How to Get Faster – A Season Approach

After a few seasons of the goal being just to finish those long races, most athletes decide not only would they like to finish the races comfortably, but hit those goal times.  Is this where you are?  In my opinion, in order to achieve faster times, comfortably, with little injury and pain, comes with a seasonal plan.  This starts in the off-season with planning the race schedule and deciding, either with a coach or an experienced friend, what would be realistic.  Obviously, moving from a 4 hour marathon to a 2:30 marathon in one season would be considered unrealistic for most runners, but is it possible to move to a 3:34?  It could be based on the runner.  It just takes a little longer of an approach.

Let me move to a quick history lesson to help put some of this into context.  Arthur Lydiard was a running coach in New Zealand whose method has won more Olympic medals and Marathon wins than any other coach in history.  Of course, when talking about marathon wins and Olympic medals, coaches are not usually publicized, at least for running events.  As a running and triathlon coach I personally identify with Arthur Lydiard as he himself was never an elite athlete but was an amazing coach.  He just had a superior way of working with athletes and actually experimented all of his own methods on himself first.  His biggest tribute is that he is considered the “Coach of Coaches of Champions.”  Let me give you a few of his credits:  Author of “Run to the Top”, “Run the Lydiard Way”, “Jogging the Lydiard”, “Distance Training for Young Athletes”, “Distance Training for Women Athletes” and “Distance Training for Masters”.  His personal athletes include:

  • Peter Snell – 1960, 1964 Olmpic Medlaist
  • Murray Halzberg – 1960 Olympic Medalist
  • Barry Magee – 1960 Olympic Medalist
  • Lorraine Moller – 1984 Olympic Medalist (First time Woman Marathon event)
  • Rod Dixon – 1976 Olympic Medalist
  • John Walker – 1976 Olympic Medalist
  • Dick Quax – 1976 Olympic Medalist
  • Dick Tayler – 1972 Olympic Athlete

What is Periodization?  Aruthur Lydiard was considered the father of periodization and his method contains the purest form.  Periodization is a method of training which breaks down the season into smaller phases in a timely manner, so the athlete will be at peak performance at race time.  Let’s face it, no matter how hard we try are bodies cannot be at peak performance 100% of the time.  We can try, but most likely it will cause, injury or fatigue, but we can manage it so that our bodies are in the most superior physical condition when we need it most.  Periodization provides for this, unfortunately, modern American coaching has bastardized periodization which may be the reason why we see more and more ITB, hamstring, Achilles and plantar injuries than every before.  From here on is a high level explanation of pure periodization as Arthur would have coached and they way I coach now.

1) Aerobic or Base Phase – This phase starts in the off-season.  It is running up to 100 miles a week at 1 to 2 minutes slower than race pace.  This is strictly to build aerobic endurance.  There are no  intervals, no speed work, no tempo runs in this phase.  Aerobic capacity can be increased and it will remain at that level as long as it is exercised.  This is why an marathoner can take weeks to two months off and their first training session could be a half marathon.  That aerobic base stays in tact and can be built upon.  The first season an athlete can build his/her aerobic base to a 43 VO2 max and then the next season can build to a 60 VO2 max and the following season even higher.  As long as the athlete isn’t off for years, or have a pulmonary injury, the aerobic base will remain constant.  Usually, the Aerobic Phase will be from 10-16 weeks and compromise about 30% of the training cycle.

2) Hill or Strength Phase – This phase executes workouts that strengthen the core, hamstrings, quads, calves and increases flexibility.  There are still no interval or speed workouts yet.  The athlete will include 2-3 workouts of hills doing 30-60 minutes of bounding, striding and running up hills and doing cadence work down the hills.  Long runs are also included to maintain and slightly increase the aerobic base.  This phase lasts anywhere from 4-6 weeks.

3) Anaerobic Phase – Here is where intervals and speedwork are included in the training plan.  Why do we wait this long?  More injuries are caused by speedwork than in any other training, but when there is an adequate aerobic base and strengthening than the injury percentage drops significantly.  While aerobic capacity can be built upon season after season, anaerobic or oxygen debt cannot.  Every person/athlete has a capacity for oxygen debt that can be built to where a maximum is reached and it is impossible to gain any improvement.  The improvement in speed will come from strength and aerobic capacity.  Have you ever consistently done track or speed workouts and find that you cannot seem to get any faster?  Or have you taken a break from interval training and when you returned you found that you were slower and it took a little while to return back to that faster pace?  That is because you can only build your oxygen debt to capacity for so long and it depletes rapidly.  Doesn’t it make sense to have a phase of intervals to build the oxygen debt and speed to its maximum right before race season?  That was Arthur’s belief and mine as well.  Anaerobic phase lasts 4-5 weeks.

4) Coordination phase – This phase incorporates all of the phases and simulation training after analyzing the weaknesses of the athletes.  For instance if the athlete finds that he is losing speed at the end of the race the coach would plan a Progress Calibration Run(PRC) where the athlete would run a long warm-up and aerobic run to that point in the race and then run intervals to simulate how the runner would feel at that time in the race.  The long aerobic run would always continue along with a day of intervals to keep up the anaerobic threshold.  This phase would last for 2-4 weeks.

5) Taper Phase – Finally the race is around the corner and it is time to bring down the frequency, effort and duration of the workouts.  The coach might put in a PRC run here or there and a long aerobic run, but basically this is just prior to the “A” race or race season beginning.  This lasts 1-2 weeks

Once the season has started training would continue based on the athletes needs.  The race season can continue until the Aerobic Capacity is depleted and then the off-season begins and the phases start all over again.

This method has both been proven to have less injuries, less muscle soreness and pain, and faster times and results.  Give it a try one season. I suggest finding a coach that complies to a strict Lydiard approach and have them put a plan together for you. There is a lot more to this method than I can put together in one post as  there are hundreds of books written on the Lydiard Method.   Lydiard Coaches can be found on the Lydiard Foundation Website.

Carpe Viam!

This post was originally written for IR4C.tv by the IronGoof himself. See it on the IR4C.tv website soon.

Brad Minus

is a certified running coach, triathlon coach, personal trainer and sports nutrition coach who's real passion is to help others enjoy the journey on the way to conquering their goals. He has written many articles and guest posts on the technical, nutritional and psychological aspects of endurance training. He currently lives and trains in Tampa, Florida.

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