Although we all know the importance of rest and recovery, it’s easy to get anxious now that your build phase for running has commenced. You may start wondering where your fitness is due to the non-structured training most commonly done during the off-season. It’s harder to see the performance gains you’re making during this time, as much of your work may be focused on technique, strength or improving a weak area. Whereas during race season it’s easy to see what markers you’re hitting, your training currently has a different feeling to it, and a necessary but different focus and rhythm.
The build phase is the time in your training for exactly that—building a strong foundation which will equate to speed and overall efficiency as an endurance athlete. In the build phase expect to see a calculated progression, a ramp-up in volume and intensity in your training with the focus on building strength and endurance to prepare you for those critical long runs instrumental to your goal race.
The focus during the build phase is to place stress on the body over a specific timeframe. Then, to back off the intensity to provide just the right amount of rest and recovery before repeating the process again. As you repeat this cycle, changing a variable such as duration of an interval will allow the body to take on an increased level of stress each time. This dynamic training and recovery over time builds a faster athlete.
Sounds easy? Well, the equation becomes complex in determining how much, how often and how hard can one push an athlete, as well as which specific variables to change in order to get the most out of them before causing harm or injury. Finding that balance and defining the exact tipping point is where most self-coached athletes fail. They either plateau, or worse they get injured. With the guidance of a knowledgeable coach and over a few training cycles, you are sure to tap into your potential and see gains in your performance like never before.
There are many theories and methods used by seasoned coaches. Some use training cycles based on days, weeks or even months to build an athlete. This depends largely on the athlete’s history, goals, race, age and rate of adaptation. A very common training cycle is three or four weeks. This stems from the time it takes your body to adapt to new training stressors. After three or four weeks of the same stress, your body is no longer reaping the maximum benefit and a different stress load should be introduced. So, this is when you will see a recovery period; just a few days are usually enough to allow the body to rest before introducing a higher level of intensity in the next cycle. There are no shortcuts to this, so be cautious when you see a plan that ramps up too fast.
In a well structured plan during the build phase you may see three quality workouts during the week. These workouts will consist of tempo runs, intervals and hill/speed work. The rest of the week may include recovery runs to build volume, cross-training and strength work—all essential parts of developing the strong foundation and endurance that a high performing athlete needs.
Another important and often dismissed component is strength and flexibility work. A strong lower body and core is needed to support the added stress which building speed places on the body. Following a sports-specific strength program in addition to putting in the miles will yield incredible gains over time. Just be patient and consistent when it comes to strength and cross training, especially if it is a new element in your training.
Given the complexity of a properly executed build phase, one should seek the guidance and advice of a coach to get the most of your time training. This small investment in yourself will not only yield better results but also keep you injury-free and training consistently.