Polarized Training Update: Week 3

1+1=2A couple of weeks ago, I started shifting over to a more polarized training pattern.  Here’s a quick update on how it’s been going.

After the Black Diamond Duathlon, I was feeling a bit burned out from a summer full of racing and lactate threshold training.  My running was also taking a turn for the worse and my legs just didn’t seem to have any speed anymore.  It was time to go back to the drawing board, build lots of easy volume and also do some really fast short intervals.  In retrospect, I probably should have taken a few weeks completely off, but I wanted to keep my options open for late fall races.

As I described in an earlier post, polarized training is a training pattern that many world-class athletes naturally settle into.  It involves spending a lot of time training at really low intensity and with most speedwork coming in the form of very high intensity training.  Very little training is done at lactate threshold.   There is also some thought that this training pattern is particularly helpful for older athletes, as many of the age group world records have been set by runners using this strategy.  I’m still not 100% sold on the idea of polarized training and I suspect it’s not entirely for me, but the off-season seemed like a perfect time to experiment with it.

I decided to keep things simple by only focusing on running.  My cycling is in fine shape and I have a very clear idea about what my body wants for next season to do well.  As a duathlete, my running volume has never been that high, mostly hovering around 20-30 miles a week and mostly coming from 3-4 runs per week.  Two of these runs are fast efforts (about 10K pace) and two are super-slow recovery runs.   Switching over to polarized training came as quite a shock.  In my first week, I ran 6 miles a day for six days of the week.  One day was dedicated to very fast speedwork (all-out mile pace) and next five days comprised runs at a snail’s pace.  I would then take one day off before the cycle started over again.  Each week, I added a couple of minutes to the runs so now I’m up to running about 48 miles a week.

Here are my observations so far:

  • Walking Breaks Are Essential.  I have always been a speedster and so building volume has always been a painful endeavor for me.  Running super-slowly for several days in a row, leaves me feeling stiff with absolutely no spring in my legs.   While I know that the difficulty of these runs will ease as I settle into the routine, that won’t come until some time after I stop increasing the distance of my runs.  I find that very short walking breaks are essential to keeping flexible and springy in these runs.  Rather than using my typical 8-minutes of running and 1-minute of walking pattern, I found that the length of the walking break could be much shorter if my goal is just to stretch out my legs and do a few plyos.  So I run 4-1/2 minutes and take only a 30-second walk break.  So far this has dramatically improved my daily “long” runs.  First, instead of running really slow (about 11 minutes per mile), I’m able to keep the running portion at a respectable 9-minute pace or faster at the same heart rate.  Second, my legs feel much better at the end of the run.  During my short 30-second walk break, I’m usually not walking much—instead, I do a few plyometric hops and always do a deep squat, simultaneously giving my lower back, quads, and soleus a nice stretch.
  • Hard to Avoid Losing Speed.  During my track workouts, I’ve noticed that my speed in my fast intervals is declining.  I’ve heard that this isn’t uncommon—particularly when the mileage is still going up.  I have noticed, however, that I can maintain the overall length of my sessions much longer.  For instance, I recently did a Billat interval set and lasted at least ten minutes longer than I was able to last before.
  • Running with a Metronome.  A few months back, I posted about how the 90-strides a minute phenomenon is a hoax—and I still stand by that position.  But I’ve gone back to using a metronome on my daily runs.  The reason is that, when I’m running really slow, my cadence naturally wants to drop very low (e.g. low 80’s).  With a cadence that low, my vertical amplitude naturally gets higher, the overall impact forces on each stride are much greater, and (most importantly), my foot spends an unnaturally long time on the ground.  It’s that last factor that started causing my ankles to get really sore because my ankle was dorsiflexing and pronating more than they should.
  • Getting Tougher.  I’ve noticed that running slowly and more consistently is making my legs “tougher.”  This is really hard to describe adequately.  When I was focusing much more on speed and lactate threshold efforts, I felt as if I was always on a razor’s edge of injury.  In reality, there never was an injury around the corner.

My goal is to keep slowly increasing my mileage until I’m running about 60 miles a week pretty consistently.  At that point, I’ll start increasing the distance of just one weekly run, so my total volume likely won’t go over 70 miles a week.  About that same time, I’ll start folding in some gentle cycling.  I have a plan for both getting in a good amount of volume of the bike, improving my running, and even improving my work (not just workout) time—but my (currently) secret plans for accomplishing these goals will be the subject of a future post.

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