Debbie Matchett tells Matt Long about how extending her training microcycle has helped her perform at the highest level as a masters athlete
In a recent paper in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, West et al. (2021) have spoken about how athletic performance can be optimised and injury risk minimised through the following five fold strategy:
- Long term athlete planning.
- Seasonal planning.
- Day to day planning.
- In session adjustments.
- Use of feedback.
Our first piece in the series entitled ‘Mastering those diminishing returns’ featured world masters silver medallist Chris Hollinshead who spoke about his long term athlete planning. The most recent piece ‘Seasonal Greetings’ featured British 800m record holder David Oxland, who took us on a journey through his seasonal planning.
Interestingly, both athletes signified that the manifest changes they have needed to make as masters athletes is not in terms of their aerobic endurance but is in fact their strength, speed endurance and speed itself.
You may recall how Chris spoke about needing to extend 10s alactic strides in order that he reach maximal speed and effect the required leg turnover. Likewise you may remember David explicitly saying that he trains once a week with a sprints group at his local athletics club.
The training microcycle
So having considered both long term athlete planning and seasonal planning, this piece moves on to consider day to day planning or what is referred to in the sports science literature as a training microcycle.
A microcyle (see Signorile, 2007) is the shortest mode of training cycle, which constitutes a block of training in relation to wider and longer term meso and macro cycles.
In a previous piece, this author has questioned the wisdom of masters athletes automatically assuming that one week or 7 days should be their natural or inevitable microcycle, typically lasting a week with the goal of facilitating a focused block of training. This is something which Northern Ireland Masters Team representative, Debbie Matchett, is keen to get the reader to reflect on.
Widening the load
The woman who has represented the Norther Ireland masters cross country team every year since 2009 in Birmingham, conveys that, “I used to work off a traditional 7 day microcycle and tended to assume everyone did. I think psychologically as well as physiologically moving to a 10 day microcycle has really helped take the pressure off. I’m avoiding cramming too much into too short a space of time and its made time for my work and family”.
The Director of Physiotherapy at Belfast based PhysioWorks NI is keen to espouse the physiological benefits too. She continues that, “Since making the switch I have trained fairly consistently and have had no real injury issues and yet I’ve still been able to get the miles in by basically operating 1 day hard followed by 2 days easy”.
The traditional long run
The two time British masters cross country medallist (Silver in Bath in 2016 and Bronze in 2020 in North Wales) does concede that she had reservations about changing her microcycle initially.
“The hardest thing for me was accepting that my traditional long Sunday run wasn’t always going to be on a Sunday. It was going to be on a Sunday one week and then perhaps on a Tuesday the next or a Friday the week after. I have to admit that took me a while to get my head around that”.
This being said she is convinced that any sense of cognitive disorientation has now been put firmly to bed.
“Traditionally athletes tend to perhaps race on a Saturday and then follow this up immediately after with a long run every Sunday. I’ve found that knowing that I have an easy day both before and after the long run is infinitely better.
Its meant I am no longer carrying fatigue into my long run and also that I’m not carrying fatigue out of my long run into sessions a day or two later. So the chaining of my long run in my microcycle has helped massively”.
The above leaves us with a number of questions for self-reflection:
- How long is my microcycle of training at present?
- Why might a weekly microcycle not suit my physiological needs as a masters athlete?
- In what ways may a longer training microcycle help me to fit in a more diverse diet of training?
- How might an extended microcycle of training enable me to recover more fully between sessions and allow the relevant training adaptations to take place?
- Why does my traditional long run have to be on a set day like a Sunday and could my lifestyle allow this key session to be shifted when necessary?
Matt Long has served as both and England Team Manager and Coach and welcomes contact for coaching support through email@example.com