Fundamental Phase, Part I (Another Long Post)

Despite running a few races immediately following Grandma's Marathon, I would say that the first four weeks after that race were more or less a recovery period and Introduction Phase in my training.  I did mostly easy mileage, and a few lights workouts and strides to reintroduce some quicker running, get the legs back under me.  That leaves 10 weeks for what I'll call Part I of my Fundamental Phase.  My seasons are usually divided into a Fundamental Phase and a Specific Phase.  The goals in the former can vary widely, but in general, I'm just trying to get really fit—get in good all-around shape.  There may be some race goals in the Fundamental Phase, and even some mini-peaks, but again, the main focus is general fitness.  The Specific Phase is the time to work toward a specific race goal.  The goal this time around is a marathon—either the Olympic Trials or the Napa Valley Marathon, depending on if I qualify for the Trials. 

The Fundamental and Specific phases are macrocycles; within each macrocycle, I work in a series of microcycles, which are typically about two weeks long.  I currently have a fairly lengthy period of time in which to do Fundamental work, so I'm dividing it into two parts, based on race and fitness goals.  Part I will be 10 weeks (I'm in week 4 right now), ending with the Trail Runner UROC 100k.  Part II will be either 8 or 13 weeks depending on my Olympic Trials situation.  If I qualify for the Trials at the Big Sur Half, I will need to immediately transition into an 8 week Specific Phase for the Trials.  If I do not qualify, I will extend my fundamental work another 5 weeks before doing a slightly longer, 10 week Specific Phase for Napa Valley. 

So what am I doing in Part I?  Like I wrote above, I'm trying to get into good overall shape.  So I'm doing a large variety of workouts: different kinds of fartleks, tempos of varying lengths, and other runs focused on threshold, as well as a lot of muscular work.  I'm really beefing up the muscular work this time around because (a) it is an area in which I (and most other American runners for that matter) am deficient—this was part of the reason that I struggled to hold pace at Grandma's—and (b) the trail ultramarathons I am doing are very hilly, and I'm hoping that more muscular work will help my legs handle the significant climbing and downhill pounding.

At first, I was planning on working in two week microcycles—a lot of programs do this, Terrence Mahon's marathon training for instance—as two weeks is enough time for your body to absorb the workout and do it better the next time around.  However, it quickly became apparent that I had too many different workouts in my plans to do a two week microcycle and recover properly between workouts.  Of course, you don't have to work in a microcycle that is a set number of days.  For instance, say you have 7 different workouts in your microcycle; you just do each workout in order, and put recovery days in between as needed, whether that's one day or three days, depending on how you feel.  If you need to work in a race, you can do so and just push back the next workout (or have the race replace a workout that has a similar stimulus).  I'm a big fan of this flexible approach, and for professional runners, it's rather easy to pull off—one microcycle might be 13 days, the next might be 17 days, no big deal.  The difficulty in doing this while working full time is that my long run workouts more or less have to go on the weekends, so I can't just do the next workout in my cycle whenever I feel I'm recovered and ready.  This has led to a bit of an odd format to my current phase.  Some of my workouts (generally, the long runs and the muscular work) are on a two week microcycle, while some other workouts are on a three week microcycle that overlaps with the other.  Anyway, on to the workouts, their progressions and purposes...

Aussie Quarters – This is a great session, used by Australians under Pat Clohessy, like Deek, in which you do 8 x (400m hard, 200m moderate).  You end up doing ~3 miles (or 4800m) of pretty quick running.  You get a bit anaerobic, but not so much so that you need a long time to recover or that you're going to stagnate from doing too much anaerobic work.  The workout is also very aerobically challenging with the quick "rest" 200m segments.  You work a variety of systems and stay in touch with some quick stuff, which can help you race halfway decently year round.  I usually do the 400m segments at close to 5k race pace, and run the 200m segments approaching marathon pace.  I did the workout 5 times last spring, progressing from 15:30 total time down to a 14:57 best.  This time around, I opened up with a 15:05, running 70/71 for the 400s and 41/42 for the 200s.  I'm planning on repeating this workout three more times in this part of the Fundamental Phase, hoping to progress to close to 14:40 the last time. 

Alternating Halves (Threshold Workout) – Instead of doing a traditional 4 mile tempo, or even Jack Daniels style "cruise intervals," I'm doing a workout where I alternate half mile segments at about HMP with segments a little slower, so that I average about MP.  Right now that means I'm shooting for ~2:30 for the quick segments and ~2:50 for the slower segments.  This really stresses aerobic efficiency, as you're forced to recover at a pretty quick pace.  It can also be a great marathon-specific session, though I'm using it in the Fundamental Phase here.  As the workout gets longer, there is definitely a muscular endurance component to it as well, as you get some HMP running in after some good volume.  The first time out, I got through 6 miles of this.  I'm repeating the workout two more times, hoping to make it through 8 and then 10+ miles.

