Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Taking 'down' weeks

Marathoners will know the feeling well. A week or so into the pre-race taper you feel very tired to the point of being totally exhausted. Even very easy runs seems like a struggle whereas just a few days earlier knocking out another brutual 22 miler seemed like a piece of cake. You wonder what on earth is going on.

I was remined of this feeling this week. After a good block of training including some long tempos and a fun 2hours 40mins with 6000feet of ascent at the weekend I'm taking a 'down' week and today I felt really tired, even running easily. Thats my body telling me that the last few weeks have been a good stressor and now I need to recover to take my fitness to the next level.

The body is very good at getting into a rythmn of handling hard work week after week. It learns to fool itself about its true level of fatugue. And in that fooling lies a potential elephant trap that most runners have fallen into at some point. Feeling invincible you keep pushing and pushing until you go completely over the edge and breakdown with illness or injury or worse still overtraining which requires a period of sustained rest to get over.

We all know that fitness comes from repeated cycles of stress and recovery to produce adaptation. So what can we do to give our body the best chance to adapt ? Regular 'down' weeks are a staple for many elite level runners and work just as well for club runners. Inefffect they serve as a mini-taper. The idea being to take quite a big drop in training laod for a week every 3rd or 4th week.

What does a big drop actually mean ? Well some runners will go for a 50% reduction in training load. So three weeks of 80 miles would be followed by 40 for example. Hard workouts would see a correspong drop in the volume of faster miles run (though you need to maintain the pace to keep the neural pathways ticking over). The temptation is to go for just a small reduction (usually induced by fear that less training = losing fitness) whereas if you are really taking a 'down' week then you should make it really down. The use that freshness for the next training block.

So ask yourself whether you have been running the same training for a while or reached a bit of plateau ? Then take a down week and recharge the batteries then take your training to a new level the week after.

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