UP AND DOWN THE LADDER.
In the early part of the season, I focus on workouts that help to build my aerobic base. This helps to develop the cardiovascular strength needed as a foundation for faster running later in the season. In the later parts of the season, I spend more time working on drills that help to sharpen up my ability to maintain a faster pace so I can be at my best when it is time to attempt my goal workout/races.
Workouts for these two parts of the season are straight forward, and easy to find on the internet. Unfortunately there is one area of training that has not been discussed quite as deeply. I am referring the time after you have built your aerbic base, and are looking to start incorporating faster running into your workouts.
This can be a hazardous time in your training. Chances are that this will be when you do your first faster running of the year. Done correctly, this work will pave the way for success later in the season. Done incorrectly, and you can find yourself on a path to injury, or mental burnout.
The key to success during this transitional time is to find workouts that slowly bring you up to speed. Making changes in such a manner will give your body and mind the time needed to successfully transition to faster running, while avoiding injury. One of my favorite drills to accomplish this is one I call the Up & Down the Ladder drill.
Ideally you should only attempt this drill after building a decent aerobic base. If you are not familiar with what this entails, suffice to say that you should have been doing longer, slower runs for at least two months before attempting this workout. After you have built a base such as this, you can now attempt this workout, scheduling it for once evert week, for a month.
This workout starts like any other, with at least 10 minutes of easy running to warm up, followed by a good stretch. Once this is done, start running once again, holding a nice easy pace (aerobic pace for those familiar with the term). The pace should be one that you could easily maintain if you were to do a long run. Run at this pace for about 5 minutes, then it will be time to start the Up & Down portion of the drill.
You will begin with the UP portion of the drill. Begin by setting your watch to beep after a minute (and to repeat that pattern until you stop it). For the first minute, maintain the nice easy pace that you have been doing up until this point. When the watch beeps, I want you to go ahead and pick up your pace a bit. The pace should be challenging, but not overly hard. It should be a pace that you feel you could hold for about 20 minutes before being needing to stop. Continue at this pace until your watch indicates that another minute has passed. At this time, I want you to pick up your pace once again. Now you should push yourself to a pace that takes some mental energy to maintain. It should make your legs quickly start to burn, as well as make it harder to breath. I am not talking about a sprint, but more a pace you could hold for about 5-7 minutes before failure. If it feels challenging (but not impossible), you know you are on the right track. Do your best to maintain this pace consistently until the watch beeps once again.
Once it beeps, it is time for the DOWN part of the drill, which will reverse the work done in the UP segment of this workout. You should begin by slowing down to the pace that you can hold for about 20 minutes, and continue to run at this pace for the next minute. Follow this with one minute at the easy pace you started this drill with.
This Up and Down Ladder should be followed by 2 more ladders, always starting and ending with a minute at the slowest pace. The time spent at the slow pace (which ends up being 2 minutes because the segments are back to back) will allow you the time needed to recover from your harder efforts. This will give you the best chance for success, as well as help you to get the most from this workout. Follow this up with a 5 minute cool down jog, and a good stretch to complete your exercise.
As the month progresses, you will increase the time spent at each segment of the ladder. In the first week, all sections of this drill will be done for 1:00 minute. The second time you attempt this workout, you should schedule durations of 1:30, followed by 2:00 efforts on the third attempt, and 2:30 efforts on the final attempt.
That’s all there is to it. The beauty of this drill is that it will allow your body to slowly get used to some faster work, in a safe and fun manner. Not only will the individual workouts feel manageable, but the monthly progression will go slow enough that it should never feel overwhelming. Now all you have to do is get out there and give it a try. I expect that if you do give it a shot, it will quickly become one of your favorite workouts for the transition period of your season. I know it’s one of mine.