My last post was meant to be an overview of the training season and the key points you need to consider when planning your year. In this post I will go in more details about the building period, which is the period where you "build" your condition.
As mentioned before, the idea of this period is to get used to exercise and to build endurance. It is typical that in this period you train considerably more than in other periods. Not because you stop training after this period, but because in this period most of the trainings should be long and easy. For instance, in my plan I have two over 1 hour runs per week. One is a 12 kilometer run, that goes across the forest and hilly terrain to a train station in between my job and my home, and the other one is running from my current job to my home (app 17.5 kilometers). I also try to include one day of cycling to work, at least once every two weeks, since that gives me and additional three hours of very easy training.
Many people think that long and easy means no variations during the whole exercise. That is not true, you should try to find a terrain that forces you to work harder sometimes and then have long easy periods. I have the advantage that I live right next to the forest and there is a hill chain between my home and my work, so I can just use nature to train. I am one of the lucky ones, but many people live in either too hilly or too flat terrain, so what to do in those cases? The answer is simple, resort to interval training!
The type of intervals you should aim for, is long and easy ones, not short and hard ones. For instance, something that has given me very good results is intervals of 12 minutes in zone three and then 3 minutes of recovery in zone two or even one. You can change the duration but the key to keep in mind is that you work 4 times longer as your recovery period, and your work in in zone three or high zone two. Try to avoid going to zone four, because you will start accumulating lactic acid (yes I know, is not the lactic acid that produces the burning sensation, it is the ionification afterward). This intervals are meant to be long, so going over to zone four early in the process is a bad idea because your body will burn because of the ionification produced by the lactic acid accumulation. This kind of intervals are hard, not only because they require you to work at a pace where you need to make an effort, but also because they are long and the recovery is comparatively short. I rarely do this kind of intervals running, it is hard for me to find a terrain that is easy enough to keep such a pace without going into the higher pulse zones. What I usually do is to use a spinning bicycle at my gym and program my heart rate monitor to keep track of the time for me (it is one of the advantages of the Polar RS800CX, you can program very detailed exercises and let the bookkeeping to the watch while you exercise).
One last thing, intervals are not only time based or pulse zone based. There is something called "natural" intervals, which in essence consists in keeping a pace no matter what the terrain brings to you. This type of interval are a very good addition to any training plan! My advice is to use them after the first month of training and in a terrain that you are already familiar with. Remember, the trick is to keep the pace at all times so if there is a hard uphill, you have to keep going and pray that it will end soon.