It’s that time of year again. Athletes all over the world (or at least in the northern hemisphere) are dusting off training schedules and starting the long grind to prepare for races that might still be months away. Whether it is your first time training or your seventeenth it can seem like a long and daunting task when you start out. A great way to make it feel like less of an undertaking is to break it down into smaller parts in your mind. While you’re at it why not focus on the best parts of each stage? With that in mind lets dissect the very best bits of each stage of working a long training plan!
Once again this applies to lots of different sports and activities but I’ll probably default to talking about running again!
Pre-training base building
One might refer to this as the calm before the storm. Many of us will have failed to live up to our winter running expectations over the past season. That’s okay because you can always play catch up once the weather starts to improve. In the weeks leading up to the start of an official training plan you may have to build up your base. This means working up to a training time or mileage about 90% of that in the first official week of training.
The great thing about this stage of training is that you really don’t have to do anything in particular. Don’t feel like doing speedwork? Then don’t! Only want to run the flats? That’s okay too! You don’t even have to run a particular distance in a specific order either.
So in your last few runs before you officially start your plan take a moment to enjoy your last moments of freedom for a few months. You might have to run a certain distance this week but it’s the last week you get to decide how to do that.
Depending on the type of runner you are the first few weeks of your training plan might actually be lower mileage or fewer runs a week than you are used to. The nice part about this stage is that it totally seems manageable. The first time you train for a further distance reading the schedule at the end can seem more than a little intimidating!
But for now at least, you’re not there yet. These weeks are totally doable, you’re not sinking half a day into training every weekend and you’ll actually have lots of time to do all the extra laundry you are generating.
During the early plan weeks revel in the fact that you are crushing your big goal without all that much work. I love this stage because you can talk about training for a marathon without feeing like you are in fact training for a marathon. It’s also the last moment your life has lots of different parts beyond just training!
In the middle of your plan you are training a lot and often. But… you’re probably not to the point where your getting all the way to the WOW distances but rather stuck in the WHY distances. In other words running 12k isn’t exactly mind bending to norms like running 30k but it does seem like a lot to them none the less.
This section of the plan is really a grind. You’re not really close to your ultimate goal yet but it’s still a huge commitment. It can be a big commitment while the rewards still seem really far off. You have to put in these miles on the way to your ultimate goal without the burgeoning confidence that it is totally possible. In short the mid plan stage can be a bit boring, hard and leave your dopamine reward coming up short.
That sounds terrible right? It kind of is but here’s the thing the monotony of the mid plan is a good stand in for real life. Whether you are building a company, raising a family or developing a hobby it is usually a years long task. Day to day, these things are hard, boring and the reward is a long way off.
The long boring middle miles of a training plan are what your have to get through to accomplish something huge on race day. So when I find myself getting bored, tired or dis motivated by another 12 k run after a long day at work I remind myself that this is exactly the sort of experience that builds character. In my opinion mid plan dedication is a great way to practice the commitment it takes to accomplish bigger things I life. So your mid plan miles are building your muscles and your character!
The last few weeks of a training plan can be a gargantuan task both in terms of time and effort. You are training almost everyday and for huge chunks of time. You are being asked to do things that seem almost impossible every single week. This stage of training is undeniably hard. The big workout for the week might take up the majority of one of your weekend days and it’s not the only thing you have to do this week.
Since we are all mere mortals we still have work, family and housekeeping things to keep up with while doing 30k plus training runs every week. In the late stages of a bigger training plan you will be incredibly tired, stressed and over-scheduled. These weeks almost have to be a taste of what burnout feels like.
On the other hand, that goal that seemed too big and two impossible just a few short weeks or months ago is starting to seem possible, like it really might happen on race day. Depending on the event you are training for like a half marathon your longest training sessions might be just a kilometer or two shorter than your race. The first time you train for an event the later stages of training probably means you are setting personal records every single week. That feels freakin’ great!
As tiring and hard as the late stages of a training plan can be the dopamine rewards in this stage really start to amp up. Setting distance records, getting oh so close to to that great big goal and just getting through another unquestionably grueling week starts to feel amazing.
Plus you’ll probably never, ever sleep better!
There is a weird, nervous and cranky energy that an athlete in taper can have. They don’t call it the taper tantrums for nothing! Typically a taper is a period of a week or two preceding the race date where training volume drops by half, and half again leading up to the event. The idea is that for the first time in a long time you are resting your body and recharging for race day. This means that the athlete in question has a lot more free time and energy to spend doubting themselves just as race day nerves are gathering.
For me taper time was the worst time for many years. I both didn’t want to run but only wanted to run and let me tell you my last nerve was right on the surface. So if you feel this way take heart, you are not alone. It sounds crazy but finding yourself with all sorts of free time might bring out the worst in you.
So what is there to love about taper time? There can be a lot, it’s a great time to focus on dealing well with negative emotions without the high stakes tat usually bring them out. I stumbled onto a great way of dealing with the taper tantrums a few years ago and that is taking on a larger, multi-day project you know you should do but have been putting off. I’ve re-done and organized my home office, flipped bedrooms over and gotten our gardens back into shape in the past. So this period can be one of personal productivity.
For others with out the neuroticism that I obviously display taper time can be the luxurious vacation for your body that it sounds like it must be. Use the time to do practical things like catch up on sleep and chores or treat yourself to lots of massages and spa days if you prefer.
Working a long training plan is a journey made up of lots of moving parts. It can be a rollercoaster of feelings depending on what stage of the plan you are in. While we are all likely to have a favorite and a least favorite part of training take heart that any part you don’t like really will be over soon. What part of training is your favorite or least favorite and why? Leave it in the comments below!
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