Paula Radcliffe

Would Longer “Weeks” Make Your Training More Manageable?

Originating in ancient Samaria more than 4,000 years ago, the seven-day week has become a standard calendrical feature throughout the world. Most athletes in most sports adhere to this convention as well. I recall noting this during my time with the HOKA Northern Arizona elite professional running team in 2017. Unlike the majority of us, who have to balance training with school attendance, office jobs and such, the gifted young members of this club didn’t have to do their long runs on Saturday or Sunday, yet they did anyway.

The number seven is not arbitrary. By this I don’t just mean that seven days is the length of each of the four lunar phases. After all, the ancient Samarians didn’t have to base their calendar on the moon. One “sabbath” every seven days is also about the right frequency of rest to keep laborers from breaking down or going crazy. (Two-day weekends are a relatively new convention, remember.)

Endurance sports training is another kettle of fish, however. In the labor realm, the goal is to get by, resting often enough to keep muddling along through life. With endurance sports training the bar is higher. The goal is not only to rest with optimal frequency for physiological recovery but also to expose the body to the various types of training stimuli with the optimal frequency to maximize event-specific fitness for competition. Who’s to say that once every seven days is the optimal frequency for long runs, for example?

Well, real-world evidence suggests that, with appropriate attention to the details, a seven-day microcycle can work extremely well. At the elite level, virtually every great performance ever achieved in endurance sports was achieved by an athlete who trained on a seven-day microcycle. There are exceptions, such as Paula Radcliffe’s recently eclipsed marathon world record of 2:15:25, which capped a training cycle made up of Paula’s preferred eight-day microcycles. But these exceptions are certainly no basis to conclude that longer microcycles are somehow better.

Aging endurance athletes who find they don’t recover from big workouts as quickly as they once did often wonder whether they should lengthen their microcycles as a way to spread these workouts out a bit, and some actually follow through. But there are other options. At age 49, I myself do not recover from big workouts as quickly as I once did. What’s more, as a self-employed work-from-home type, I have the freedom to do any type of workout on any day of the week. Yet I’ve chosen to keep doing my longest rides and runs on the weekend, for the most part, and am adapting my training to my changing body not by lengthening my microcycles but by doing smaller big workouts.

For example, recently I did the following session: 2-mile warm-up, 3 x 1 mile descending on 1:00 rest, 2-mile cooldown. In the past, any time I did mile repeats I did at least six of them. My thinking was that if my body wasn’t up to doing six to eight times one mile fast, then it wasn’t up to doing mile repeats at all. But I’ve since discovered, through trial and error, that a little bit of speed work is way better than none, and also that, the older I get, a little speed work is also better than a lot! I still do some giant workouts, but sparingly, and almost always on the weekend.

The general point I’m trying to make is that there are enough other levers to pull that virtually any runner of any age can make a seven-day microcycle work more or less optimally. But this is not to say that an extended microcycle can’t work just as well or better in certain cases. For those whose life schedule permits it, a nine-day cycle in which each a hard session of any type is followed by two easy days establishes a nice, sustainable rhythm. Not infrequently, I hear from masters athletes who have purchased one of our 80/20 training plans and report feeling overwhelmed by its seven-day microcycles. “How do I extend my weeks without spoiling the 80/20 intensity balance?” they ask. An impish impulse inside me always imagines the following exchange before I answer for real:

Q: How do I turn this pizza into a cake?

A: Throw out the pizza and bake a cake.

Seriously, though, microcycle length is such a fundamental ingredient of training plan design that it’s almost impossible to retrofit a plan built with microcycles of one length to accommodate extended weeks. I mean, you can do it, but to do it right you have to change so much that you really are just starting over the hard way. But let’s say for the sake of argument that you’ve purchased a plan and you find that, although you can handle even the most challenging workouts, they come at you too quickly for you to stay on top of your recovery, and for whatever reason you insist on adapting the plan you have rather than starting over. In this scenario, I would suggest rearranging the workouts in the plan to fit into the following framework:

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9
High Intensity Easy Easy Moderate Intensity Easy Easy Endurance Easy Easy

From here, the devil is in the details. For example, after taking this step, you may find that you recover more quickly from moderate-intensity workouts than from high-intensity workouts, and/or that you can handle bigger moderate-intensity workouts than you can high-intensity workouts, hence that your plan requires additional fine-tuning to yield optimal results for you.

If you’re a triathlete who trains in three disciplines and exercises twice a day some days, you will have some decisions to make about how to make the above framework accommodate these exigencies. I would recommend as a starting point that you count all swims as easy sessions, because they really are, and alternate hard days between cycling and running, as in this example:

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9
High Intensity Bike Easy Run Swim Moderate Intensity Run Easy Bike Swim


Endurance Bike Easy Run Swim

Any additional easy rides or runs you might wish to do can slot in wherever. Or you can just hired me to create a custom training plan for you with extended microcycles, which I would be more than happy to do.