Monday, September 10, 2007

Plateau Don't Peak

I want to clear up a term I hear often but used incorrectly among my marathon training buds: Peaking. IMO the term gets used too often in error as a caution to others against doing too much base work too soon. I hear things like: “Wow, you are did a 20 miler already!?! You’re gonna peak too soon dude!” The discussion inevitably revolves around how many miles should be run in a given week and whether or not it’s too many miles too soon or not enough. I ascribe to the principle that, for the marathon, it’s more important to use a period of training. A period is a timeframe such as a month where a range of mileage is combined with a consistent level of rest/recovery. Its a way to reach a fitness plateau. I break my lengthy transformation from a big pile of beer and pizza goo to a hulking mass of twisted steel into smaller periods. During all periods I want to follow the hard/easy principle (that is to say hard workouts are followed with easy ones). I try to listen to my body as I don’t want to over train. When I do occasionally over do it, I want to be smart enough to back off. Training for the marathon is not to throw oneself downrange like a cannonball. You don’t have a trajectory with a peak whereby you try to hit the target at the top of its flight path. It’s also not a simple linear mileage building process. It’s more akin to climbing flights of stairs or climbing up the side of a mountain. You will encounter periods where the climb is steep and difficult and then you reach a place where you can become accustomed to the height before you attempt your next ascent. Don’t attempt the next fitness plateau until your body has had a chance to adjust to your newly obtained fitness level. It has been my experience that I need to stay at the new level for at least a few weeks before going up again. As long as I continue with a sound plan of period based training, cautiously increasing mileage to obtain a new plateau, and stay at that plateau long enough to adjust for the next ascent, I will continue to improve (until god says "hold right there bud or your coming home with me!"). I am coming to the realization that it’s less about the weekly mileage than about understanding periodization. Break the fitness objective down into smaller parts and obtain your goals piece by piece. A peak (or peaking), conversely, is the optimum or apex (highest level) of performance possible for you at your current fitness level. It’s important for running your absolute fastest race but don’t confuse it with a plateau. When you start getting close to race day, say several weeks out, start concerning yourself with peaking, not until then. Peaking is what you want to have happen at the end of all your training on race day. Plateaus are the shelves you sit upon while climbing up the mountain. Peaking is less critical than fitness based on smart periodization. Finally, DO NOT confuse missing a peak with being over trained. Over training can and will definitely hurt your performance! But overtraining is much less likely if you ascribe a plan that includes periodization and that allows for plenty of rest and evaluation.

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