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By Chris Hansen and Don Sikorski
"Races are won in January and February "

World Class Cyclist Lance Armstrong, when asked of what he attributes his competitive success to, has often made the statement "races are won in January and February". What is he talking about? There is certainly not a heck of a lot of bike racing going on during the winter months. And as runners, we're both too old (and too wise) to contemplate racing over snow covered roads during the dead of winter. What this three-time Tour de France champion (and previous national class tri-athelete) is referring to is the method of dividing the training year into specific phases or cycles. Living in New England forces us to insert different phases into our running. A well-implemented plan, which starts with a solid foundation of base mileage, will provide you with more high quality race performances at key times during the season. Of course, a brief amount of rest or down time (how long varies from runner to runner) should precede these base-building weeks. The next two phases, which Armstrong was referring to, vary in length depending on when racing starts and the specific race goals involved. These months can make or break a season. Let's take a look at some of these macro-cycles in more detail:

Rest and Recovery: For most of us, the racing season usually ends sometime around Thanksgiving (unless you plan on trying to win the Tommy Toy Fund Run). This makes December a well-earned rest month with a "run when you feel like it" schedule being a worthy goal.

Base: Base training consists of logging relaxed running mileage (at 65-75% of maximum heart rate), which increases your body's ability to consume oxygen, smoothes out your running stride, and keeps the aerobic system going strong. These are fun, easy miles, where you should be able to conformably hold a conversation throughout the entire run. Wintertime provides the perfect opportunity to run long and steady. Running for a specific amount of time rather than only logging miles is often a good idea. Long, steady distance (LSD), whether running on the roads or pedaling on the bike, builds endurance and burns calories. This cycle of base mileage only should last for approximately 4-8 weeks or longer depending on the prior fitness level and experience of the runner, with the effort being approximately 1 ½ to 2 minutes slower than your current 5K race pace. Be sure to build your mileage sensibly (going from 0 to 60 in a short time is awesome for a sports car but a poor plan for a distance runner) and try to incorporate some type of cross-training or rest days into your weekly schedule. Increased mileage will often result in fatigue that differs from the "too much racing" feeling. It's acceptable to "work through" this feeling since there are no competitive races on the horizon, but be cautious of increasing both mileage and intensity at the same time, a natural tendency for most runners and probably the most common mistake made, which quite often leads to injury or burnout.

Strength, Stamina, and Endurance: This is probably the most important phase of the year, where "races are won" as Armstrong claims. The weeks of base miles have provided the body with the necessary strengthening of tendons and ligaments which will be put to the test with the arrival of quicker running efforts. Tempo, tempo, tempo…20 to 30 minute efforts at 80-85% heart rate (20 seconds slower than current 10K pace or roughly your 10-mile to half-marathon race pace). These efforts help the body to acquire the fitness necessary to complete the more demanding workouts which follow. Tempo runs will force you back into a more efficient stride and help develop a sense of "holding pace" for an extended period of time. Running a ton of long, slow distance can very often develop poor habits and inefficient running form. Try this test; run slowly and try different running gaits and arm swings, both good and bad. Pretty easy. Now run at or above tempo pace. There is now far less room for wasted motion, as the body wants to gravitate to the more mechanically efficient motion. This is another benefit from running tempo-paced efforts.

The legendary Arthur Lydiard claimed that "miles make the champions" and that the grind of running mileage between competitive seasons will eventually pay off in terms of race performance. These weeks of training will provide you with the necessary foundation for a solid racing season. Making a commitment to running some easy base mileage, followed by the proper dose of tempo runs and longer runs mixed in during the winter months, will allow the body to make a successful transition to the more demanding efforts that follow in the spring. See you on the roads.

Coach's Corner welcomes questions from dues paying Mohegan Striders to be discussed in upcoming newsletters. Contact Don or Chris by e-mail at or The opinions expressed in the above article represent that of Chris, Don, and the army of disciples who follow their preaching and not necessarily that of all members of the Mohegan Striders Association.