Supercompensation Training: Learning from Elite Runners
In this week’s glimpse inside the training of an elite runner, I want to discuss the theory and practice of supercompensation training. More specifically, putting in massive amounts of training fora short period of time and then going very easy to ensure maximum recovery and absorbtion.
If you’ve ever read Once a Runner, the quintessential running novel, and dreamed of renting a cabin in the woods and doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and training, this is the type of training I am talking about here.
While retreating to a cabin in the woods isn’t a reality for many runners, we all have short periods of time when we can train more than usual – vacations, time away from work, or running retreats. If you’ve ever wondered how you can take advantage of these weeks, this is the post for you.
This is the biggest twelve days of training I ever did and I’ll admit, it is a bit over the top. In this particular stretch of training, I was at a camp and I didn’t have to do much other than run, eat and hang out – the perfect day for a runner.
This training was during the build up to a fall racing season where I wasn’t sure what distance I was going to be focusing on. Therefore, I was trying to get in the best all-around shape I could to prepare for when I decided on my racing schedule and began my specific work.
As usual, I’m not posting this so that you can copy it, but so you can see some of the different types of training elites do. Hopefully, if you have a time when you can focus on nothing but running, you can apply some of the themes from my example to your own training.
Saturday August 16 to Wednesday August 27
8AM – woods 5 solo, 41:29 tot. 5
11:30AM – w/ Ruben Sanca, 4++ w/up strides/stretch, 12k hard run on baystate marathon course, 37:24, splits 4:54, 9:54, 14:54, 19:56, 25:02, 30:11, 35:17. 2+ c/down tot. 13.5
PM – 10×14 second hills at foss, 41 min w/up 20 min c/down tot.9+
7AM – road/trail/dirt rd. 24, first 9 w/ Erin Dromgoole and Eric Ashe, all very easy
all very hilly, 3:01:12 tot. 24+
5PM - rd./dirt rd. 5 very easy w/ campers at Foss, 45:56, some add ons going back
and fourth to check on kids tot. 5+
6:50AM – 9 miles 1:05:53 tot.9
10:30AM – 7 miles, 55:49 tot. 7
4PM - 9 miles, no time, tot. 9 + XT Myrtle hip routine
6:50AM 31 min w/up, 5k (one hill), 16:05, (5:27, 10:50), 3min rest, 5k, 15:40, 3 mins rest 1 mile, 4:59, 16 min c/down tot. 12+ 10:30AM 3.5 w/up, 12×14 sec hills, 3.5 c/down tot. 8+
4:15PM – 7, 51:36 easy w/ Adam Tenowitz, tot. 7 + XT core work
6:50AM – 11miles, 1:16:23 w/ E. Ashe, tot. 11
11AM – 9miles , 1:03:21 w/ Adam tot. 9
4PM – 7miles, 57:24 w/ Liz, tot. 7
7AM - 7 easy shake w/ Courtney and Amanda, 55:22 tot. 7
11AM - w/ E. Ashe, 3+ w/up strides, 5 mile hard, 25:23, tough hilly loop, 3 c/down tot. 11+
5PM - 3 w/up w/ Adam, 16×14 sec hills, 3c/down tot. 7
9AM 24, easy, first 13 w/ Courtney, tot. 24
PM 5+, 42:02 w/ Amanda, tot.5 + XT Myrtle hip routine
7AM - 11+ w/ E.Ashe, 1:19:03 tot. 11
Noon - 9 solo, 1:03:42, tot.9
3PM - 6+ w/ Shannon on trails in Tewksbury tot.6+
10:30AM - at mines falls, 3.5 w/up, strides, 4x4k(tough loop by mines falls standards), 12:49, 12:50, 12:57, 12:54, 3 mins jog rest between efforts, 3.5 c/down tot. 17+
4PM - 3.5 w/up 18x14sec hills, 3.5c/down back at Foss tot. 9
7PM – showcase 6+ w/ add on, 52:31, tot. 6++
8AM - 7 w/ Rex, Ruben, Dedo, Tim, 56:28, rex and ruben in anthrax suits trying to heat condition themselves, hilarious tot. 7
Noon – 9 solo, 1:08:48, tot.9
3PM – 11 w/ Rex, Ruben, Dedo, 1:18:28 tot. 11+
8AM - 7 mostly w/ UML guys, all with Dedo, 53:47 tot. 7
4PM - 3 w/up strides, Hilly 7 mile progression run w/ Rex, Ruben, Dedo(10k), Angus(5 miles) at Foss, 36:48, rolling terrain throughout with one notably uphill mile and one notably downhill mile, both noted in splits, no flat miles, splits 5:42, 11:21(5:39(uphill)), 16:39 (5:18(downhill)), 22:01 (5:22), 27:15 (5:13), 32:15(5:00), 36:48(4:33). Ruben was a second or two down on me at the 6 mile mark and a second or two up on me at the finish and ran 4:29 for his last mile. 3 c/down tot. 13
7PM - 5 w/ Gary very easy shakeout, 43:57 tot. 5
8AM - 7 w/ uml guys, 51:42 tot.7
