By Kristina Pattison, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Picture: Kristina Pattison in La Palma, Canary Islands off the east coast of Africa, prior to the infamous Transvulcania 75km, May.
After Planning a Race Season for the year, you may be working toward developing a training program that will put you within shooting distance of a PR or podium, or will help you complete a new distance or epic destination race. Whatever your goals, building volume and intensity appropriately over the season is imperative to avoid injury and early burnout. Setting up seasonal phases or blocks of training during your year-long program can help you focus on specific goals. Five common phases of a yearly training program include the base build, the pre-competition period, the early-competition period, the race season, and finally the recovery period.
During the first months of the year, you can take advantage of the winter season to begin base volume. Focusing on running at an easy aerobic pace will help the body physiologically adapt to the energy utilization and cardiorespiratory needs of an endurance athlete, while building tensile strength and durability of musculoskeletal structures. Volume can be measured in various ways--miles, time, gain--so it is important to consider whether you will be incorporating more than just running into this time period. If you train with a variety of methods--skiing, swimming, indoor bike or elliptical--to maintain your aerobic fitness in the winter months, it may be worthwhile to track your volume in terms of time during this phase. Generally, the rule of thumb is to increase the general volume no more than 10% per week to avoid risk for developing overuse injuries during this time. *Quick reference: for every 1 hour of volume, 10% is 6 additional minutes.
As the race season draws near, you may consider changing the composition of your volume of training rather than continuing to increase your volume. For example, if you are sustaining a comfortable amount of training at mostly easy pace, it may be worthwhile to schedule several runs with specific goals. Early in the season, these may include activities such as developing neuromuscular coordination for increased cadence with 4-6 strides at the end of a workout. Or a day where you play with gradual increases in speed over various distances--fartlek runs and progression runs may be good ways to increase speed judiciously. *Quick tip: fartlek, swedish for “speed play” is just that--play. Going by feel is a good way to introduce speed while listening to how the body responds. A great coach of mine once told me during this phase: “Don’t force it. Focus on your love of the sport and the rest will come naturally.”
As spring starts to melt into summer, early season competitions are a great way to start to test the legs. These runs can take the place of a workout or a long run, and are common in the pre-race build up. During this time, your routine workouts and long run may become slightly more intense. Often, as your body adapts to these workouts you will develop speed naturally and be able to progress these improvements with further anaerobic efforts that help with race day performance. Intervals, repeats, hill repetitions--you name it, this is the time to push a little harder per tolerance. One general recommendation is using the 80/20 rule for intensity, where about 20% of training is of higher intensity and the rest is back in the easy, aerobic range. *Quick tip: easy means easy! If you can carry on a conversation or inhale through your nose, you may be in the right zone. Going too hard on easy days is a common mistake during this phase and detracts from your intentionally harder efforts.
“Don’t force it. Focus on your love of the sport and the rest will come naturally.” --Mike Wolfe, Mountain Project
In the months surrounding your main event(s), your intensity will generally be at its peak. During this time frame, volume wanes as race-specific training at a higher intensity is a greater focus. Shorter, more intense bursts of speed during longer race-specific efforts, fast finish long-runs, and tempo runs to practice race-pace are common. At this phase, you may gear your training toward race-specific conditions--what you will eat and wear, how you warm up, and what you have at aid stations are all considerations at this point. For longer efforts, such as ultramarathon, or destination races with particular environmental and travel demands, logistical considerations become increasingly important. Quick tip: *travel to races is a demand in itself, so planning carefully is important. Ensure you have considered your need for recovery from travel days, honoring your taper, and having your race kit close at hand just in case.
At last, once you’ve made it past the finish line, and you are still basking in the afterglow of all your hard work put to the test, it is time to relax! Most athletes will plan a recovery timeframe lasting at least a couple weeks to detach from the training schedule, allow the body to reset, and let the new goals stir. You may consider not tracking workouts and just doing whatever feels good, or not running at all. This period is imperative just as much for the mental break as the physical break. Consider restorative workouts--Pilates, CoreAlign, yoga--and use the time to scan the body for any hitch in your giddy-up. This is a good time to check in with your physical therapist with any specific concerns before next season!
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