This week - actually this last Sunday morning - marked the beginning of the last week of my second 16-week training cycle. I bet that sounded confusing. Anyone who's read my postings for long enough could probably tell you I most likely took my "writing clarity" coursework from Yogi Berra.
As always, another story altogether.
Two very important (and seemingly dissimilar) characteristics make up a good training regimen; consistency and variety. As I was learning from my old coach, Dale Fox, he once told me there was no real secret to the training our group did. What was special about the training was the consistent application of stress and rest, shorter repetitions at race paces and long, steady miles throughout the year. We knew Tuesday nights were filled with tough, shorter repeats; Thursday nights were longer repetitions at a slightly easier tempo...and Saturday mornings could go on forever. But we didn't get hammered at the same intensity level every workout, week-in and week-out. After a while we learned that one week could be hard, followed by a harder week the next week, and quite possibly a third, even tougher week, depending on the athlete's ability to adapt to the training. But every third or fourth week we would have workouts with repetitions which were highly aerobic throughout, or consisted of a longer, easy warm-up with a few very hard repeats at the end.
As every person knows and as the writers always scribble, variety tends to keep our lives from becoming too bland. During my first year as a coach there were persons who complained that I assigned the same workout every time they showed to the track. In my defense I'll admit these persons showed up to train with the group once every six weeks. It's hard to tell how well a person has adapted to a training stimulus when the frequency of exposure is minimal, even desultory.
But as I work through a training plan for an athlete I blend Jack Daniels' training mesocycles (repeat intensities and distances) with a three-week "kind-of-hard, hard, harder" and one-week "not-so-hard" effort cycle.
For this neck of the woods, where the racing season starts in early September and ends in late May, three training cycles consisting of four four-week training foci are good. A runner who is interested in training to peak for two marathons may prefer two cycles consisting of four six-week focus periods...each with a couple of weeks of full rest in between.
If the athlete is running around 60 minutes a day during the other three weeks during a training period, I might encourage them to cut back to 40 or 45 minutes.
And in some cases, with brittle guys like me, as little as 30.
The benefits of a less-intense week of training aren't only limited to the physical realm, and that supercompensation talked about by Hans Selye and other smart guys. It doesn't hurt the mind to have a little bit of relaxation...or at least to not worry about being beaten down...every couple of weeks.
Really, what you don't want to do is continue grinding along at the exact same intensity level day after day. The same thing, repeated over and over, is a sure ticket to boredom, fatigue, injury and eventually burnout.