Mile Repeats at Marathon Pace – This is about muscular endurance.  It's a sort of Vigil aerobic power workout, though those are more often at HMP, not MP.  Since these are a bit slower, the rest is short, and the reps will get pretty high.  MP is also aerobic threshold pace, so it has some similar benefits to the longer tempos (as the shorter the rests get, the greater amount of time that you'll stay near that threshold).  In addition, running MP on a day when you're kind of tired from training will make the effort internally more difficult, so the workout may even approximate anaerobic threshold work to some extent (usually thought of as HMP).  I'm still experimenting a bit with the workout, the rests in particular, which are just a real easy jog.  The first time out, I did 10 x mile in 5:15-5:20 w/ 2:00 easy jog rest.  I'm repeating this workout three more times, aiming for 12, 15, and then 18 reps.  The pace may get down to the 5:10 range as my fitness progresses, and the rests may also drop down closer to 1:00 instead of 2:00.  I see this session as a great fundamental workout for marathoners.  It isn't as taxing as some of the crazy marathon-specific workouts, but with a substantial volume of running at MP, it should really help the legs get ready for the Specific Phase and lots of hard MP sessions.

Long Tempos – I started this phase with basic aerobic tempos at a couple different paces.  These are slower than traditional 4-6 mile tempos at anaerobic threshold pace.  These are more in the 85-95% MP range and can really help build your strength.  On the quicker end, I started with an 8 mile and then a 10 mile tempo run at ~5:30-5:35 pace.  Around the same time, I also got a few long runs in as basic aerobic tempos.  I did a 20 miler at 6:00 pace and then a 17 miler at 5:53 pace.  The progression for the shorter, quicker tempos (the 8 and 10 milers) was extensive—i.e., go longer each time out (while the pace stays about the same).   The progression for the longer, slower tempos (the 20 and 17 milers) was intensive—i.e., go faster each time out (while distance stays about the same).  Ideally I would have been able to go the full 20 miles for the second long tempo as well, but I didn't quite have it in me that day.  

As the quicker tempos get longer, and the longer tempos get quicker, they start to approximate each other.  Thus, starting with the tempo I ran last Sunday, I've lumped the two into a single session.  (I did 18 miles at 5:43 pace as my long run last week.)  From here on, I'll be doing one of these every other weekend, keeping the distance right around 18 miles, and hoping to progress the pace down to 5:30/mile or so.  Long-term, in the Specific Phase, I hope to ramp this up to 24 miles at 5:25 or 5:30 pace, which will hopefully be 95% MP by then. 

Overdistance Long Runs – These runs can be good in general for marathoners, and I used to do some 30 mile runs at 6:00-6:30 pace as extra-long basic aerobic tempos in the fundamental phase before a marathon.  But I have some specific ultra races I'm preparing for this fall, so these runs need to be a bit more focused this time around.  Before the UROC 100k, I'm getting in 3 main overdistance sessions.  I'm doing all of them in the forest preserves in Palos (a Chicago suburb), which has some relatively hilly single track trails.  I'm hoping that this will help my legs get ready for the hilliness I'll encounter in the ultra races.  I've already completed the first overdistance session, which was 32 miles in about 4 hours.  This weekend, I'm going after my second session, which will actually be two runs over the course of about a 30 hour time period.  My plan is to do 31 miles Saturday morning and 31 miles again Sunday morning (62 miles total, this being the distance of the UROC 100k).  A lot of ultra runners seem to do double long runs in this fashion, as a 50 mile training run can just take too long to recover from.  The last overdistance session I'll do before UROC (three weeks out), is a planned 45 mile run, again on hilly trails. 

100 Meter Repeats – These are all about muscular endurance.  I'm still learning a lot about this oft neglected facet of training, but repetitions at close to top end seem to be really beneficial for musculoskeletal strength.  They also help prolong the slow decline in your basic speed with age, and help to recruit muscle fibers that distance runners don't often use.  The specific benefit to 100s is that they're alactic (as opposed to anaerobic) due to their short duration.  This means that recovery time will be less from the workout because you're not flooding your body with lactic acid (and the associated hydrogen ions).  However, for now, I still need to take a day recovery afterward because I get so muscularly tired/sore.  But eventually, I'll hopefully be able to do this session the day before a tempo or the like.  The pace is around 800m race pace.  My PR being 1:59, I typically run these in just a shade under 15 seconds. 

