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Traditional training plans are outdated and don't suit the current athlete population (Part 1)

I've blogged about this a thousand times, but nevertheless I'm banging on about it again. It's winter time, everyone is using terms such as 'base training' to establish a foundation for the racing season in 2018. Periodisation of training refers to breaking your year into blocks and trying to achieve specific goals within each block / period. For example, in winter you may work on your 'base' by doing long slow miles. In spring you may switch to a 'build' period which increases in intensity & speed and then in summer, your 'peak' block will be the fastest to prepare you for racing.

My experience of this traditional approach is that it fails on so many accounts. The origins of this method date back to the 50's and it was applied to runners who were very quick with no endurance. For example, 800 / 1500m elite runners would adopt this strategy and it would provide them with great aerobic endurance. For most current people who run & cycle, the strategy fails for one simple reason, it requires you to be quick before you even start.

When I was a lad....

I ran with a running club when I was younger and it taught me a lot. In fact, when I was younger, ALL runners ran with a running club. Things have changed now, the majority of people who run are not part of a running club. They run for fitness, for social reasons, they take part in a multitude of events, but they generally bypass the UKA club system and do their own thing. I don't really care whether they join a club or not, there's more people running and cycling now than ever before and whatever drives them, it can only be better for the nation as a whole.

However, what the UKA club system provides runners with, is a framework for progression and most elite runners will have passed through that system. It starts with youngsters taking part in shorter events of 600/800m and progressing to 1500m. Some of them may progress to 3000m and then to 5k if they appear to be better suited to 'distance running'. As they get older, they progress to 10k and generally, when their running careers at 5/10k are over, they progress to marathon. I can think back to many world class runners, who were world and Olympic 5/10k champions and once they felt that their speed was starting to dwindle, did they make the switch to marathon. Let's take Mo Farah as the current example, who has now retired from track and moved to marathon. That has always been the pathway and it has one key element which helps to make elite runners what they are... it starts with learning to run / race quickly and progresses to longer distances as the athlete ages or gets slower.

Let's consider the current running population, who have come to running later in life and now take part in events ranging from 5k right through to ultra. It's perfectly normal and acceptable now for runners to take up the sport and within a year, complete their first marathon. It's just as popular for the same runner to very quickly progress to ultra, as they're always looking for the next step, something bigger, something longer. The same rules apply to triathlon, it's common that someone's first triathlon event could be an Ironman.

When these people train for marathon / ultra / Ironman, they will copy the schedules of the elite athletes, which can commonly prescribe 'base work' in the winter. Here's the thing, the recent population of runners and triathletes never went through the 'system' and never actually learned how to run or cycle quickly. This means we have a population of runners and triathletes who run and cycle slowly, training for their events by doing long distances slowly, in the hope they'll get quicker. Now, please don't think I'm insulting people by saying 'they all run slowly' because i'm not. Most people are trying to figure out how to get quicker and would love to run personal bests in 2018, so you're in luck, I'm here to explain it.

We've coached hundreds of athletes and I can tell you with absolute certainty, that for 95% of people, long and slow endurance is not where your focus should be. Don't get me wrong, if you're doing to do an Ironman or an ultra running race, at some point, you're going to have to ride and run long distances, but if you think that's going to be your 'limiting factor' you're probably wrong. If you want to make a serious change for 2018, you should spend your winter aiming to reduce your 5/10k time as much as possible and a similar approach for cycling. The traditional pyramid only works for a specific kind of person and for the current athlete population, it's outdated and needs a rethink. Next week, we'll post an example of a periodised year for the average athlete and how you should plan your training for 2018.

If you found this useful, don't be selfish... share... it is Christmas after all. If you'd like some more structured guidance, we offer coaching packages for ULTRA RUNNING and TRIATHLON which cost only £40 per month, including regular sports science testing. Email for more information. If you have any questions on the article, post them on The Endurance Store FB page below the article and we'll answer them.


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