I love running, but sometimes, I love not running even more. It’s hard to believe it’s been just about a month since the Boston “Speed Can Kill” Marathon, and about 2 weeks since I trudged through the Big Sur Marathon to complete the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge. In effect, besides those two days of running 26.2 miles, I’ve run exactly 6 times, only 15-30 minutes each, in the last month. Yay!
I am a strong believer in periodization of training cycles. Part of this has to do with competing through high school and college. The seasons were clearly defined: Cross Country, Indoor Track, and Outdoor Track. We always took about two weeks of rest in between, give or take depending on practices. Breaks were natural, built-in, and welcome after a hard season or race.
It’s a little more difficult in the ‘real’ world of running, where there are fun races just about every weekend to sign up for, and no coach setting your competition schedule or telling you when to work out and when to rest. Unfortunately, I think too many runners get caught up in racing and training year-round without a break in between cycles and no real concept of periodization, and ultimately end up burnt out or injured. I get it, there are so many awesome races and marathons to sign up for…it’s easy to want to do them all and do them all right now.
But that’s also the awesome thing about the ‘real’ world. YOU control your training! YOU control your rest! YOU control your goal races. I know everyone is different, so I’m not saying you’re doing it wrong if you don’t split your training into cycles. Everyone’s bodies handle training differently, and everyone has different motivations for running and racing.
However, I really don’t think most people benefit from racing week after week, almost entirely year round, never allowing themselves to peak for a smaller handful of goal races. Instead, it’s just a steady stream of mediocre races at less-than-your-full-potential. I don’t think it’s physiologically or psychologically possible to be in your prime racing shape year-round. Of course, the type of races you do will influence this: training cycles differ in duration if you’re running 5Ks versus running marathons. I do firmly believe that periodization allows me to perform at a high level, while keeping enjoyable and injury-free. I love to race, but I love to race fast more. That means being patient and having 1 or 2 kickass races a year, over dozens of mediocre races.
I’m not a coach, so I’m not going to tell you how to structure your training. Again, it depends on the timing and length of what you’re racing. Google “training periodization” for a better guide than I’d give you. But from my personal experience over the past 3 years of post-collegiate racing, I select a goal race and build my schedule leading up to that. For a marathon, I start to focus on building my base about 4+ months out from the race. As the weeks pass, I steadily increase my mileage. I might schedule in a few races during training, but I use these races as workouts or fitness indicators, not goal races. About ~3 weeks from the marathon, I begin to taper. After the goal race, I take as much time off as I feel I need to recover: physically and mentally. Entirely ‘off’ is key: no physical exercise of any type (besides walking, that’s kinda inevitable..) Sometimes I need a little less than two weeks, sometimes it’s a month.
If you’re not longing for a break after a really hard few months of training or an awesome PR in a race, you’re probably not training and racing hard enough. If you’re back rocking workouts and long runs a week or two after a goal race, I don’t understand you. I’ll be chilling on the couch, not lacing up my running shoes until I’m fully longing to run.
I wouldn’t still be head over heels in love with running after 11 years of competing, chasing PR after PR, if I didn’t rest. It’s one of the most important pieces of the puzzle, and an often neglected one. If I trained hard, all year round, I’d never be able to peak accordingly to run a 3:03 (and soon, sub-3:00) marathon.
Another great part about not running? You get to focus on other areas of your life that got a little less love during your hard training. Like friends, family, and work! Lucky for me, my busy work season just started to kick in after Big Sur. Between personal and work trips, I am traveling every. single. weekend. in May and June. Bring it on, and see ya never, friends!
Yeah, it’s been busy, and I’ve come to appreciate my bed at home more than ever, but I wouldn’t have it any other way right now. I’m in a very exciting place in my career, and though traveling to events primarily on the weekends isn’t the most awesome way to maintain a normal social life, I absolutely love my job. I’m working more than ever, traveling more than ever, and sometimes I can barely keep my head on straight, but it’s so rewarding to feel so challenged and get the opportunity to do some very cool things.
I’m traveling to San Francisco the next two weekend, but for FUN! This weekend is my sister’s college graduation (wahhhh how do they grow up so quickly?!), so I’m looking forward to a weekend of celebrating with the family. Then I’ll return to CA for Memorial Day Weekend with three friends for a little Napa Valley getaway. At least there’s a bit of fun squeezed into my schedule. And maybe some running, too….maybe.
What’s your viewpoint on periodization in your training? Do you like taking breaks after races, or are you more of a year-round racer? Favorite place you’ve been lately?