During this time of uncertainty, it can be tough to have a plan. Many of us have been training a little aimlessly, myself included. It’s been hard to have a plan when there isn’t a definite end point to that plan.
So, today, I want to give you the 30,000 foot view of training and work it down to a single day.
That way, even despite the uncertainty now, we can ensure that we are still making progress towards our long term goals.
Admittedly, my 2020 was as haphazard as many of you experienced. I ran the Houston Marathon in late January as a last ditch effort to qualify for the Olympic Trials. I was tired and had spent too much time chasing the standard over the last couple years. I was tired. It didn’t go well and so I just needed a long break. Besides, I had all of 2020 to race, right! Needless to say, that wasn’t the case. Like many of you, I started training for a race and in self denial just pushed forward because races said they were just postponing, right? So there was a lot of starting and stopping. Finally, I “committed” to racing two 5k’s. I did find a race around Halloween and then did a 5k time trial with my workout buddy Alex Wilson. However, when I say committed, I mean I ran every day, but there was no concrete plan. Did I make progress towards 2021? Well, I guess it was better than a complete lockdown on my training, but I would say it was more like treading water.
Ultimately, I did get a bit of a kick in the backside though.
My time trial on the track woke me up a little bit.
On the one hand, I didn’t reach a loose goal of breaking 15:00 in the 5k. On the other hand, I came pretty close at 15:20 with about 80% of the training that I really wanted to do (in the plan I had in my head). So, while it could have been a time to just say “oh well, it’s 2020” I became motivated again. If I was that close with the minimum, I can get there with an actual plan! And so, this post is a culmination of that realization. I’ll work through my big picture view and how that relates to cycles of training.
I turn 40 in April of 2021, so that is essentially an opening to a whole new career for the next few years as a competitive masters runner. Personally, I also have some feelings about how long we can be competitive and even improve into our 40’s, so I want to put those thoughts to the test on myself. The Big Picture goal for me is to qualify for the US Olympic Trials again while in my 40’s. It’s a fun goal for me and I am blessed with the time to train hard.
So, the question is, how do we get there?
Unfortunately, what many of us simply answer with “train harder.” Maybe, but sometimes it’s other things and we could talk about those things forever. For today though, I want to talk about mapping the timeline out.
Starting small, we have the microcycle.
Typically, this a 7 day cycle, or your weekly training. However, something we have been doing and has gained popularity, is extending this out to a 10-14 day cycle. I personally find the advantage of this as I feel like we try to cram a lot in over 7 days when it might not be as beneficial as making sure you can recover sufficiently between workouts. Regardless, with a microcycle, you are looking at a 7 to 14 day cycle. The key here is that no single workout in this cycle will provide significant increases in fitness, but a bunch of them done consistently, will promote the specific adaptations we trained for.
This leads us to the mesocycle.
This is a cycle of 4-8 weeks. While the microcycles individually don’t increase fitness, a bunch of them added up will. This is what we’ll often refer to as a training block- a block of specific work to elicit specific results/adaptations. If you follow the HMM, you’ll see these as the base, speed, strength blocks. How long you make these depends on several factors, but in general, if you are lower mileage or on a longer microcycle, then you’ll probably want to make this cycle longer. For example, if you do a tempo run every week, then in 6 weeks you’d get 6 tempos in. If you go on a 10-day cycle, then you’d get about four in. So, extending to 8 weeks would get you to that 6 specific workouts. Now, it’s not that 6 is the magic number, it’s just to show you that you want to get a certain number of workouts in to see the reasonable adaptation.
Stacking a few mesocycles together will get you a macrocycle. This would be the summation of your training plan for a race. If you do a 2-week base, 6 weeks of speed, 6 weeks of tempo, and 2 weeks of taper, then you gave your macrocycle. The only issue is that macrocycles are typical can be defined as a 12-24 week block of time, but can also include time frames of 1-4 years. This depends on the cycle of your training. For example, the Olympic cycle is every 4 years. Your age group goals may be on a 4-5 year cycle. When working with my athletes, I try to get them to think in 2-3 year blocks. Maybe we should make one more category- the megacycle to encompass these?
