To use even fancier words, periodiazation training is broken down in to the following cycles:
• Macrocycle—The macro cycle is "the big picture." It's the entire year of training. Or if your training for something specific such as a marathon, it could be for a specific period of time such as 4 months. If you're an Olympian, your macrocycle might be as long as 4 years!
• Mesocycle—2 or more mesocycles (depending on the needs of the athlete) make up a macrocycle. The mesocycles are the pre-, in-, post-, and 0ff-seasons. They ususally last anywhere from several weeks to several months.
• Microcycle—2 or more microcycles make up a Mesocycle. A microcycle is typically a week long, but could last up to 4 weeks. The microcycle consists of the daily workouts.
If you're running track or cross-country in high school or college a more traditional pre-, in-, post-, and off-season training approach will work fine. Traditional running periodization plans typically consist of a base-building phase, a sharpening phase, and taper phase. This works really well for a marathon when you have a 4-month training window. But if you're a year-round runner with competitions scattered throughout the year, what do you do? Even if you don't have particular races in mind, most runners want to get better, be more efficient, and improve their running techinque year-round. Lack of variety and high mileage (even if it's low-intensity) day after day tends to increase your chance of injury.
More of a Multi-Pace/Multi-Volume Periodization approach may be the answer. This approach to periodization includes high-volume/low-intensity, low-volume/mid-intensity, and low-volume/high-intensity throughout the year and doesn't break it up into distinct phases. Depending on your particular goals for the year (i.e., 5K, 10K, half-marathon, marathon, ultra) you'll incorporate more of a particular volume and/or intensity geared for that goal when you need it, but even during your "off-time" or "in-between-race-time" you'll still be incorportating a variety of workouts into your routine. Implementing a multi-pace/multi-volume approach may even drop your overall total miles logged, but remember, it's not the amount of miles you're logging that's important, it's the quality of those miles.
High-volume/low-intensity workouts consist of longer slow runs (your Saturday-morning long run at an easy pace). Low-volume/mid-intensity workouts are comprised of tempo runs where a portion of the run is run just below race-pace. Low-volume/high-intensity workouts are comprised of speed work consisitng of intervals, fartleks, or hill work. The duration of these workouts will be short, but very intense.
The goal of multi-pace/multi-volume periodization is to get your body acclamated to and maintain a certain level of endurance as well as speed throughout the year. Then when you have a particular race to train for, you're not starting from ground zero. You'll be able to fine-tune what you're already doing to meet the particular demands of your event. A specific type of training may be emphasized in each mesocycle of your race training, but you'll still be incorporating all the types of training (long runs, tempo runs, speedwork). For example if your training for a 5K, there will be more stress placed on increasing your VO2 max, speed, strength, and power. If you're triaining for a marathon, the focuse will be on endurance and race-pace running so, your long runs will be longer and your tempo runs will be longer, but you'll still have some speedwork in your plan which will help especially around mile 20 when you may need to kick it up a knotch to fight off muscle fatigue.
Multi-pace/multi-volume year-round training helps you fine-tune your training to meet your specific needs. Have a good pace, but no endurance? You can ramp up the endurance workouts in your training. Have the endurance, but you can't keep a steady pace? You can make pace the focus of your training no matter the distance. The chart below shows a sample month from a RunnerDude Multi-Pace/Multi-Volume year-round training plan.
There are some racing training plans available (such as FIRST) that make use of more of a integral approach to training which include, distance, speed, and pace workouts that dovetail nicely into a multi-pace/multi-volume year-round periodization plan. Many of my running buddies have used FIRST with awesome success.
The main thing to keep in mind, is that all runners are different and there really is no right or wrong method, but if you want something that may decrease your chance of injury as well as have more of a customizable element, you may want to consider adopting a multi-pace/multi-volume approach to training.
Two more aspects of training that should not be ignored are resistance training and plyometric training. Runners should not shy away from resistance training. If done the right way, it can greatly enhance your strength, stability, balance, and form. The focus of resistance training for runners should be on muscle endurance. This involves using lighter weights (less than 67% your 1 rep max), higher reps (12-15), and less rest (30 seconds or less) in between sets.
Plyometrics is a fancy word for exercises designed to increase speed and power. Plyometric exercises involve jumping, leaping, or hopping movements such as jumping rope, jump squats, burpees, and bounding. Adding 30 minutes of resistance training and/or plyometrics training 1-3 times a week into your weekly routine is a great way to improve your overall strength, endurance, and speed. Plyometrics for Athletes At All Levels (Ulysses Press, 2006) is a great resource for plyometric exercises.
Caution: always warm-up before doing any resistance or plyometric workouts. Hop on the treadmill, elliptical machine, or bike for 8-10 minutes before your workout and then you'll be good to go.