Sharpening Phase of a Distance Running Program

What is it and why is it important?

In the base building phase, we built a base of miles, our commitment and put structure in place. We added volume until we had 25-40 miles per week. In the strength building phase, we added tempo/threshold runs and hills to challenge our cardiovascular system by adding stress to improve our lung capacity and to strengthen our muscles, ligaments and connective tissue. Next we move on to the sharpening phase. During this phase, we focus on interval training at the track. These runs should be done at 90-100% effort (maximum heart rate) and breathing is heavy--you are at the peak of your oxygen consumption. These workouts are meant to help us learn how to manage physical stress, practice competition strategies and practice response to the mental aspects or performing. This phase should train your body to utilize oxygen better and remove waste buildup in the muscles.

What is happening to our bodies and minds during this phase and what are the benefits?

With interval workouts, we introduce running for a specific distance at a specific pace with a specific recovery.

Benefits of interval workouts:

  • VO2 Max increases--we are able to take in and utilize more oxygen
  • Train muscles to efficiently absorb, deliver and utilize oxygen while removing waste products: carbon dioxide and lactic acid
  • Improve fast twitch muscle ability--more force is generated with each step along with a higher contraction of muscles
  • Focus on improving running form on a flat surface
  • Practice patience during some moderate physical discomfort
  • Increase strength
  • Faster running drills so that running goal race pace will seem easier
  • Teaches pace and muscle memory
  • Long intervals with short recovery stresses the anaerobic system and pushes up the anaerobic threshold
  • Improve mental toughness
  • Improved neuromuscular coordination

As in the base building and strengthening phases, we are teaching the body and mind to adapt to a specific stress until it is no longer stressful and then moving onto a different stress in the next phase. (IIP: Introduce, improve, perfect)

What else should we focus on during sharpening?

If you are lifting weights, this is the time to cut back a bit because stress from the running workouts may make you more prone to injury. Yoga can be beneficial.

What about rest and recovery?

Rest and recovery continues to be an important aspect in the sharpening phase of our program. Your body needs time to recover from muscle fatigue. Your body also needs time to flush the lactic acid out. Be sure to incorporate a few rest days. Optimum nutrition should continue to be a focus so that you are performing your best.

Final thoughts

I hope that you are seeing your long runs getting easier and your body getting stronger. You have made a huge investment into your training and it is going to pay off at your goal race. At this point it is all mental, so keep repeating those mantras.