A suggestion was made to repost this article from last year. I will post part II tomorrow. Thoughts or ideas about peaking?
What are the key components to peaking your athletes for those big races?
The first thing that should be established here is that I do not believe in peaking—at least not in the sense that is commonly discussed by many coaches and athletes.
When people talk about peaking, it usually involves eliminating certain training components and introducing new ones in the hopes of producing some magical result at the end of the season. Common thought with regards to peaking also involves a big emphasis on rest, often taking the shape of very short workouts and runs, and even more days off. Peaking often is depicted as the zenith of a pyramid of training—another idea I do not agree with and will address later.
My thoughts in bullet form regarding these common ideas on peaking:
• Eliminate nothing from your training plan when looking to run your best. This falls in line with my “dance with the girl you brought” philosophy—never get rid of the elements that got you to this point.
• Once a team reaches the championship point of the season, a coach should not be springing new training components, new dietary methods, new rest and recovery techniques, NEW ANYTHING on his/her team. If a coach feels that speed is a need of his team then speed should have been introduced from Jump Street, not in the last 4 weeks of a season when an athlete could be injured or made sore by a new training element.
• There is really no magic in championship racing season results. However, I am not completely sacrilegious here. When I say there is no magic it is like saying there is no Santa Claus. Even though Santa doesn’t exist, the presents still appear on Christmas morning and we celebrate the tradition all the same with every decoration and Christmas Carol. And why? We plan for it, buy into it, and celebrate this tradition because it is fun to believe in something better. So even though there is no real magic during the championship season, we still get excited for it and buy into the thrill of the show and get just that little extra lift because it is wonderful to believe in something bigger and better than ourselves.
• Rest should be priority all season, not just in the stretch run. Reducing training volume is one thing (when done intelligently), but looking for more rest by slashing runs into fragmented jaunts and giving days off when they were not part of the regular program is just cutting the legs out of under your runners. Distance running is an aerobic endeavor—by dropping volume too much, you drop the aerobic stimulus of training and become less fit. Also, by adding days off you threaten the consistency of training you have established over several months—why would you want to put a hitch in your giddy up now?
So what am I saying here? I think my friend Dave Smith, head men’s cross country coach at Oklahoma State University (a top-5 NCAA program and new home to German Fernandez) said it best when I asked him about why his team’s always seem to get it done at the end of the season: “We don’t look to peak at the end of the season as much as we strive to deteriorate less than everyone else.”
Having an emphasis on what you do in the summer and in-season is where your priorities should be, and it is what you accomplish there that will allow you to enjoy a great month of November. You cannot do a whole lot physically in the last 4-6 weeks of a season to enhance a performance, but you can do plenty to inhibit it. By making good choices in training leading up to the end of the season, athletes will be at their best when it counts because the training will have been pointed towards such a progression.
During the tapering period (I prefer this verbiage), the biggest priority is specificity. An emphasis on goal race pace is the primary training component during championship season. This does not mean ditching everything else, but rather putting goal race pace training at the forefront of your training plan. This means specific speed and specific endurance—so focusing on paces that will allow you to maintain the necessary strength and sharpness to perform well over the given race distance. This may mean mixed sessions where you hit on paces a bit slower than goal race pace and a bit faster than race pace in conjunction with a healthy does of goal race pace training itself. An example would be this:
2 x 1000 @ 5k pace +:02 per 400
2 x 1000 @ 5k goal race
2 x 500-300-200 @ 3200-1600-800 pace
You address extensibility, specificity, and speed all in one session—a perfect mixed workout during the championship season.
Another workout I have used in the past that makes for some good goal race pace work and some snappy turnover without gassing the athletes is this:
12-16 x 300 @ 5k/1600 pace w/ 100 jog btwn
(Odd reps @ 5k goal pace, even reps @ 1600 goal pace)
I love this workout because it adds up to roughly 3-4 miles of running (with the recoveries included), and because of the short rest and quick reps, the overall time of the workout lends itself to being very tempo-like in orientation. Also, the speed of the reps at 5k and 1600 goal paces addresses the needs for specificity and specific speed. This is definitely a bang for your buck workout.
