Planning the General Preparation Period for Middle Distance Training

Posted by Scott Christensen

The first training segment of time is called the general preparation period, or just general prep for short.  This stage sets the tone for the season. 

The middle distance training macrocyle is ideally set up to be between fifteen and twenty weeks in length.  The greater the amount of overall time available, then the longer the first training stage can be. 

There are two middle distance general prep models found in this country. 

One is the collegiate model which is characterized by a long fall training period of both general endurance and general strength building activities which leads into an indoor competitive season in the winter.  The collegiate coach can personally direct the middle distance runners through general prep in an unhurried, non-specific training scheme of gradual improvement exercises. 


* Coaching Resource: The Mile: Successful Coaching Strategies


The second model is largely the high school model which is characterized by middle distance runners that may participate in a winter sport season not associated with track running, may be uninterested in off-season running, may be participants in indoor track (mainly Northeast U.S. high schools), or may run extensively on their own during the period leading up to spring track. 

In other words, the high school model is much more open to preparation variables that are out of the control of the middle distance coach than the collegiate model is. 

In any event, it is important for all stakeholders to realize that what happens during general prep, and for how long it happens, will largely dictate the rate and ceiling of improvement for the middle distance runner during the macrocycle.

When a middle distance coach relates a simple exercise marker like training volume to the periods in a training macrocycle it could resemble Figure 1.  



The two most notable characteristics of the general prep example as shown in Figure 1 are: 1) it is the longest of the four periods of the macrocycle, and 2) it is a time period of emphasis on building volume gradually and not in reaching a volume ceiling. 

Practically speaking, general prep could all be done as a direct coaching model, or it could be done all as an athlete directed model (as long as they understood the goal of what the training focus for general prep was).  However, in most cases it is a combination of the two models where early general prep is athlete directed and later general prep is coach directed.

Middle distance training microcycles prescribed during all of general prep make the most sense if they are seven days in length.  There is little specificity to the training, thus a smaller variety of things to do.  The training components that are done need to be repeated frequently.  This adds up to shorter and simpler microcycles than those done during the other three periods.


* Additional Resource: Every 800m – 1600m Workout For The Entire High School Season


The training components common to each general prep microcycle should be: a long run (20% of microcyle mileage), three base runs (each 15% of microcycle mileage), one recovery run (8-10% of microcycle mileage), one strength run (short hill repeats with appropriate warm-up and cool-down mileage), and one max speed session (repeat flying 30 meters/3 min rest between, and with appropriate warm-up and cool-down mileage).  The coach or athlete can arrange the sequence of these training units in the microcycle.

            The general prep period is a time of expansive athlete aerobic development done gradually so that injuries are kept to a minimum.  Whatever the general prep model that is implemented, stay true to the focus of what the period is all about.


Scott Christensen - Scott Christensen’s teams have been ranked in the national top 10 eight times. He won the 1997 High School National Championship and his squads have captured multiple Minnesota State Championships. Scott has coached 13 Minnesota State Championship-winning teams and 27 individual Minnesota State Champions. He was the USTFCCCA Endurance Specialist School junior team leader for the World Cross Country Team in 2003 and the senior team leader in 2008. Scott is a 14-year USATF Level II endurance lead instructor.

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