouts a week, the long run and the threshold run. Our third key workout is intervals pushing us to 3 hard sessions a week. Ouch. Of course due to their more intense nature, interval workouts also mean that our overall weekly mileage does drop at first, then builds back up to the end of this 6 week period.

Intervals or speed work are a great way of working on your anaerobic engine. This is burning fuel without using oxygen and is generally associated with sprinting, but for distance runners can be very useful as well. Not all sessions need to be anaerobic either, by doing intervals at the maximum edge of your aerobic running boundary, you get to prepare your body for the speeds you may wish to achieve during races. And by doing these session as intervals with rests, you get the benefits of the hard run while limiting the stress and potential injury of just trying to do a fast long run. Sure, we will likely push ourselves during a race to hold these paces for a longer duration, but during training our goal is to get to the next training session injury free and well rested. After a race we can afford to take some time to recuperate and rest.

So yeah, speed work is great in that it can help make us actually faster, with a goal of limiting injury, but there is an even greater reason to do it. If you run within your limits you will generally find that you run correctly. It is very hard to run fast for any distance and run incorrectly. What does this mean? It means you will start to recruit the muscles fibers you need for economical running. Doing frequent repetitions of these runs will be like your body forming a proper running habit. Habits / nerve pathways / muscles take 3-6 weeks to become part of you, thus this 6 week phase.

As each week passes the intervals will change, sometimes getting longer, sometimes faster. Generally the longer an interval is (say up to 1 km or 1 mile) the slower you will go (ideally you run an interval at a consistent pace) while the short intervals (1 min or 200 m or so) are about as fast as you can go without sprinting. Always though, there will be a decent level of recovery between each interval that will allow the next interval to be run at a similar or slightly faster pace.

There are some great ways to figure out exactly what pace you should be doing these intervals, otherwise you can go by heart rate and try to stay within your Zone 5 (maybe high Zone 4 for longer runs). If neither of these ways are interesting or you don't have a fancy running watch, then intervals can be a bit of trial and error. As I said, try to run at a pace that is sustainable but hard for the duration of the run.

The specifics of this phase are hard to deal with in a small blog post. Entire books get written about interval training. Having a coach or seasoned runner with good knowledge helping you out is a good way to avoid injuries.

So this Phase is likely to be the hardest. We are still quite far from the goal race and can afford to push the key workouts. Allowing for decent rest is a must, throwing in some cross training won't hurt. I also suggest seeing your physio for an assessment at the beginning of this phase as an little issues are sure to show up here, but you will have plenty of time to deal with them prior to Phase 4.

I am excited as my athlete is showing some great progress already compared to last season. We are adjusting some aspects of her running and I am eagerly awaiting Phase 4 for her.

By the way this is a great phase to throw in some early season races, especially shorter ones like 5 km races. These will generally replace a speed session (threshold or interval) or if long enough (10K or over) a long run.
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