1PM - Solo 13, 1:34:19, loop a bit long and hilly but basically a horrid no fun slow run. To paraphrase the man in black I’ve had worse runs, though I can’t really remember when. Tot.13
8PM – back in Lowell, rd. 6 solo shakeout, 49:49 tot. 6
What You Can Learn
Occasional big blocks for big gains
From time to time it is good to go outside your comfort zone. In your normal training, you never want to do everything you could do in a single week because you need to save some energy to run again the next week. True progress in running comes from the consistent collection of workouts, week after week, month after month. One monster training week won’t get you fit, nor will it make you a great runner.
However, sometimes, when it makes sense within the long-term structure of your training, it is good to lay it all out for a week or two in order to press your limits.
The trick is scheduling a period of much lower intensity and lower volume running after to absorb the work and get the training benefit from the big week. This recovery process is the same concept as normal workouts, just done on a larger, more spread out scale – a bit more macro then micro.
Many coaches will often refer to this type of training as a supercompensation block; although, technically, the “supercompensation period” would be the rest phase that comes after the heavy work as I showed.
Eye on the future
In coaching, I like to use this supercompensation tactic with athletes who plan to increase their mileage a lot over the next couple years. For example, young runners or runners who are looking to make a jump to the marathon within the next of couple years.
These athletes can do a single week, or maybe two, at a mileage much greater then their current volume and not get injured or burnt out. For example, doing a 60 mile week when your average is around 40. By doing this, you test your body’s limits and show it the direction you want it to head in. However, the supercompensation period is brief, which allows for adaptation without burnout or injury.
This isn’t something to throw in when you are feeling run down or you have a lot going on at work or at home. This is the sort of thing you want to do when your goal race is 4-5 months away and you have some extra time on your hands. You certainly don’t want to do anything like this if you are having trouble with a small injury. A big block of training like this will quickly magnify any little niggle into a real injury.
It is key that you take a down week after you do a block like this. Even jumping back into your normal work load is risky.
Types of workouts
During a heavy block of training, you don’t want to attempt to hit specific times or set workout bests. Your going to be tired. It is still a great idea to do workouts, but run more by effort and less by the watch.
For example, this is a great time for tempos and cutdown runs on an unfamiliar course, where you don’t get a bunch of splits. This is not the time to try and do the best track workout of your life or try to run your best ever tempo on your favorite loop. You’ll only leave discouraged and disheartned.
When to do it
Supercompensation weeks are best done late in your base phase, when you are fit but not doing race specific work. This is a time when you should have settled into a routine and your not increasing your volume as steadily.
As mentioned previously, supercompensation blocks should also be completed far out from your racing season so you don’t have to worry about wrecking a race by pushing too hard. A block like this in the middle of a race season is like hitting a self destruct button – don’t do it. Likewise, going to hard with a supercompensation block early in the base phase is like sending an injury request letter to the running gods.
How often to do them
I recommend doing heavy training block weeks about once or twice a year. It is a nice thing to mix in, but it isn’t very sustainable and it isn’t meant to be your regular training. Rather, supercompensation weeks are meant to be rare forays outside your normal comfort zone to induce fitness jumps and test your own limits.
As always, let me know if you have any questions in the comments section. I will make sure to answer every one!