As we draw to the end of the season, it’s easy to start thinking about getting the feet up and having a few weeks off. Here’s a little food for thought though as you think about when to start your off season and pre season training. You’d be surprised at how quickly training effects can be reversed.
In the first couple of days, hormone levels will be effected negatively effecting mood states. By days 3-5 muscles start to lose elasticity and aerobic qualities can drop by up to 5%. At just over a week, VO2 max can drop by up to 10%. 10 days without training and your metabolic rate will drop meaning you’ll have to drop the amount you eat or you’ll start to put on weight.
Getting up to 2 weeks you’ll see changes in muscle tone and the amount of work your heart can do can drop up to 15%. At the start of week 3 loss of muscle mass and strength will occur along with a drop in your cell’s ability to create energy. By the end of that third week your VO2 max can drop by up to 20% and by the end of the 4th week you can lose 10-15% of lean muscle mass to be replaced by a nicely padded increased fat mass.
That’s a lot of scary numbers but these only apply if all training is stopped completely. It’s important at the end of the season to mentally recover from the stresses and strains of a competitive season, but this doesn’t mean that all training should stop though. This will reduce the chances of detraining and mean you start at a higher level of performance when you get back into full preseason training.
I recently started working with a triathlete helping him to prepare for the Ironman UK event in Bolton in August. He’s not a full time athlete, so is limited to 5 and sometimes 6 training sessions per week, most of which have to happen during weekday evenings and so generally need to be shorter than 1 hour. He has a history of calf injury and has previously completed a half Ironman event so has a decent training background. He has a target time of 11hrs 30mins.
The traditional training approach taken by those training for Ironman events is very distance focused with miles per week being a common currency. While I will obviously keep an eye on the volumes, training load will more important for me and I’m keen to track the monotony and strain closely to see what value is attached to these numbers.
I have seen a fairly large number of injured and non injured triathletes in my gait analysis work and so I am very much aware of the common issues associated with the sport. As such, this adds to my considerations in the planning and suffice to say, flexibility is playing a big part in the plan.
When I sat down to start designing the training plan, my first thought was that a week is too short, it was going to be tough to cover all the areas I wanted the athlete to cover, and that they wanted to cover, in 5 sessions. So I chose to look at 2 week microcycles instead, all of a sudden, 10 training session looked much more friendly to me in my planning. The athlete is able to complete sessions covering all 3 disciplines like they wanted and I am able to get some of the perceived ‘extras’ in like the strength and flexibility to, hopefully, keep him training injury free in the 8 months to the event.
As the new year approaches and the dates for the many marathons throughout the spring and summer begin to loom large on people’s calendars, the urge/need to start training begins to grow. A quick search online yields everything you need, your marathon training plan. Your gradually increasing training volumed path to success is just a click away. I speak to countless marathoners who adopt this approach and unfortunately many of them are carrying injuries often just weeks away from their race day.
A common trend in these plans is to dictate mileage with a peak long run of around 22-23 miles 3 or 4 weeks prior to the race. In many instances it’s this run that is the straw to leave the proverbial camel with severe lower back pain. As an antithesis to this I experimented…on my brother. He ran the Chester Marathon in October with the aim of running 3hr 30mins, I wrote his plan in return for his lab rat status. The plan prescribed only time with the longest run aimed at 1hr 45mins (it actually came in at 1hr 30 mins). Around 90% of the runs were over the pace to be run during the race itself. The other 10% was at race pace. It also contained some strength and plyometric training.
He finished the race in 3hrs 34mins off the back of a 4 week taper containing runs no longer than 30 mins partly due to a friend organising his wedding in the states in the weeks leading up to the race. Very inconsiderate. The run in wasn’t ideal but it was still a pretty good result considering my brother isn’t what you would typically call prime endurance athlete stock (apologies bro). To be honest, I thought he may have been under cooked for the race but having reviewed it, we both think he could have hit the target with a slightly less aggressive pace during the first half of the race.
So, my conclusions based on my n=1 with no control group experiment. Manipulating the intensity of training seems to be a very under utilised, but very effective, tool for marathon runners. Unfortunately for many people, the bulk of free online training plans don’t seem to use it. So, my advice. Have someone (who knows what they’re looking for) look at you run. Many of the issues that cause injury can be taken care of in the early stages with some basic technical or strength training. Then speak to someone (who knows what they’re talking about) about your training and design a plan that is for you, fits around your life and your goals, and won’t bore you to death with miles and miles of endless single paced running.