- Run in a 5 week cycle of 3 weeks higher volume followed by 2 weeks of lower volume.
The human body will adapt to increased training and move to a higher level of fitness over time. If you train in a straight line you may be able to run without injury and continue to see improvement over several months. Most athletes train in straight line week after week, have success and reach a fitness plateau. Without a break, eventually they are forced to take a break through injury.
Nature moves in cycles. Night. Day. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. If you train in cycles you will find you will be able to improve at a faster rate than training in a straight line, and reduce the risk of injury because you have built in rest time.
There are two kinds of training cycles: major training cycle; and, minor training cycle.
Major Training Cycle
The major training cycle works towards your primary goal which could be between four to six months in the future. Your primary goal is your key race, and it could be a specific event. All of your training and racing should push your fitness higher towards your primary goal. You may use other secondary races along the way to improve your fitness but your primary goal is your main race. All of your training over several months for that key race is a major cycle.
During these times it is difficult to know exactly when races will resume and not easy to plan a major cycle. What you can do is work towards improving your fitness and speed using minor cycles which will build a base for longer races in the future.
Minor Training Cycle
The minor training cycle is longer than a week and less than two months. Within this smaller cycle you will have a mix of hard training and easy training. For example, by running 3 weeks at 50km per week followed with 2 weeks at 30km per week, you are following a cycle and you have a built in rest period.
Training at a high volume for 3 weeks improves fitness but there will be a fatigue build up as well. Follow with 2 lower volume weeks and your body has a chance to recover and spring back. Your running performance will be faster at the end of the 2 weeks. You will be ready to begin your next 5 week training cycle.
As your fitness improves you will be able to tolerate more workouts of high intensity training and reach a higher level of fitness (by fitness I mean the ability to race faster in races or time trials). With each cycle your fitness should be higher, and if it is, then you are climbing the ladder of fitness. You can test your fitness by running a 5km time trial at the end of the 2 week lower volume phase.
Regarding training paces. Within each 5 week cycle your training paces stay at the same level but the following cycle you should be able to run at the next level. For example during the first 5 week cycle you train at the 4 hour marathon level. The second training cycle you train at the 3:55 marathon level and the third cycle 3:50 marathon level. You should be improving the paces at the beginning of each 5 week cycle.
Training in cycles also provides a mental break. You have been training hard for 3 weeks knowing you will have a 2 week break. You can skip a run during the lower volume week and know it fits into a bigger picture.