I've toyed with this session a bit in the past.  Two seasons ago I did it once or twice (stupidly doing a full 30 x 100m the very first time I tried it).   Last season I was starting to build up, probably did it three or so times, maybe 20-25 reps, but I had some calf tightness and recovery issues and just ended up abandoning the session sometime in February.  This time around, I'm determined to do it right and be diligent in getting this session into the mix.  I've done it a couple times so far and am up to 15 x 100.  I'll continue to build to 30 x 100.  I'll be doing it every other week for this part of the Fundamental Phase and will be trying to carry it over to Part II as well.  This is one of the areas where I have a lot of room for improvement, so hopefully the benefits will start to show a few months down the line.

Downhill Strides – If it wasn't for the ultras I'm doing, I probably wouldn't be doing these downhill repeats.  Instead, I would be doing the 100m repeats (above) every week.  But I need to try everything I can to get my quads ready to handle the eccentric loading I'll face in the utlras, racing downhill.  So in the weeks I'm not doing regular 100m repeats, I'll be doing downhill repeats (about 100m still) instead.  I just did 6 of these in my first (and only) session, just to see how the legs reacted.  I was a bit sore, but not too bad.  I'm going to try to kick it up to 12 reps this week, and will hopefully build these to 20+ by UROC.  Like the 100m repeats, this session will probably continue into the next part of the Fundamental Phase, as I will be facing a very hilly course at the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler as well. 

Uphill Runs – I'm doing longer uphill runs as part of my prepartions for the hilly utras.  When I did the NF50 last year, I trained for the uphills by running up and down the 17 stories of my apartment building.  This really did work fairly well, as I was able to hammer away on the hills all day in California on race day.  And in fact, I may still add some stair climbs to my routine eventually.  But I've moved apartments and now have access to a treadmill in the apartment complex gym (I'm also really looking forward to this easy access for workouts come winter).  So I've just been cranking away on a 10 to 15 percent grade for uphill runs, varying the pace and grade in a sort of fartlek.  I've only done a couple of these so far, and only about a half hour.  However, I've got 60:00, 75:00, and 90:00 uphill treadmill runs planned before UROC.  These are a little more running-specific (obviously) than climbing stairs, and are just very beneficial in general.  You exhaust muscle fibers more rapidly and in a different way than you do when running on flats, so longer uphill runs can really help you get the most out of your legs. 

And more...

Drills – I'm doing some dynamic form drills / plyometrics before each session of 100s or downhills repeats.  I've started with 2 sets (about 30-40 meters for most) of the following:
  • heel-to-butts (a.k.a. butt kicks, but I don't call them that, because I think it invokes an image of the improper form that 90% of people have when doing these)
  • fast feet
  • A skips
  • B skips
  • karoakes
  • ankle pops (or ankle springing)
  • springing
  • bounding
After the first few sessions, I moved the last three drills to a hill.  For the ankle springing and the springing, this allows the heel to actually dip below the horizontal plane that the toe is on, really increasing the eccentric load on the calves and achilles.  And the bounding is of course made much more challenging by doing it up a hill.  I might eventually build these drills to more sets, and perhaps extend the distance a bit.  These are good for all sorts of things, strengthening, flexibility, form, getting your muscles to fire in the proper sequence...  Another facet of training that I tend to sometimes neglect, but hopefully not this phase. 

Core and Weight Work – Finally, I'm building up to multiple days a week of core and weight work.  I have always been a little up and down with core work in my training.  When I'm feeling tired or busy, it's about the first thing to go.  However, with the trail ultra races coming up, this work becomes even more important than it usually is.  I'm doing a basic core routine that more or less follows a progression I got from Jay Johnson on (with a few substitutions).  In addition, I am spending some time on exercises (some with weights) that are really focused on my quad, calf, and hamstring strength, hoping to enhance the ability of my legs to handle hours of pounding up and down hills.  Some of the quad exercises especially, I'm focusing on eccentrically loading the quads, with a very full range of motion.  I've been a bit sporadic so far, but I'm trying to get to 4 or 5 sessions a week (about an even split between the Jay Johnson core sessions and the core sessions with weight work). 

So that's it!  The fairly varied work that's making up my first 10 weeks of Fundamental training.  Some of the work will continue in Part II, but some will start to change in order to hit a mini-peak for the Big Sur Half, trying to qualify for the Trials.