If an athlete has a 5k goal pace of 5:20 per mile (1:20 per 400), then you can safely set their 1600 goal pace at about 4:48 (1:12 per 400). This would mean alternating 300s at 1:00 and :54. If the athlete runs their recovery 100s @ even :45 (which is 12:00 mile pace), this would mean the total time for 3 miles of this session would be 18:54—not too bad, really. If they ran the 100s @ :30, then you are looking at a workout of 3 miles being completed in 17:24!!! That is some good work for less than 20 minutes.
Finally, I think it is key to do a “goal session” anywhere from 10-14 days out from your big race of the season. This workout should be approached like race day—a dress rehearsal of sorts. However, this session is not run with crazy, blind intensity—nor is it run for the sake of running a good workout just so you can say you ran a good workout. It is merely a cool approach to practicing what you hope to do on race day without pummeling yourself while hopefully inspiring some confidence.
One example would be what the athletes at Arizona State have done prior to racing well in the 5k during the collegiate outdoor track season.
4 x 400 @ 5k
2 x 800 @ 5k
1-2 x 1600 @ 5k
4 x 400 @ 5k
All of this is done at 5k goal pace with a 400 jog recovery between all repetitions. This session is calm, cool, and controlled, but Coach Louie Quintana tells me that his athletes derive a tremendous boost of confidence from this workout. And we all know that a confident runner is a dangerous runner.
In short, the key components to peaking well are proper planning before the season, being consistent and inclusive of all elements in training from the early going, sticking with what works for you and your team, addressing specific endurance, goal race pace, and specific speed, and finally, performing at least one session where the athletes can derive some confidence and inspiration as they approach the big race.
Some athletes need to maintain mileage while others do well with less. Besides trial and error, how else can a coach match up the right mileage and effort for each athlete?
As I have said before, mileage is entirely relative to the individual, which is why I prefer to stick with percentages as it relates to overall volume of training. Mileage can and should be reduced to a degree in the championship portion of the season, but I do feel that all elements should be maintained in their respective percentages. If an athlete is accustomed to having their long run being 25% of their weekly total and they have reduced their volume from 60 miles a week to 50 miles in a tapering phase, instead of doing the 12 mile long run they will do 10 miles—which is still 25% of their volume. Reduce the total volume but keep the percentages the same.
One thing I do like to do with some kids who are the more jumpy and eager ones is to allow them to run some of these lower volume runs at a more steady effort. Nothing too crazy, but just enough to feel zippy and good. This usually works out to a pace somewhere in the neighborhood of :50-:60 per mile slower than 5k pace. So, if a kid runs 5:30 pace on race day, that means closing out the second half of say a 6-8 mile run at 6:20-6:30 pace. It is not heroic or too taxing, but it can give them a bit of a charge while also massaging the aerobic system’s oxidative enzymes that need to be adequately stimulated once every 72 hours to maintain or improve fitness.
See, during a tapering phase, because many people like to crash volume or cut long runs, the athlete may not be getting the necessary stimulus as it pertains to the aerobic system. Again, the 5k cross country race is a major aerobic event, with over 90% of the energy provided to run the race coming from aerobic processes, so you cannot put this into jeopardy by cutting the long run, the steady state runs, or the aerobic paced interval work. Short, fast stuff with tons of rest is no way to peak a team. Now some may argue that doing the snappy 200s or 400s at the end of the season works for them. I would say, well, what else do they do?
I know my friend Chuck Woolridge at Campolindo HS loves to have his athletes run a hard anaerobic session of sets of 100-200-300 with minimal rest at very fast speeds during the closing stages of the season. Is Chuck doing it wrong? Do the banners he and his teams have hung in the gyms at College Park HS and Campolindo HS lie? Not at all—but also note that Chuck has his athletes still running 1-2 quality distance runs a week of at least 60 minutes all the way up to the week before the section meet. He also uses tempo repetitions of 500m during the final 4 weeks of the season, which also is a stimulation of the aerobic system, thereby offsetting his reduction of volume with an eye to maintaining the quality of training in proper proportions.
Basically, give the kids with some snap the ability to turn it over a little more during shorter runs. Your mileage hogs (you know—the grinders) need the long stuff, so feed the beast.
How long does a typical peak last?
