Cycles in Training

You’ve just finished a training cycle and a race, and you know that your speedworkouts were  key to your success.  So why not continue indefinitely?

Often times when we run our best race, or personal record (PR), we want to embrace everything that we have done right in race preparation.  And then we want to continue to do the same thing.  I find myself analyzing every race effort.  When things go well I want to repeat the experience... down to the socks that I wore on race day.  One tendency we might have is to think, "This speedwork is really working!  I am going to do this for 6 MORE weeks and see what I can really accomplish!"

But our body needs cycles in training, and the speedwork (aka "sharpening") portion of the cycle should be the shorter portion of your calendar year.  Let me explain:

Our calendar year should be divided up into cycles in training.  Each cycle should contain three elements with the majority of your year being spent in the first element:


  • Time when you maintain or increase mileage
  • Your peak mileage for the cycle (based upon race goal) should be hit by then end of  basebuilding
  • Weekly increase in volume should be 5-10%
  • Majority of runs are at 80% effort (considered easy run pace)
  • Advanced runners can add fartlek or hill work in occasionally, but no more than 1x/week


  • While maintaining, or even reducing overall mileage, athletes will incorporate speedwork
  • Varied speedwork should be done early in the sharpening phase with race specific workouts the final weeks of sharpening
    • Race specific means the majority of the work should be done AT race pace
  • Examples for speedwork: 
    • Fartlek runs
    • Pace Runs
    • Intervals of high intensity
    • Repeats on the track
  • The sharpening phase includes running that is more explosive and powerful than basebuilding.  The strength from basebuilding allows an athlete to tackle the sharpening phase with a reduced risk for injury.  Sharpening should not be started without adequate base mileage.


  • Time of reduced mileage and increased rest shortly before a race
  • During the taper continue to maintain some race specific speedwork in low volume
  • Suggested length of taper:
    • Marathon:  14-20 days
    • Half Marathon:  7-10 days
    • 10K:  3-5 days
    • 5K:  3 days

The three phases above can be used in training for a 5K on up to a Marathon.  In any given training plan, 65 to 75% of your time should be spent in the basebuilding phase.  This is the least glamorous, but most important phase in training.  It is when you are training your body to burn fuel efficiently and also when you build the strength you need to stay injury free.  Remember that basebuilding is not the fastest of running, but it is the foundation for the rest of your year.  In truth, the majority of your work is accomplished in this phase.  I think of it as the time when you put all of the ingredients in the cake batter bowl and mix it up. 

Sharpening is where things get fun.  I like to think of it as when you put the cake in the oven.  It when your workouts get spiced up with faster runs and big efforts. 

Finally, the taper is the icing on the cake.  Too often we fall in love with the cake before it is completed.  Remember that no cake is complete without the icing.  The taper – while the shortest portion of training – is perhaps the most underrated phase leading up to the race.  Treat the taper with great respect.  It is the final and finishing touches on many weeks of effort. 

Have a great year in training and happy running! 

Cycles in Training More Info »

Connect With Us

see the latest from Fleet Feet Winston-Salem