To my knowledge, the first author to point this out was Prokop (1963-1964), who noted that there are two types of athletes: the “short-swing” and the “long-swing” types. Short-swing athletes are able to improve their conditions very quickly but can maintain their performances for only short periods of time before they must return to base training. These athletes are able to peak several times during the season. The long-swing types need considerably more training to reach their peaks, which they can sustain for much longer.
Prokop reported that his athletes usually required 7 to 8 weeks of sharpening training to reach a peak that would last 3 to 6 weeks before their performances would start to fall.
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Based on data from The Conditioning of Distance Runners (p. 8) by T. Osier, 1967, Mountain View, CA: Runner’s World Publications, and Serious Runner’s Handblog (p. 31) by T. Osier, 1978, Mountain View, CA: World Publications. Copyright 1967, 1978 by T. Osier. Used by permission.
Two great athletes who observed this in their own performances were Derek Clayton (1980) and Ron Hill (R. Hill, 1981, 1982; see also post 8), who found that their running performances improved steadily for approximately 10 weeks. Beyond this period they were easily tired, slept badly, were often injured, and raced poorly.
Once you reach your peaking plateau (Points D to E in Exercises 5.5), you are ready for your best race, and all you need do is maintain your sharpening training. As coach Jumbo Elliott said, “After you start hard racing, hard training will get you nowhere” (Liquori & Parker, 1980, p. 150).
A frequent problem is that once runners realize they are peaking, they are seldom happy with just one good race, unless that race happens to be in the Olympics. Inevitably, the now-greedy runners try to pack in too many races, the last of which they run when their performance levels are already on the precipitous downward slide of the performance curve (Points E to F in Exercises 5.5). The result is that such runners end up injured, ill, and thoroughly overtrained, depicted as Points Fj and F2 on the diagram and described in detail in post 6.
An important feature of Points E to F2 is the steepness of the line they create. I suspect that it takes only 3 weeks to go from a best-ever performance to the point where one is physically incapacitated.
Two final points shown in Exercises 5.5 are the slow rate of recovery from overtraining (Points F to G) and the way in which a sharpening runner can perform either much better (Point E) or much worse (Point Fj) than the runner who performs only base training (Points Ej and F).