Adapt or Die! Okay, maybe that's a bit over the top, but it's a not a bad thought to keep in mind when training. There's nothing worse than an injured endurance athlete. We're not a very fun lot to be around if we can't get our regular run on. One of the best ways to stay ahead of the injury bug and avoid plateaus is to incorporate an adaptation week into our training program.
The issue that afflicts most endurance athletes is that we tend to primarily focus on Salt-N-Pepa's advice and push it. We're all about working up a sweat; too often, we neglect the recovery. Training is not a linear process. Just because we ran twelve miles on last week's long run doesn't mean we should crank out thirteen this week. Training is like the tide: it has to ebb and flow. To reap the rewards of all our training, we need to include some down, or recovery, weeks.
The problem with calling a week a “down week,” “recovery week,” “cutback week,” or something of that nature, is that we then tend to look at it with a negative connotation. We are all about the pursuit of our goals. Goals are forward thinking; they require a forward-acting process. We talk about our challenging long runs, epic track workouts, and monster tempo runs. We live to push beyond our comfort zones.
However, if we don’t take the time to recover from those hard efforts, they won’t don’t us much good. That’s why I like to call those weeks—the weeks that we use for recovery—“adaptation weeks.” By calling it an adaptation week, we give that week a purpose. We allow ourselves to focus on the goal of the week—instead of berating ourselves because we cut back on mileage or stepped off the intensity. We need to let our bodies adapt to the loads that we have placed upon them. If we don’t let our bodies recover from hard efforts, we prevent them from having the time to adapt to the increased stresses. What does that mean? It means by skipping recovery, we’re actually preventing the body from making the gains we otherwise would have made. It also means that we’ll start subsequent workouts exhausted, under-fueled, and poorly prepared for a quality effort.
Just as you would take a day or two to recover from a hard workout, you should also take an extended period of recovery days to absorb a string of challenging training weeks. I like to incorporate an adaptation week into training every third to fourth week. By building either mileage or intensity for two to three weeks, we risk diminishing returns due to under recovery. Including an adaptation week where our mileage drops by 15 to 20 percent and our intensity backs off a notch, we allow the body to recover and rebuild itself stronger for the coming training cycle. That adaptation week allows our bodies to refresh and, as a result, the quality of our workouts to take a big step forward.
As the saying goes, you're only as good as you recover. By allowing yourself to adapt to training, you can avoid the staleness and plateaus that plague most endurance athletes and stay ahead of the nagging injuries that curtail a once promising program and season. Think of it this way: by incorporating a little more Charles Darwin into our training, we can get a lot more quality from the Salt-N-Pepa workouts.