The Twelve Day Middle Distance Training Microcycle

Posted by Scott Christensen

Understanding the principles of training theory is an important aspect of training middle distance runners. Training theory applies the laws of the natural world to the domain of athletics so that coaches do not have to rely on hope, belief, and trial or error in setting up a sequential training plan for their athletes.

Training theory has also established a universal language among both scientists and coaches that is used to communicate the scientific research to training application. Terms such as stimulus, adaptation, reversibility, multi-lateral, macrocycle, and microcycle are just a few examples of this common language. Training theory language to coaches is what Latin is to biologists in being able to communicate effectively on a universal basis.

One of the most important terms in training theory is the microcycle. This word is by no means interchangeable with the concept of the Mayan seven-day week of Sunday through Saturday that rules most of our lives, but unfortunately this confusion is found among many coaches. Like the seven-day workweek in our society, a microcycle is a block of time that repeats itself over and over in some form with one microcycle leading into another.

The real confusion lies in how many days a training microcycle needs to be in setting up training plans for runners. Admittedly, it is easy to line up a standard seven-day week with a seven day training microcycle for organizational purposes and for clarity in explaining the workout pattern to the athletes. However, a coach can do better.

Training Resource: Training Model for High School Middle Distance (800-1600)

A seven-day workweek in our society is effective because it spaces out the weekend vacation days with the workdays before repeating the rotation again for most people. The same concept applies to middle distance training, but seven days is too short a time to begin a new rotation of days. There is quite a variety of things a middle distance runner needs to do in a microcycle, far more than seven days worth, before repeating daily workout themes.

The length of a training microcycle is not determined first in setting up a training plan. To begin the process a list of workout themes that are appropriate for that time of year is needed. These workouts need to reflect the characteristics of the middle distance races.

There is a higher aerobic energy system contribution then anaerobic contribution in all combined zone distance races. However, both energy systems need be developed to match the characteristics of the race. In essence, there are both aerobic and anaerobic workouts that need be done by the athlete in every microcycle while in season.

A list of aerobic workouts designed to improve that system are found in Table 1.

CTF-The Twelve Day Training Microcycle.T1a

Table 1 indicates that seven distinctly different workout themes are applicable for middle distance runners in season. The coach should select five or six of the seven of the theme for each microcycle depending on the training phase and race schedule. One can already see that a seven day microcycle will be far too short as the anaerobic work is yet to be listed.

The 800 meter and 1600 meter races have an anaerobic energy system contribution range of between 30-50%. That is an important factor in middle distance running and will require a training emphasis for success in these events. Table 2 indicates the various anaerobic energy system workout themes that are applicable to middle distance runners. Four of the five themes should be added to each middle distance microcycle depending on the training phase and race schedule.

CTF-The Twelve Day Training Microcycle.T2a

Each microcycle in season is likely to contain one race or perhaps two. So, when the race is added to the necessary numbers of aerobic and anaerobic based workouts a total of twelve training days’ results, and that is the necessary length of the microcycle. The training theory goal is to complete a twelve-day microcycle, and then adjust and realign the workouts within and begin the next twelve-day cycle. This insures that the proper types of workouts are done before repeating the rotation of training themes.

Another Coaching Resource:  Speed Development for Distance Runners

The final step is to sequence the various aerobic and anaerobic workouts onto a microcycle s so that proper recovery is given to each stimulus before a new stimulus of a similar type is applied. A possible middle distance twelve day training microcycle sequence during the pre-competitive phase is shown Table 3.

CTF-The Twelve Day Training Microcycle.T3a

Middle distance runners need to train with a diverse mixture of stressful aerobic work and fast anaerobic work. Because such a variety of training stimuli are needed, the work and recovery must be organized into an organizational scheme that far exceeds a standard seven-day week

A twelve-day training microcycle seems to be an effective length of time to accomplish the necessary training units before the workout themes begin to repeat themselves in a fresh twelve-day training cycle.




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Race Strategy and Tactics for the Endurance Events: 800m – 5000m

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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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