Saturday, September 12, 2009

Peaking for Runners

"And If I thought it would do any good
I'd stand on the rock where Moses stood."
The Band "When You Awake"

Most runners hope to make their last race of the season their best race.

Finish runner Lasse Viren and his coach Rolf Haikkola stand as the gold standard for this ability to peak at the right time-- Viren won gold medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races at both the 1972 and 1976 Olympics and treated other races before the Olympics strictly Lasse Virenas preparation. For many New Jersey runners this would be the New Jersey State Cross Country Championships held in hilly Holmdel New Jersey in November. The question is what should you do to peak for your most important race that will maximize your chances for success? Some coaches advocate packing in some hard last minute training. Others a reduction in volume, still others rest.

Many runners have experienced the feeling of not running at their best when they really wanted to. Even some of our 2008 Olympians did not run their best race in their last Olympic race. While some runners like Shalene Flanagan (bronze medal in the 10,000 meters) were able to peak at the right time in the Olympic final, others ran much faster in less Shalene Flanaganimportant races earlier in the season. Did they just have a bad day or is there something they could have done differently to peak properly for their race? To get an insight, here are some thoughts on peaking from some top coaches and athletes:

Tom Osler, running author and former AAU national champion: Runner, Rowan U Mathematics Prof Tom Osler
I think peaking is one of the most ignored ideas in running. It's not new. Arthur Lydiard was the first coach to clearly state what it was and how it worked. This was about 1960. Most runners and coaches continue to ignore him.
(Note: Lydiard believed you cannot train hard and race well at the same time.)

Coach Jack Daniels, Currently the Head Distance Coach at the Center for High Altitude Training at Northern Arizona University:
I learned this lesson when I went to the Rome Olympics and decided to really get in some good training in those final weeks -- what a disaster that was. What you need to do is exactly what you have been doing, but just a little less of it. Definitely nothing faster or in any way more stressful than usual. You are not going to get in any better shape in those final Coach, Olympian Jack Danielscouple weeks; what you have to benefit from is a better frame of mind, not harder training. To not run in the Olympics as well as you ran in the trials is a sign of poor final preparation, and I always try to have my runners look back at what they did leading up to a particularly satisfying performance, and consider that approach again. We are not doing so well in preparation these days and it's hard to say where things need to be changed.

Greg Meyer, US World Record holder 10 miles, last American male to win Boston Marathon, Vice President of Aquinas College:
Greg Meyer wins 1983 Boston MarathonMy personal philosophy is peaking is more between the ears than Greg Meyer, photo by Lance Wynnanything...except swimming where they shave and go crazy!
I believe in resting enough to feel recovered, doing enough short hard work to keep the muscles firing and the feeling of being fast in your legs...

But the main thing I've focused on with the high school kids is their head. I'm building them up the last two weeks. Telling them how well they've worked, how fit they are, how it will all come together on race day ...just go have fun and race. I try to help them build a mental image in their head of them being small bits, talk about where they'll be at a certain point in the that will they will respond. If their head is right, and they believe in their training, my guess is they'll run well.

Steve Scott, one of the greatest American milers of all time (136 sub 4 minute miles) and presently Head Track Track and Cross Country Coach at Cal State San Marcos:

Peaking is the hardest thing to get right. Also, if everyone is on the same Steve Scottprogram, some peak and some don’t depending on how they react to VO2 work. I start our peak at 3 weeks out from our Nationals, I drop one workout, hills, give an extra days rest between workouts, and drop the volume slightly. For example, our pre-peak week at Cal State looks like this:
Mon long run 12-14 miles
Tues LT* workout 6-8 miles of work
Wed mileage
Thurs Hills 16-20 x 350
Fri mileage
Sat race or LT workout or race simulation (late in season)
Sun mileage

Mon long run 10-12 last 2 weeks
Tues mileage
Wed LT workout 5-7 miles
Thurs mileage
Fri mileage
Sat race or race simulation
Sun mileage
* LT = Lactate Threshold

I hope this helps, the thing to remember is, the lower an athlete’s aerobic base, the shorter the peak. That is why high school coaches keep them training hard to the end.

Emily Ward, former Gloucester Catholic and University of Richmond distance standout:
It seems like everyone has a taper method that works best for them. I Emily Ward with U of Richmond Teammatetend to do well on a great reduction in volume but a week that "mimics" a heavy training week....meaning a mini tempo, a mini speed session and 4-5 miles each day in between.

Swimmer Michael Phelps of course peaked perfectly in the 2008 Olympics winning 8 gold medals. His coach Bob Bowman, has said: "When you taper for a meet it's like getting a haircut, you never know if it's any good until it's too late. If we trained horses like we did people, we'd kill them."

Deciding on the correct peaking method is tricky because you must rest-- but not rest so much that you lose fitness. It is obvious however that too much hard training before your race may leave you too tired to run your best. Besides, last minute hard training is often counter productive-- it will not improve your fitness and is sometimes done for a coaches psyche that you have done everything possible before your race. It appears that a combination of rest with faster reps and a diminshed workload and a positive, focused mental outlook enables the body to give a peak effort on the day that you want.

Written By Jack Heath Appears in October 2009 Runners Gazette Magazine

No comments: