Pete’s Periodization for Non Periodizers

It has been more than a half century since the world of endurance athletics was introduced to modern periodization. The concept of utilizing different energy systems at different portions of training cycles was a relatively new one in the ‘40s and ‘50s. However, now periodization – in varying forms – is used by the vast majority of top level endurance athletes the world over. 

Despite our ever increasing knowledge as a running populous, and the overwhelming evidence that periodization is an effective long term tool in achieving performance goals, there still remain many in our sport who prefer similar workouts throughout the year.

More than half of the adults who attend our summer ZAP camps stick with the same (or similar) weekly workout schedules year round, whether preparing for a key race or simple transition from one training cycle to the next. It is to this group – lovers of repetition and sameness – to whom I am speaking, for you can indeed have your periodization cake and eat your “lack of change” policy too.

We will look at 3 easily applied workouts which you can execute throughout the year and how these sessions should be tweaked as your fitness improves. 

Session #1  – 6:00 – 5:00 – 4:00 – 3:00 – 2:00 – 1:00 Fartlek (half time rest)

The late Swedish coach Gosta Holmer is considered the founder and father of the fartlek. He believed that gear changing within everyday runs not only taught runners the ability to change gears, but made otherwise monotonous runs joyful with a bit of what he called “play.” The 6-1 fartlek is one of my favorites and implemented here at ZAP throughout the year. 

How to Implement (Beginning of a New Training Sequence)

After a warm up of 12-15 minutes of relaxed jogging begin the session by running an opening 6:00 piece at roughly goal marathon pace followed by a jog rest of 3:00 or half the time of the pick up. The recovery rhythm should be between 45-55 seconds per mile slower than the surge. The next pick up is 5:00 and should be roughy the same rhythm as the 6:00 piece, followed by a 2:30 jog recovery. 

The next two pieces are a 4:00 piece and a 3:00 piece approximately 5-6 seconds per mile faster than the 5 & 6 min segments. Recovery continues to be 1/2 time (2:00 after the 4:00 and 1:30 after the 3:00). The final 2 segments are a 2:00 piece and a 1:00 piece, both designed to be another 5-6 seconds per mile faster than the 4:00 & 3:00. Recovery remains constant (1/2 the time of the piece just completed).

As you can see – the overall pace of the final segments is only 10-12 seconds per mile faster than the opening 6:00 piece, and this is by design early in a training build-up where the goal is adaptation.

How to Implement 6-5-4-3-2-1 Later in a cycle (race specificity)

As you get closer to your more important races and once you have 10-12 weeks of solid build-up under your belt, try executing the same session in a “specificity” format. After an opening 6:00 piece at approximately the same effort as before (which should likely be 5-7 sec per mile faster simply based on improved fitness), target running 3-5 sec per mile quicker for each successive piece – making the final 3:00 – 2:00 – 1:00 targeting 5k race pace and quicker.

In terms of the 1/2 time recovery, keep the jog VERY easy, as much as 2:00 per mile slower than the “on” surges. In a nutshell, the recovery is now much easier and the pieces are quicker and more specific. 

Session #2 – 10-12 x 400m 

How to Implement (Beginning of New Sequence)

400s are one of the most common interval based sessions used in long distance running. Athletes from 800m runners to marathoners have used 400s for generations to hone both speed based endurance as well as power and economy.

As you begin your training cycle implement 400s very moderately, targeting between 10k and even Half Marathon “current fitness” pace and keep the recovery fairly moderate (perhaps only 45 sec – 1:15 per mile slower than the 400s). Keeping the 400s more moderate and the recovery similar allows an athlete to elevate anaerobic threshold as well as allow more natural adaptation off a rest period. 

400s Later in a Cycle / Race Specificity

As you creep more closely to the races of greater importance and as your fitness naturally progresses begin asserting quicker tempos (target 5k and even mile race pace rhythms) on your 400m interval workouts while simultaneously slowing the recovery down. These “anaerobic tolerance” workouts (also called “buffering sessions) are excellent in terms of speed based endurance and simply inuring the legs to the demands of faster efforts. A “standard” used by costs for decades is to run 10 x 400m at goal mile race pace with only 90 seconds recovery between each one. Such a session implemented within 3-4 weeks of your important target race will provide you with that power and economy icing on the cake.

Session #3 – Racing 

ZAP athletes implement periodization by doing less specific training early in the buildup.

How to Implement (Beginning of a New Sequence) 

Coming off a rest or transitional period, I typically recommend an 8-12 week period with little to no racing during a ramp up. For the “never take a break from racing” folks in the crowd, I recommend ramp up races which are lower key in nature (perhaps tougher courses where the expectation is purely a moderate effort rather than a PR type effort).

In addition, try heading for distances outside the target distance as you ramp in. For example if you are targeting a fast 5k or 10k later in the season, begin your ramp in with a couple of longer races such as a 10 mile effort or even a half marathon (or perhaps even a non traditional race such as a trail event or even a mountain race which is less quantifiable). 

How to Implement (Late Season)

Racing is the icing on the cake. Racing provides the opportunity to test ourselves  against others (and oneself). After putting together a proper build-up complete with workouts increasing slowly in their intensity and specificity, it is time to test your mettle.

When choosing races later in the season, pick ones specific to your preparation and do so with the knowledge that you have prepared and can lay all you have out there. If it is PRs you seek, find courses flat and fast in the best conditions possible. If your target race is mountainous, be CERTAIN to find a race build up which will set you up well for that effort. In short, as you get close to bigger days, make your efforts reflect those goals. Moving closer to specificity throughout the training plan is what periodization is all about.

As you ramp into your 2021 spring and summer build-ups do so knowing that the effort with which you execute your earlier season schedules will and should be more moderately applied than your race specific sessions. Even for those of you who thrive in the world of “sameness,” this year try a little flexibility with some periodization in your schedule.