Planning a Season (Summer 2019)

When I started running, I got directly into marathons, which made season-planning easy.

Marathons are hard on your body, so you can only run one or two per year. Pick a book (I mostly used Hansons Marathon Method) and follow the five-month schedule. The rest of the year, run a few 5Ks or find some other way to occupy your time.

Since I’ve become interested in running shorter distances, things have gotten more complicated.

Some time this winter, I decided I wanted to focus on outdoor track this summer— especially the 800, 1500, and 3000. But I didn’t know what that meant for the rest of the winter or the spring. How much mileage does a middle-distance runner put in? How many days a week do they run? What sorts of workouts do they do — how hard, when, why?

To answer all these questions, I did what I always do: I read a bunch of books. And when I say a bunch, I mean a bunch. In the last two or three weeks — from early March to now — I’ve read four books specifically focused on training: Jack Daniels’s Daniels Running Formula, Pete Pfitzinger’s and Philip Latter’s Faster Road Racing, Peter Coe’s Winning Running, and John Davis’s Modern Training and Physiology for Middle and Long-Distance Runners. I’ve read each of these two or three times at least. Davis’s, which is a slim volume that mostly summarizes the others, has been particularly useful, and I’m sure I’ve been through it various ways at least five times. I’ve also read a ton of non-training-focused running books (novels, non-fiction books, sports psychology books, weight training books), but those will have to wait for another post…

It was useful to compare the approaches of the various training books, but they all basically say similar things. Mileage is important for building your aerobic base and instigating basic physiological changes. You need to target your systems: long runs to work the aerobic/ventilatory threshold, tempo runs to work the anaerobic/lactate threshold, VO2 Max runs to… work the VO2 max, and anaerobic runs for form and lactate clearance. (Peter Coe’s book is old, so it often doesn’t know why it’s saying what it’s saying. And it has a truly distinct, fatalistic, sacrifice-for-the-Empire tone. And its author is truly in love with his son Seb. But as a book, it basically says the above, just with a bit more colour.)

These books also emphasize the important of periodization or season-planning. The details again vary, but the basics are the same. Start with a base-building period of low intensity and high mileage (1-2cmonths). Next, keep the mileage high but add in lots of tempo runs and VO2/anaerobic intervals (another 1-2 months). Then, move to a “tune-up” phase with lots of race-pace workouts and a fair bit of racing (about a month). Then reduce mileage in advance of a big goal race.

I decided to target a weekly volume of about 60 miles or 100km. I picked this because it’s at the lower end of what elite 1500m runners do. One thing that always annoyed me about marathon training was that I’d never have the time to train at truly elite levels, like 250km per week. So I liked the idea of being able to train like an elite athlete, more or less, and still have my job at the end of the week.

I also decided to base my training around the NCCWMA (North, Central America and Caribbean region, World Master Association) 2019 meet in Toronto in mid-July (the 1500 final is on July 21st). I chose it because it’s relatively late in the season and I wanted to give myself a long run-up of training — and also because I’d heard it would be very competitive, with lots of top Masters runners coming to Toronto to check out the facilities ahead of next year’s 2020 World Masters Athletics Outdoor Championships.

I started planning my schedule around the end of February, when I was already in good shape and running respectable mileage. So I decided to skip a true “base building phase.” Instead, I kept doing what I was doing — running Monday and Thursday workouts with the UTTC Masters — but focused on adding easy runs and mileage for the rest of the week. I went from 69.1km and 68.4 in the last weeks of February to 87.3, 87.6, 89 for the first three weeks of March. I did definitely get into overtraining mode a bit in that first big week (I also started weight training that week — too much too soon!) but settled in for the next one.

I entered the tempo/threshold phase this week. I built my mileage up to 93.5km and added a threshold tempo run on Saturday (6.3km at 3:35/km pace). Next week, I’ll try to keep the volume at around 95 and also run the Spring Run-Off on Saturday as a fast (and hilly) tempo run. I’ll really try not to race it flat-out, both because it doesn’t seem especially productive for my summer goals, and also because I’ve got some kind of hip flexor or groin thing happening in my right leg (probably the result of running an indoor workout too hard last week, or else all the volume increase) and don’t want to make it worse. (Also, as I write this, I notice my left heel is sore. Hmm…) Since the goal is to peak in July, I really need to keep things reined in for now.

I don’t have any really specific goals for the summer season beyond training really intelligently and really trying find my limits in middle distance. I ran a 9:23 indoors for the 3000 and a 4:25 for the 1500. The 9:23 felt really, really hard, but the 4:25 felt pretty manageable. If I could get under 4:20 this summer, that would be great. If I could get under 4:15, that would be incredible. If I could hit, say, 4:11, I’d convince myself of my potential as an internationally competitive Masters athlete.

The long-term goal is to make it to a final at a WMA championship when I’m 40. I have no idea if that’s achievable at this point. I have very little sense of my innate talent — I’m pretty good (my current age-grading is about 80%), but there’s a lot further to go to reach “elite” level (90%+). Although I’ve improved pretty rapidly over the last three years, I don’t know how much longer I’ll keep getting faster, especially given my age. But this works for me as a goal — it’s enough to keep me motivated for now and gives me something big to strive for. Watching my friends from UTTC Masters make finals and bring home medals at the indoor championships last week definitely fueled the fire.