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Breaking down training for a year of racing

Brom Hoban

Leo Manzano was saying recently he had his training and racing schedule pretty much set for 2011.

Now, Manzano is not your average runner. An Austin area resident and former Texas Longhorns track star, Manzano was a 2008 Olympian, has run a 3:50 mile and is considered one of the world's top middle-distance runners.

Runners who want to do well in weekend races might find some value in Manzano's structured approach to training and competing.

"Consistency is everything. Everyday runners may not have the freedom to train like professionals, but having a plan will make your life, and training, easier and ultimately will deliver results," says Nike's Ryan Ponsonby, who coaches Manzano and other high level runners.

Scott Hippensteel, the successful track and cross country coach for Lockhart High School, concurs with Ponsonby.

"I think that having a solid training plan is the key to racing success," says Hippensteel. "Random training patterns will lead a runner to random racing results. Specific training patterns will lead a runner to more exacting results."

To get into your best race shape, Ponsonby suggests breaking the new year up into five periods.

Period 1:The first 12 weeks are "base training" in order to establish consistency, and to prepare so you'll be able to handle the year ahead. Running during this period is done at low intensity (easy pace) but with a goal of building volume (weekly mileage).

Period 2: As March gives way to April, Ponsonby recommends a shift to increased intensity and volume. This period should last the next eight weeks. "Your highest mileage occurs during this period," he says. "You'll still do long repetitions like mile repeats, hills and tempo work, but minimal speed work." Also, he says it's fine to throw in a race or two during this phase, like the Statesman Capitol 10,000 (March 27) or the Texas Round Up 5K on April 30.

Period 3: By the middle of May, it's time to introduce track sessions, shorter intervals, and some speed for the next six to seven weeks. "You'll do the majority of your lactate threshold work (runs of four to five miles at about 10-15 seconds per mile slower than 10K race pace), and the highest amount of ‘quality' sessions occurs during this period," says Ponsonby.

At this point, the occasional race is an effective way to get in an intense workout. The trick is to skip a mid-week speed session and instead substitute a weekend 5K. It's a good way to have fun while getting in a hard workout.

Period 4: The next five to six weeks are basically fine-tuning. Runners should reduce their weekly mileage but still maintain some quality workouts that are more specific to the type of races they are targeting. Again, substitute races for speed work when possible.

Period 5: Beginning in July, runners should be ready to race through the fall. According to Ponsonby, since they will be racing regularly, any additional speed workouts done at this point are simply to maintain sharpness.

"This is when you can really have fun with your fitness," says Ponsonby. "If you race every three-to-four weeks, just add in a couple of maintenance sessions like tempo runs in between. All the work has been done to carry you through the fall racing season."

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Notes: At the USA Track & Field 100K Trail National Championships in Bandera, Dave Mackey of Boulder, Colorado, won in a course record 8:16:48. Dave James of Northfield, Ohio, was second in 8:33:36. Among women, Liza Howard of San Antonio won in a course record 9:35:23. Pam Smith of Salem, Oregon, took second in 9:46:42.