All Mindful Runner athletes are on training cycles lasting 3 or 4 weeks. There is an increase in training load from week to week and then the final week in the phase is a recovery week.
Using weekly cycles is a convenience since it fits in with the working week. We can schedule the big stuff for the weekends. However using 3 or 4 week cycles is not always the best and there are times when I will use different cycles(up to 6 weeks) and mini cycles within a training phase. I also sometimes break the 7 days rule and build 5, 10 or 12 day weeks.
We use Training Peaks to schedule all endurance training for Mindful Runner athletes. Training Peaks collects all of the metrics being returned from an athletes heart rate monitor for later analysis. We utilise all of the collected data and graphs available within Training Peaks to ensure that our athletes arrive at their main events in peak shape. Training Stress is key to understanding just how hard an athlete is working and when they need to rest. Training Peaks has three indicators, Fitness, Fatigue and Form.
Fitness is a moving average of the last 42 days of Training Stress Score.The higher the number the fitter you are.
In Training Peaks each individual workout has a score TSS (Training Stress Score) and it’s basically a combination of duration at a HR or duration at NGP(normalized graded pace. NGP factors the gradient into your pace). For running on track and road it’s a very accurate measure of effort. Trail it’s slightly trickier. Fatigue is the TSS calculated as an exponential average of the last 7 days.
Form is calculated as Yesterday’s Fitness – Yesterday’s Fatigue. Form is one indicator of just how fatigued or undertrained an athlete is. A positive Form value above 15 means you aren’t placing enough stress on your system to force training adaptations’. A Form value between 15 and -15 means you are ready to race and this is what we aim for during the Taper Phase. I like to get Form as close to +5 as possible on race day. The more negative your Form the more fatigued your system is. These three numbers are the metrics by which we judge the effectiveness of our training program on a daily basis.
The only way to improve any aspect of your running is to move your body out of a comfort zone and into a state of stress or fatigue. We have got to place enough stress on your system to force an adaptation. That means you have to run faster or run longer than you are comfortable with. If you don’t create this stress then there is no growth. The greater the stress the bigger the response. The key in training is to apply so much accumulated stress that you almost break the system and then back off just long enough for your body to repair the damage and make you stronger in response. Then start the cycle again.
Having explained the use of training cycles and how we can see whether your Training Stress is high or low. I now need to tell you that there is still a high degree of magic that surrounds stress, rest and recovery. Most of the magic is slowly accumulated over time as we gain experience with working with individual athletes. The more we work together, the more we learn what works for you and what the signs are that you are getting close to needing a break or that you need to work harder. When it comes to rest, more often than not the recovery week is in the coming week and if that’s the case then there is no problem and the athlete continues with the program. If the athlete needs to work harder that will usually only go into the next phase.
There are 3 things you can do to improve the magic. Log your perceived effort, log how you felt(Training Peaks uses smileys), use post exercise comments to provide more detail about how the workout went for you. This is the Training Peaks feedback form.
Phases of specific periods(3 , 4 , 6 weeks) are the staple of coaching programs the world over. The only drawback to this approach is that it is inherently conservative. Used properly it is very unlikely that an athlete will ever be overtrained. These cycles are intentionally conservative because you can’t get results if you break down. This is all good and it does ensure long steady growth. However, it’s also unlikely that an athlete will ever truly maximize their own potential.
For those looking to get the best from their training. Start with a cycle appropriate to the athlete stage of training they are in. Then utilize the daily biometrics(Body Fat, HRV, Resting HR ) and feedback from the previous days training(how you felt, PE and Comments ) to tailor the coming days. It may be that the training can be intensified, the athlete needs time to recover or that a different training protocol is needed. This approach means that the coach and athlete need a clear understanding of how this phase of training fits into the annual training plan, what the seasons primary objectives are and how achieving those objectives will be measured. This approach is so agile that, for instance, a positive trending HRV over the last 3 days can influence the next 4 days of training or a negatively trending resting HR can point to a rest period being needed the very next day. It’s clear that this approach needs close daily communication between athlete and coach but it is guaranteed to get the best results. Which is why you would consider taking the Gold Training package. This approach also needs an efficient software package like Training Peaks to be able to deliver next day changes to an athletes program.