Run­ning in the fall and win­ter months can take on sev­eral dif­fer­ent forms. The best strat­egy re­ally de­pends on what your up­com­ing year will look like in terms of key races and the tim­ing of those races. The first and most im­por­tant step is to fig­ure out your goals for the up­com­ing sea­son and work back­wards. This will help you de­cide the best course of ac­tion for your fall run­ning plans. Here are four dif­fer­ent strate­gies to con­sider.

The first strat­egy is to give the rigours of reg­u­lar struc­tured run­ning a break. If you have just fin­ished a sea­son of rac­ing, now might be the time to re­lin­quish some of the struc­ture you are used to and sim­ply run with­out too much speci­ficity. The fall months are an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity to get off the beaten path and into some un­ex­plored ter­ri­tory. In­stead of hit­ting the pave­ment, hit the trails. For­get about pace for a while and run on feel. Let the ter­rain dic­tate your ef­fort. If it’s flat it’s eas­ier, if it’s hilly it’s harder. Some light pa­ram­e­ters are a good thing like weekly mileage or time goals, as long as it’s pro­gres­sive.

One of the key con­sid­er­a­tions, if this op­tion is the best fit, is to make sure you still in­clude a small amount of train­ing at higher in­ten­si­ties. This can be as sim­ple as in­clud­ing some strides at the end of a run. A stride is sim­ply a 60 to 80 m ac­cel­er­a­tion up to roughly 5 km race pace or faster. You only need to do five to 10 of them a few times per week. They are a great way to stay in touch with in­creased leg turnover and will make the tran­si­tion back to more struc­tured work­outs a great deal eas­ier.

The sec­ond strat­egy is to use this time as a run fo­cus. As the days get shorter and the weather cools off, the out­side con­di­tions are usu­ally less con­ducive to bike rid­ing, but very con­ducive to run­ning. Ded­i­cat­ing a block of train­ing that leans more heav­ily on run­ning in the fall months can pay huge div­i­dends in the com­ing sea­son, par­tic­u­larly if run­ning is not your strength. The best ap­proach is a pro­gres­sive pro­gram that tar­gets and puts pres­sure on your two pri­mary thresh­olds (ven­ti­la­tory and lac­tate). Two high in­ten­sity work­outs in the week are enough and they should be sep­a­rated by at least 48 hours. One of the work­outs can in­clude in­ter­vals of 2 to 5 min­utes and should be at an in­ten­sity at or higher than your lac­tate thresh­old (roughly 80 to 90 per cent). You only need to do 15 to 20 min­utes of work at this in­ten­sity to get a ben­e­fit. The work to rest ra­tio should be 1:1.

The sec­ond work­out can in­clude longer in­ter­vals in the 8- to 20-minute range and can be just be­low your sec­ond or lac­tate thresh­old. These are of­ten re­ferred to as tempo runs and the time spent at in­ten­sity should be in the 20- to 40minute range. The work to rest ra­tio can be 2:1.

Out­side of the two higher in­ten­sity runs you can fo­cus on grad­u­ally in­creas­ing your over­all run vol­ume at lower in­ten­si­ties, or down around your first ven­ti­la­tory thresh­old (roughly 65-70%). A great ad­di­tion to this strat­egy is to in­clude some fall run­ning races. Rac­ing is one of the most ef­fec­tive ways to ap­ply stress and stretch your cur­rent abil­ity.

The third strat­egy is rel­e­vant if you are rac­ing early in the new year. In this case you will need to be more spe­cific with your run train­ing as you come closer to the race. Un­less the early sea­son race is very low on your pri­or­ity list then it’s bet­ter to con­sider the big pic­ture and train within the con­text of your more im­por­tant race dates.

The fourth and of­ten over­looked strat­egy is to in­clude some run­ning stim­u­lus in your pro­gram that is dif­fer­ent to what you nor­mally do through­out the year. For ex­am­ple, if you are pri­mar­ily fo­cused on full-dis­tance rac­ing, the fall can be a great time to in­cor­po­rate a block of higher in­ten­sity run­ning. This can in­clude one or two in­ter­val ses­sions dur­ing the week where you ap­ply train­ing stress in and around your sec­ond or lac­tate thresh­old. It can also in­clude some run­ning races in the 5- to 15-km range.

Like­wise, if you are pri­mar­ily fo­cused on short dis­tance rac­ing through­out the year, the fall might be a great time to add some vol­ume to your pro­gram, espe­cially if you have had a full race sea­son where the longer train­ing runs and rides have been ne­glected. In­creases in vol­ume should al­ways be pro­gres­sive so your body has time to adapt to the in­creases in im­pact load.

The body of­ten re­sponds well to new stim­u­lus. It chal­lenges you in a dif­fer­ent way and this can lead to sig­nif­i­cant in­creases in per­for­mance. Step­ping out of your com­fort zone is im­por­tant if you want to keep im­prov­ing. Chang­ing stim­u­lus has the added ben­e­fit of pro­vid­ing a men­tal break from the usual grind.

The fall months present an op­por­tu­nity for huge run­ning gains but it’s not a one-size-fit­sall ap­proach. The most im­por­tant thing you can do is fig­ure out which of these sce­nar­ios ap­plies to you. Per­haps the big­gest op­por­tu­nity is that you usu­ally have time and space to change stim­u­lus and ap­ply new train­ing stress loads to your body. Stress­ing your run­ning in a dif­fer­ent way will of­ten help you im­prove over­all and it also pro­vides a nice men­tal break.

For­mer Iron­man Canada cham­pion Jasper Blake is the head coach at B78 Coach­ing.

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