The Basics: Periodization – putting it all together

Periodization is how you put all the training elements together so you can peak on race day. Because the human body is so good at adapting, we need to vary the stimulus throughout the training cycle to keep getting better. If we don’t our fitness will stop improving.There are two basic theories of periodization: linear and non-linear. Linear periodization was championed by Arthur Lydiard. Essentially you divide the training schedule into distinct blocks and do a specific set of training that is focused on developing a single aspect of fitness. For example you may have heard of a “base phase” of training where you do a lot of aerobic, slow running to develop an endurance base. This type of training block is usually found in a linearly periodized training plan. The nonlinear periodization mixes in other types of training during each phase while still keeping the emphasis on a certain aspect of fitness. I am more a fan of the non-linear method because the different components of running fitness are very interrelated and training multiple components at once yields a greater benefit than simply focusing on one type of training. Also it makes training a lot more interesting and fun.
Here are the training phases that I usually prescribe:

Foundation Phase

During this phase the focus is on developing the neuromuscular fitness needed for running effectively and developing some aerobic fitness. If you are band new to running or coming back from a significant layoff, I recommend a pre-foundation phase (3 – 4 weeks) consisting solely of specific strength and mobility work to prepare your body for the rigors of running. This will help with injury prevention and lay the ground work for good running form. In the foundation phase you will do a lot of aerobic running at an easy pace, strides to work the neuromuscular system, strength and mobility work, and the occasional fartlek. This phase can last up to six weeks.  If you train continuously you will find that after a race and some time off you can do a 2 – 3 week foundation phase to get ready for the training cycle.

Build Phase

In the build phase we begin to increase mileage and start heading towards specific workouts. The emphasis here is on getting the volume up to a level that will get you to your goal. Every athlete and goal is different so this could be 30 miles/week or 120 miles/week. You will start to lengthen your long run, incorporate a more structured workout once a week (moving from a  fartlek to a tempo run or intervals), and continue with strength work and strides. This phase can last up top six weeks as well.

Sharpening Phase

This is where the rubber meets the road in the training plan. Here we are full on into race specific workouts and a long run. You may do 2 structured workouts and a long run in this phase. Something like a tempo run on Tuesday, intervals on Thursday, and a long run on Sunday. For those racing half marathons or marathons, we start using the long run to get some race specific work in. Doing a long run of 14 miles with 6 at HM pace, for example, would be a long run found in this phase. The workouts here will be good indicators of how fit you are for your goal race. This phase should be 5 or 6 weeks although it is the one to cut if you don’t have the time or an injury pops up.


The taper is usually a one to two week period right before the race. We reduce the frequency of runs but keep the intensity. This is resting up for your goal race. This is probably the hardest phase to master as each athlete responds to tapering differently. Here I would shorten the race pace workout and do race pace work on a shorter long run. The goal is to rest for the goal race while still maintaining a high level of fitness.
Keep in mind the there are not hard boundaries around each phase – they blend together.

How do you usually structure your training cycle?

1 ping

  1. […] Periodization is the final key to solid training. You don’t start a marathon training cycle with a 22 mile long run. A good training plan will build foundational fitness, from both an aerobic and neuromuscular perspective. This means gradually increasing the length of long runs and keeping them easy, to build the aerobic metabolism. It also means incorporating running specific strength work and strides to ensure that your running economy and mechanics are improving along with your cardiovascular fitness. Back in the Marines we would call this the crawl, walk, run method for training. Each block of training builds on the last. First you do a foundation, then move on to some race specific work, and finish with a taper or sharpening period. For a my full take on periodization see this earlier post. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: