Default Time off during season
I have had a brutal summer of training, been quite sluggish and feeling not 100%, I had a good winter/spring of training and racing then in May my fitness level dropped dramatically, I ran a 1/2 marathon PR in late April just training through it with the intent of running well in late May/early June for some 5k/10k races but after the 1/2 I felt sluggish in workouts as well as easy runs, tried a few of my goal races but they were sub-par and I even had to drop out of one, in June and July I just got back to running mileage with some occassional tempo pace stuff but still felt sluggish, over the last month ran some low key road races and my times were extremely slow, I have tried to incorporate more rest in my training with taking one day off per week for the past 2+ months but still feel nowhere near how I felt in April, I have never really taken an extended time off after a season of training, now I am getting ready to compete in some XC races in late Nov and wondering if I should take a week or so off to maybe recharge but not sure what to do, any thoughts?
You may need 3-5 days off, but I doubt more than that. Typically people run into problems when they work harder than their body can adapt. Usually it is a lack of daily modulation of intensity that is the culprit, along with doing hard workouts too often.
#1) Be sure to run slow enough between key workouts. Typically running about current (not goal) 5k race-pace plus 2 minutes per mile is a good easy-run pace. The majority of people who go into short or long-term slumps are running too fast on a daily basis.
2) Pick two days per week you will push the pace, only. I recommend doing something quite simple. The first day do repeat miles at 5k pace plus about 30 seconds per mile (today's 5k pace). Jog a couple of minute between each rep. Don't run too many reps. Start 3 and do that for a couple of weeks. Here is a rule of thumb I use: 90 divided by your 5k time is the maximum number of reps you should do at 5k pace plus 30 seconds per mile. So, if you can run 18 minutes in a 5k race today the most reps you should do is 5 because 90 / 18 = 5. I normally don't give my formulas to anyone, but I am getting a lot of email from people who have run into slumps like yours, and it's just better if I give the formula so that I don't get 2-3 emails every day with people wanting help. I don't have the time or energy to do repeated emails because of school work, working, family, etc. Remember, I suggest 5k pace plus 30 seconds as a way of getting out of a slump while still improving fitness. Later, if you feel better you can do CV work which is more along the line of 5k plus 12-16 seconds per mile.
The other key training day you should do a tempo run. Add 45 seconds per mile to today's 5k pace and, after a 15 minute warm up run, do a few miles at that pace. You should probably start your first mile, maybe two, at about 5k pace plus 60 seconds per mile. The reason is simple:
a) gradual progression ensures you are thoroughly warmed up and ready to roll;
b) if you are having an off-day and you start at 5k pace plus 60 seconds per mile you will quickly figure out that you should cancel the workout. I'd rather you run a mile at 5k pace plus 60 seconds, even two, and then nix the workout then run 5k pace plus 45 seconds per mile for a mile or two and realize you are working way too hard to keep that pace going. By that time you have dug a whole of greater fatigue that will require about 3 days to recover from.
*All the other runs and days per week run easy. Seriously 5k pace plus 2 minutes per mile will still improve your aerobic endurance but it won't deplete your body of adaptive reserves.
Now, I'll throw another thing out there: run more often. Yep, run more often! Cut the length of your runs and run more often at the easy pace I suggested. Instead of doing an 8 miler at your normal pace run two 4 milers on some of your days. Your body will start to feel better when you do this on your easy days.
Have you ever noticed that many of the elites do a lot of double days? Often, elite runners won't run more than about an about an hour in any single run. Why do you think that is? Is it because they are too lazy to run further? Not a chance!
It's because they know that they can do more volume per day and per week if they keep individual runs under a certain limit. There's a lot of trauma to connective tissue and cell membranes that happens beyond a certain amount of distance work. I estimate the ideal amount of running on days between key workouts can be found by using my mileage times .5 formula. If use this formula you have to do a lot of doubles, but in the long-term you feel a lot better.
Look at this example:
Joe is a 29:34 10k runner (he has a lot of dedication but he's not quite the elite genetics that could take him to the world class level). He runs ~120 miles per week (the secret that got him to the 29:34 level given his genetics talent for distance work which was above average but not elite). He found the hard way that 120 miles per week works for him only when he runs doubles often. He can't possibly run more than baout 90 miles per week in singles because he feels beat, and he runs poorly in workouts and races too. So, because Tinman is his coach and suggests using the mileae * .5 formula, he sets his training up as follows:
120 miles per week *.5 = 60. Sixty is the average number of minutes for most runs he should do. So, a 60 minute run in the morning and evening 4-5 days per week gives him about 19 miles for those days. He runs several doubles per week but has 1 or 2 days that he doesn't double (like the day before and after a race). It varies a little, depending upon whether he is racing or not.
Here is how Joe might schedule his training:
Mon - am - 1 hour EZ (around 6:30-6:15 per mile)
pm - 1 hour EZ (around 6:15 per to 6:00 per mile)
Tue - am - 1 hour EZ (6:30-6:15 per mile)
pm - 1 hour, including 6 x 1 mile at CV pace (about 4:46-52 per mile). He adjusts to how he's feeling on any given day, adjusts to the course he's running on, and adjusts to the weather he faces.
Wed - am - 1/2 hour EZ
pm = 1 hour EZ
Thu - am - 1 hour EZ
pm - 1 hour, including light fartlek to put some spring in his legs (he might do some15-30 second pickups during his run)
Fri - am - 1 hour EZ
Sat - am 3 miles warm up, 10k race, 3 miles warm down. pm - 1 hour EZ
Sun - 1-1.5 hours EZ
That's about 120 miles per week for Joe. Because he is doubling often and seldom exceeds 1 hour per run his body can absorb the workload. Had he tried to do 1.5-2 hour single runs to get that mileage he probably wouldn't last very long!
Have you ever read Malmo's posts on letsrun.com? Why do you think he is adamant about doubling? He knows that to run big mileage you have to do doubles. But the truth is the same principle can be used for lower mileage runners. Focus on doing your key workouts twice per week well (very well) and just put in easy distance in whatever way makes your body feel good the remainder of the days.
Doubling takes organization and sacrifice, it costs you sleep if you are not disciplined enough to get to bed early, but it does pay big dividends - even as short as 3-5 weeks for some runners.
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