Before you take your first step in the progamme, it is important to understand how the plans are set up. You can follow them “blindly”, to the letter, and that’s fine, but I always prefer for people to understand a little about the ‘why’, because that gives them some influence and power. It’s not always possible to stick exactly to the plan, because life and work get in the way. Sometimes you need to make adjustments, and what I want to do briefly here is explain the principles you can follow to make those without negatively affecting your prospects.
The first key element of the plan is the progressive overload. What I mean by that is that we want to add volume (distance) every week, so that we can take advantage of your body adapting to training. The adaptation is what drives fitness and performance. The idea behind training is to ‘stress’ your body just slightly beyond its current ability, and it will then adapt, and you’ll get fitter and faster. If your current capacity is X, we are aiming to do X + Y, every week.
You’ll see in the programmes that there is a general theme of making your runs a little longer, week by week. This is especially true of the weekend long run, which I am putting at the weekends, though you choose whether it’s a Saturday or Sunday, depending on your schedule. That run builds, week after week, to about weeks 9 and 10, where you’ll do your longest runs, and also have your biggest total weeks. The weekly training runs also get a bit longer, and your overall weekly distance rises. So that’s an element that is crucial to the plan.
The next element is recovery. This is absolutely critical – you get better because you train but it’s the recovery that allows the adaptation. What we do is include at least one rest day, every week, and then every third or fourth week, we have a “down week”, where the distances drop back down. Think of it as three steps forward, one back. This is vital, because it allows you to recover, recharge, and then attack the next week capable of building again.
The main thing for you to be aware of regarding recovery is that every hard day – a long run or a speed session or a time-trial – is followed by a recovery day, either a rest, or an easy run, and if you do have to shuffle your training around, try to avoid putting those hard days on consecutive days. You’ll also see that the faster your goal, the fewer rest days you have per week – that’s just because if your goal is a 1h45 or a sub-5, you need more volume, more speed work, so we ‘sacrifice’ some rest days, which is why these target times are a bit more challenging.
There are of course a few other principles that go into the plan, but these are the main ones – if you can build, week after week, and provide recovery within a week and every fourth week, then you are going to be close to finding the balance that allows you to get fitter without over doing it. Keep those in mind and even if you have to deviate from the plan, you still do the right things at the right time! – Prof Ross Tucker