Ok, so going back to my big picture goal. In reality, this is maybe a two-year goal for me. In two years, I hope that bigger races will be occurring again, the Trials qualifying window will be open, and if we don’t hit it then, I still have time to hit reset and go after it one more time.
So, let’s say by the end of the year 2022 I want to be able to hit a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials. That’s the endpoint of this macrocycle (mega?) and means we need to work back from that. In this case, working back from there, I would start a marathon segment in September. Over the summer, I would do a half marathon segment to really develop my lactate threshold before switching to marathon training. This backs me up to June. From March to June, it’s prime spring 5k racing season and would make sense leading into a half marathon segment. Working back from March, I am in the middle of Michigan winters. Here, making sure I have a good base down and am fully invested in strength and mobility makes absolute sense. Just like that, I am at the beginning of 2022/end of 2021. Since at the time of writing this, I am a year without doing a marathon, I’d like to get two in. Closing out 2021 or Beginning 2022 with a marathon would be a good position. This means something like CIM or Houston in early January. Michigan is pretty solid until the end of December to train in. Then the wheels fall off. So, to do that means I’d be training by the end of October. So, that makes perfect sense to train for a fast half marathon from July through October. It’s been a long time since I have run a fast half and there’s a lot of great options in the fall. If I back up from there, we are mid-2021, or when everyone is saying things will start returning to normal. I still want to break 15 minutes in the 5k and I’d like to do it when I am 40. Since I am close and local 5k’s have a better chance of going off in the spring, I am going to put my eggs in that basket. This gives me June and July to attempt this. However, I will be coming off a marathon, so we’ll see. If it’s a tough recovery, I just focus on being ready to go for the fall. I am going to run Bayshore at the end of May in 2021, so that’s set. Since it’s been a year, I really want to get back in the saddle. I’d start training for that in March.
Phew, that puts me into the present time!
I have December, January, and February to figure out. Looking at what I have laid out and where I just came from, it’s a toss-up. We will be heading into the winter, so a base makes practical sense. However, I have kinda been building base all year! At the end of the day, I have some things I need to work on- strength, mobility, and nutrition, so this might be a good time to make sure those habits are reinstalled. If the opportunity to race arises, then I can assess where I am at and see if it makes sense.
There ya go, from strictly a calendar standpoint, that’s two years to my MEGA goal. In two years, I’ll get a couple of chances to test where I am at with the marathon, but it won’t be the entire focus. Everything else I am doing is going to lead to another. I am always going to be working on other aspects of my running. I won’t completely abandon shorter races. I might not like it, but it will help me preserve my speed and my overall ability.
Everything has a purpose.
The other thing to take away is being practical. Mainly, what fits around me. Marathon training in the summer is pretty brutal, so I am optimizing that time frame. Plus, it’s summer vacation time, so fewer miles with a shorter race segment will allow me to train without having to sacrifice family time. Also, January and February are tough going in Michigan, so I optimize what’s practical to make those months successful. Lastly, while we are still in a time of uncertainty, there’s wiggle room. The next several months are definitely written in pencil, but it’s written down. It’s the plan, but it has to be flexible. If this gets screwed up, it doesn’t mean the end goal is out of the question.
That’s really the big picture view, broken up into cycles. Hopefully, with this time of uncertainty, you can work on the big picture of a 2-3 year window from now. Then as we work back, we can stay focused on that long term plan with some intermediate benchmarks. In turn, it helps you to stay motivated in the short term when plans have to be in pencil. Knowing that what you are doing today will impact that big goal can help immensely with staying motivated. You just might have to remind yourself of that constantly. Whatever you do though, have that plan. Even if it’s in pencil for now. Have those calendar days filled with missions to accomplish and progress to be measured. What I found out the hard way was that a plan in your head means it’s easily changed through internal bargaining and compromise. Here’s to a race filled 2021!