Read Time 7.5 minutes

Points of Interest

  • Periodisation of the Training Cycle

  • Elite Training Cycle

  • Training Plan breakdown

  • The Science of Energy Utilisation

On the day of the race the desire of all athletes is to find themselves in the best possible physical and mental state.

For an endurance athlete, who trains really hard to prepare for a particular race for months, even for years, this is an ultimatum!

The ability to reach the top of their performance is equally distributed between the body and mind.

Interestingly, our determination to be in the best shape and performance on the day of the race usually causes a lot of stress. Not to mention, for the beginner athletes who have no relevant experience to compare it with.

This blog will introduce and explain Periodisation. Systematic planning to apply throughout the training cycle.

Periodisation of the Training Cycle

For maximum impact, this training cycle must be successfully completed and repeated for the duration of the training period.


Base phase + Preparation + Peak + Recovery= Successfully Completed Training Cycle

To successfully complete the training cycle we need to take a lot of factors into consideration:

  • Training variables: Intensity, Volume, Duration, Flexibility
  • Individual variables: Sleep, Nutrition, Stress

Proper periodisation is divided into specific phases, then repeated for the training period lasting between 16 to 20 weeks.

For each sporting event, a different tactic should be followed. As the duration of the race grows the periodisation is increased.

Every phase will work as a catalyst for the upcoming phase.

The combined total of phases will give us the best energy utilisation for the most demanding part of the race. The final stage!

Elite Training Cycle

A four-week training cycle works best if you are in good condition and if you are an experienced runner. This is not just the weekly training volume but also the level of difficulty of the toughest workouts you will be doing, which should be different across the training cycle.

Here is a four-week example:

1st week: 93 km

2nd week: 100 km

3rd week: 110 km

4th week: 80 km

Break it Down

All top-class athletes understand the importance of periodisation in their training.

For this reason, periodisation is the first milestone which helps us to build the frames for success!

At this point, I would like to introduce each phase to explain exactly how each of them works.

Week 1: Base Phase

Endurance: 75%

This phase is preparing us for endurance, which is one of our main goals. Of course, your pace should be really slow and steady. Endurance is the biggest focus for this phase, while strength and speed is working more behind the scene.

Strength: 15%

Strength requires weights, which means it's time for an indoor workout. It is really important to focus on our core and legs but not to neglect the rest of the body groups. A workout 3 times per week will flawlessly strengthen all the body muscles.

Speed Work: 10%

It is really important to implement a little interval training into the base phase. Working on your speed is a must! How to do it? That’s the easy part! At the end of one of your easy runs, execute 30 seconds bursts and repeat it 10 times. If you are able, try repeating it more than 10 times.

Week 2: Preparation Phase

The principles remain the same here, but the volume and duration of our training plan changes. The main goal is to keep building our endurance but, at the same time, to increases our strength.

Endurance: 60%

Like the base phase, endurance is yet another key factor. Here we should follow the four-week example of the second week and increase our distance for few extra kilometres.

Strength: 25%

In this preparation phase, the strength demand grows significantly. Here we can implement the uphill training. Adding running or cycling uphill into the training program will increase your physical condition with greater benefits than if you run the same distance on the flat.

In particular, uphill training develops your aerobic utilisation and leg strength.

The optimum training practice here is to reduce the weight training. You will need a single lifting workout for the upper muscle group only because the legs will be exhausted.

Speed Work: 15%

In this phase, speed work is increased slightly with a particular focus on running tempo.

In tempo training we develop our muscle endurance. At the same time developing our energy system to utilise the lactic acid much more efficiently.

Week 3: Peak Phase

This extremely important phase will be a step higher in improving our physical condition and energy utilisation. In this particular phase, we will place emphasis on our speed.

In the previous phases we increased volume and duration. Now, in this phase, both the volume and duration will go down and intensity will increase dramatically.

Speed Work: 50%

In the previous two phases, speed work was the last, less active part. Now, speed work is top priority! We are going to implement 2-speed works in this week, divided into two types of training. The first training should be 400s at 5k pace but really short and fast repetitions. The second training will be a tempo run as explained in the last phase.

Endurance: 40%

This is the only time we will meet endurance in second place. In this peak phase, we will slightly decrease the distance of our runs so we can really focus on speed development.

Strength: 10%

In this peak phase, our strength training should be stopped. We can start again after the race. This phase calls for maintenance, not only in endurance but also in strength. The best option here is to substitute a speed training approximately every third week with an uphill workout.

Week 4: Recovery

In this phase, it's crucial to apply the rehabilitation protocol. Your body has been under a lot of stress during the previous 3 weeks and rehabilitation could be the master key to success.

Let's not forget that endurance athletes cannot rely only on their physical readiness alone, the mind plays an even greater role.

Many athletes implement meditation, stretching and mild yoga training in this phase.

Our mind needs food too, so I would recommend reading more about the science of energy utilisation during this week.

The Science of Energy Utilisation

Here's a quick overview which could help you learn more about energy:

What’s the role of VO2 max in energy utilization?

When it comes to VO2 max everything gets complicated. To make it easier, it would be useful to set some terms;

  • VO2 max is the maximum volume of oxygen that a person's tissue can consume in the unit of time.
  • vVO2 max is the minimum speed that VO2max can achieve
  • tlimvVO2 max is the maximum time that can be applied to vVO2 max

To be clear, VO2max is not the only parameter that can determine the level of performance. There is a case that an athlete has a very high VO2max value but is not such an efficient runner. So vVO2 max is a much better factor because it can predict the speed you can achieve at VO2 max.

For example, if two runners have the same VO2 max and vVO2max and one runner can maintain this speed twice as much and this is because he has a better tlimvVO2max, then it makes sense to expect to have better performance than the other.

How can we increase the total time while maintaining high intensity?

We need to make a training test consisting of 5x 3-minute repetitions [the ideal amount of reps]. This must be at your race speed with a 3-minute rest period between each. The total duration of the training test will be 27 minutes.

What is the pace of the racing speed?

You will have to run for 6 minutes at your maximum speed and measure how much distance you covered at this time. Measure this in one go to be accurate. It would also be more valid if you were to repeat test 2 to 3 times with some rest days in between to determine your average result.

Divide the covered distance by two, giving you the speed at which to run your 3-minute training test. If 6 minutes equals 360 seconds and you ran 1400 m, then your speed is:

1400m/360 = 3.89m/s

Every second you are covering 3.89 meters. To convert this speed to minutes/km, divide the 1 km distance with your speed per meters/second.

1000 m / 3.89 = 257 seconds

257 seconds = 4 minutes and 17 seconds


To increase the speed in the final stage of a race, you will have to learn how to utilise your energy systems and test it during your 4-week periodization training cycle.

The first 3 weeks are increasingly stressful both for the body and the mind, so in the 4th phase, you'll concentrate on rehabilitation and learning.

With the utilisation of mathematical equations and small experimental runs, you will be able to achieve the results worthy of ancient Greek Olympic athletes.

Let's not forget, healthy mind supports the healthy, efficient and powerful body!

It's always a good idea to borrow something from ancient wisdom!

Further Reading

If you are interested in the science of how the body works see our blog on CardioRespiratory Endurance

Be inspired by elite athlete Emily Ashford who made a full recovery after a major injury in 2013

Click here for tips on improving your basic squats

October 10, 2018 — Apollonas G. Kapsalis

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