Viking XC Four Phase Training Approach

To help in understanding the training approach for Viking Cross Country, this post will explain the four phase approach being used.  It’s always good to understand the WHY of what we do and see how every run fits into your overall training.  You don’t have to commit all of the information below to memory; the coaches will take care of formulating the workouts and help keep you on track. This simply gives you the science behind those workouts.

The four phases of training are: Base Mileage, Repetition, Intervals, and Tapering.  This approach is based upon work done by Dr. Jack Daniels among others and is centered around introducing different types of stresses throughout the training process.  Those stresses include things like significant mileage increases, introduction of “speed work,” and so forth, but the key is to only introduce one stress at a time.  Ideally, each of these phases is at least four to six weeks long. Our official season is only twelve weeks long from the start of mandatory practice at the beginning of August to the District Championship in October, which simply doesn’t give us enough time to get through a full training cycle.

Phase 1 (Base Mileage) – This phase is all about getting the body acclimated to regular running. Running demands a lot from your heart, lungs, muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons…you get the idea.  This is probably the most critical of all the phases because there’s simply no shortcutting it, and it will make the biggest impact on the overall season.  Most runners are familiar with shin splints, and they’re most often encountered when runners move from a period of running very little to running hard workouts with little transition.  As mentioned above, we only have twelve weeks in the official season, and we can’t afford to wait until late September to begin introducing speed work.  Getting that base mileage built over the summer will make a huge difference in being able to run your best in the latter half of the season. All of this running should be done at an easy (E) to moderate pace.

A few principles to keep follow as you build your mileage:

– Take it easy! The first couple weeks in particular should be easy runs. We’re not racing yet, and we have workouts to build the speed.

– Set a “long day” early in the week and add one mile to it each week.

– Track your mileage, particularly overall weekly mileage. Increase weekly mileage by 3-5 miles each week.

– After the first couple weeks, start adding strides in. Strides are periods of 10-15 seconds of up tempo running; not sprinting, but running fast. Take 30-45 seconds to recover with a light jog. Throw in 4-6 strides at the end of at least two runs.

Here is an example of a conservative approach to mileage increase:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Monday 5 miles 6 miles 6 miles 7 miles
Tuesday Off Off Off 4 miles
Wednesday 3 miles 4 miles 4 miles Off
Thursday 4 miles 5 miles 5 miles 6 miles
Friday Off Off 3 miles 4 miles
Saturday 3 miles 4 miles 4 miles 5 miles
Sunday Off Off 5 miles Off
Total 15 miles 19 miles 22 miles 26 miles

Ideally, this phase begins in late May or early June.

Phase 2 (Repetition) – Now that we have a foundation built and our bodies are accustomed to running, we can begin to add “speed work” to the mix.  Repetition (R) work is designed to improve your anaerobic power and increase your speed.  The threshold between your aerobic and anaerobic running is referred to as VO2max (or “VDOT”), and is essentially a measure of your peak threshold at a given time. The workouts we do from this phase on are all based upon your approximate VDOT, usually measured by performance in a recent race or time trial.  As an example, if you run a 21:00 5k race (6:46/mile avg) at max effort your VDOT value is 47.  That roughly equates to a 6:10 for a one mile race. Based on that value, your R-pace for 200 meter repeats would be 45 seconds (or 90 seconds for 1/4 mile repeats).  That’s a 6:00/mile pace…obviously faster than your projected one mile race pace, but for a shorter distance.

An important point here is that the total distance run at R-pace in one of these sessions should not be more than 5% of your total weekly mileage. So if you are running 20 miles per week, you would do no more than eight 200m repeats (or four 1/4 mile repeats) in that session.  This is another reason why building that base mileage up in Phase 1 is so important as it will both help you recover faster from the reps and allow you to run more of them.  While we will try to vary terrain, the nature of these reps will often have us on the track one day per week.

We typically want this phase to begin in early to mid July. We will do a one mile time trial on the track to set your initial VDOT so we have a starting point, and then adjust as necessary until the first meet in late August.

Phase 3 (Intervals) – Where Phase 1 was building that base endurance and Phase 2 focused on raw speed, this phase is focused on aerobic power.  The interval (I) work is specifically designed to push the VO2max upward, which most directly impacts race performance.  This is the most difficult phase, but also the one that will really make your eyes wide seeing your time as you cross the line in those late season races. The best way to improve a physical function is to stress that function, so Interval work is specifically designed to stress you at the point of VO2max. The usual target is about 3 to 5 minutes at the target pace, with no more than about 8% of your total weekly mileage in any one session. So continuing with the previous example, you might run three 800m (1/2 mile) intervals at a 3:18 target time. This projects to a 6:36 mile, under your 5k pace but not like the R runs.

For those keeping with the schedule, these workouts should cover the month of September.

Phase 4 (Tapering) – With all the work put in, it’s time to reap the rewards. This last phase is simply scaling back the work to give us “fresh legs” on race day.  It’s not a sharp drop in training so much as an easing off the frequency and intensity of the workouts. So instead of two speed sessions in a week there may only be one, and that one will be modified. There won’t be any hill work at this point.  All of the work we’ve done since June comes together in these last few weeks leading into the NWOAL and District meets.

If we’re on track, this will start in October and take us through the end of the season.

That’s the framework we’re using to get us through from pre-season to the end of October. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of the coaches!

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