Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Where I Falter

Fall of 2004 I finally joined the Workout Group, where 40 runners or so meet for two "quality" sessions a week, on Tuesday and Thursday nights. As I recall, Tuesdays were faster, shorter efforts and Thursdays were longer efforts, like tempo runs or cruise intervals (which inevitably were run too fast). Over two months time I worked my way from the front of the second group to the front of the faster group, mostly because all the faster guys got injured. My racing fitness grew by leaps and bounds for the first six weeks or so, then started to stagnate. I got tired, my left adductor and other parts started getting sore, and a general training malaise gradually took over. Things got so bad that I eventually decided to sit out the Thanksgiving cross-country race and the Tucson half marathon, the last two races of the year. I had previously thought I was trying to peak for these, but it never happened. I peaked in late October and was done by Thanksgiving.

How many stories have you heard from runners on a track or cross-country team where they improved dramatically over the first month or two, then ended up either injured or stagnating by the end of the season? It happened to me during my one season of each discipline in high school, and I know I'm hardly the exception. Come into the season under-prepared, without sufficient base miles or endurance and add lots of speedwork. It's a good way to end up burnt-out or injured within a month or two. I ended up a little of both. It was time to learn from my mistakes.

It's taken me a long time to figure out what kind of training I respond the best to. Pete Pfitzinger's marathon plan was the turning point, more than a year before I found out about Arthur Lydiard. I was able to go from a 2:58 to a 2:47 marathon with his 18 week program. Endurance first, add tempo runs, add speedwork in small doses, add marathon pace runs...and voila, big PR! Use whatever tired analogy you want- "To build a house, you need a strong foundation" or the like, for me this kind of periodization just worked. In my opinion Pfitzinger owes his program to Lydiard, he just leaves out the hill phase and spells things out in a more concise, easy to follow format.

In short, I think Lydiard's methods of compartmentalizing the different aspects of running into specific phases works for me better than mixing things up. This could change at some point, and after enough years of adding to my aerobic base I could feel ready to add hills or speedwork sooner, or to do a bit of everything all the time. But for now I'm still interested in seeing this through, hopefully for the full three years I have planned (easy to say 9 months in). I like looking forward to each successive phase, I like the feeling of chomping at the bit to get to the fast stuff, and then hopefully following a steady arc of improvement once I do. This hopefully ends with me getting to the top of my arc of fitness for the cycle just in time for the marathon. At least that's the plan. There are many ways to skin a cat, and Duncan's suggestions that I posted yesterday (which has taken me two days to talk about) definitely have some merit and have worked wonders for him. As for me, Lydiard's approach has thus far kept me interested and excited about running as well as relatively injury free, which is most of the battle. Of course, dropping all of my PR's has been a nice side benefit. I do tend to be dogmatic about Lydiard training, in part because I see so many athletes jumping ship from one program to another without ever seeing any one method through long enough to get the full benefit. I think Daniels, Pfitzinger, and many other programs would all really benefit runners more if they were just a little more patient. Lydiard's training can be particularly agonizing if you aren't patient, as most of the benefits come together at the last instant if you're doing it right. Hopefully I can be in this camp come June 4.

I did run today. I met Lucas in Sabino Canyon and ran 11 today, though I probably should have gone slower considering yesterday's track workout and tomorrow's marathon pace workout. I also got in 4 miles yesterday after work, where the legs were pretty heavy.

Training: Today, 11 miles am., 1:19:11, 7:12 pace, another 6 miles planned this evening
Yesterday pm., 4 miles, 29 minutes easy


Evan said...

Interesting thoughts, thanks for sharing them.

I'm with you on the idea that Pfitzinger is very Lydiard influenced, though the clarity with which it is presented and the absence of a hill phase mean some people don't see that.

You were on the monster Lydiard vs. Daniels thread, so you'll know that Daniels acknowledges a debt to Lydiard. As compared to say, Coe-influenced multi-pace training Daniels, like Lydiard, still breaks things down into distinct phases. One thing I never got a clear answer to on that thread was any difference in opinion on the overall balance between the base phase and the quality phase. With Lydiard [and Daws] you get the impression that the base phase should be about half the training cycle.

Daniels has a six week base phase with no workouts, and then the transition quality phase is typically tempo runs (aerobic, by definition) and repeats of up to 400m at mile pace with long recoveries where he specifically says that the idea is to recover fully. He also says you can do the repeats up hills. It's really only in the last two phases of Daniels' programs that you do intervals, and draw down some of your aerobic base by going anaerobic for longer periods, and not recovering fully.

In short, Daniels and Lydiard are relatively similar. It depends how much emphasis you place on the long base phase as the defining element of the Lydiard system/philosophy.

A question for you, as well which I hope you might address in a future post. What's your opinion on the value of the sprint/float workouts in the Lydiard marathon schedules?

Duncan Larkin said...

Mike, great post. Good response to my question on parallel vs serial phases of training--well thought out. I haven't been following your blog long enough to know that you have experimented --more so than I originally thought. I suppose the only thing I have left to offer for you to contemplate is to keep things open for change. I strongly suspect that your June marathon from this great training will chomp your PR down substantial levels (I'd wager easily 5 minutes or more and I know this prediction can be dangerous!) Regardless, what I fear most is that you may then tilt for a long time at the 2:29 windmill using the same Lydiard method and sadly end up in a quixotic quest using the same serial recipe but more ingredients. Perhaps this discussion was too premature. In fact, I hope it never is required and that your proven method gets you to your goal! I was only trying to get you planning ahead and mentally prepared for that 2:29 wall that may appear in your way, when you are staring at a 2:31 and only need 2 minutes but they can't seem to come from the same routine.

Seabass said...


I will say all of these programs do beat the reverse Daniels plan I followed - taper, speed, high miles, slow build. That was a good one, I thought I was onto something.

It seems you do not put that much of an emphasis on rest or days off. Is that you, a result of higher mileage, or Lydiard?

And yes, Pfitzinger is great because it is so easy, for those of us that prefer not to do as much thinking about our training it is perfect.

Mike said...

Evan, I'll definitely write about it at some point. I think that workout is a great way to get way to really stress the very top of your anaerobic system without much residual fatigue. I know it's not as applicable for a marathoner per se, but I still think it's necessary to develop all the systems. I know when it came down to the last minute for me to break 2:40 I had to utilize every ounce from every system. I also like the neuromuscular connect this fast stuff cultivates. It gets your body able to move your legs fast in the right direction. Hopefully this contributes to better form and somewhat better economy/efficiency.

Duncan, I really do appreciate your suggestions and comments, they give me quite a bit to think about. Thanks for the confidence boost, I should be so lucky as to even get to 2:31!

Scott, what happened to your blog? All I can get to is your Hulkster photo.