I have heard many people say, “The bigger the base, the higher the peak.” Okay, that is true, unless you blow the top of your mountain of fitness with poor choices down the stretch. The peak of Mt. Vesuvius didn’t look too good after it exploded and leveled Pompeii, and coaches can cause their teams to erupt as well if they try to hold on for too long.
A big base is important, but it doesn’t give you a free pass to easy training for too long. I think a linear taper of 2-4 weeks is best for a 5k cross country race. There is nothing worse than seeing teams roll at league and sections and then have them be embarrassed at the state meet. Chances are they tried to hold on too long to a taper by starting it too soon.
The teams and athletes that I have coached who have performed at their best following a taper have done so usually in the second and third week of the phase. That is just my experience.
For a four week taper, I would suggest dropping overall training volume in the following fashion:
Week 1 = 5% reduction from original mileage total
Week 2 = 15% reduction from original mileage total
Week 3 = 25% reduction from original mileage total
Week 4 = 30% reduction from original mileage total
This means the following for the 40 miles per week runner:
Week 1 = 38 miles
Week 2 = 34 miles
Week 3 = 30 miles
Week 4 = 28 miles (including race day)
This means the following for the 60 miles per week runner:
Week 1 = 57 miles
Week 2 = 51 miles
Week 3 = 45 miles
Week 4 = 42 miles (including race day)
Also, there is something about the term “peak” that I feel needs to be discussed, and I mentioned it earlier in my response to question 1 of this interview. Many coaches have gone to clinics or read training books in which a training cycle is applied the graphic of a pyramid—a big, wide base on the bottom with a high, tiny peak at the top. The layers of the pyramid are often marked with the different components of training that should be used in each phase. This pyramid is a poor design, I feel, for coaches to follow in constructing a training plan for your team. The room at the top of a pyramid is really small—not too much room for anyone or any kind of good performance, really. And it is very limiting as well.
No—I would rather build something like the old World Trade Center’s Twin Towers—buildings that stood tall with top floors just as wide as their bases. In training, as I said before, we want to be inclusive—the Africans do a great job of this, as you kind find all elements of training in any phase of their training year. This means nothing is ever ignored or eliminated. By using effort-based training (fartleks, steady runs, hill reps or runs, strides, etc.), a coach can have his/her athletes address anything from VO2max, lactate threshold, power, or speed without overtraining at any point of the year. This doesn’t mean have a free for all—just vary the emphasis and the volume of each for different parts of the year based on what your particular training goals are.
That means each floor of your training structure is equally inclusive and strong as the one before it, leaving no room for detraining and plenty of space for success.
Build a skyscraper, coaches—not a pyramid. Your overall training year will be better, as will your “peak” because it will be more like a penthouse of success.
What are some common mistakes coaches make when peaking their athletes?
I think I addressed this a bit already, but again bulleted:
• Reducing overall volume by too much
• Eliminating components from the training when they should be inclusive of everything—you need all your weapons when you go to war. The last thing you need to do is to go into a gunfight carrying a straw and some spit wads!
• Ignoring the commitment to stimulating the aerobic system adequately at least once every 72 hours.
• Believing that you peak with speed. Speed can help shape the runner and leave them feeling sharp, but you need to be sharpening something of substance—i.e. the strong, aerobic engine is what drives the car, while speed is just a good set of tires.
• Swapping the training load for too much training intensity. When you cut volume too much you detrain the athlete to the point where they are so rested, they are damn near asleep. Then, by hitting them with a ton of high intensity short, fast stuff—well, you might as well take a baseball bat to their quads and calves if you want to leave them stiff and heavy.
• Bringing in new, MAGIC stuff to the training. If it is so magical, it could have worked just as well earlier in the season, so why didn’t you do it then?
I am sure there are plenty of mistakes that can be made in other ways, as well—whether you are talking about personnel issues (moving kids in and moving others out), mental and emotional issues (putting too much emphasis on mind tricks and passion rather than asking the kids to have faith in your team’s fitness), or other crazy nonsense that almost without fail pops up in the stretch run. As far as these things go, all I can say is you have to know the character and identity of your team and make decisions accordingly.
If you have any comments or questions for Chris, feel free to use the comments area below.
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
A suggestion was made to repost this article from last year. I will post part II tomorrow. Thoughts or ideas about peaking?