Currently I'm working on an article for Runner's World entitled "Run Any Race in Four Weeks." This catchy title represents a clever way to hook readers into reading an article on nonlinear periodization. The way I pitched the article to the editors at Runner's World was this: The typical runner allows his base fitness level to fall far below peak level between major races. Volume is sharply reduced, the long run distance comes way down, and high-intensity workouts are all but phased out. Many elite runners, by contrast, maintain a high level of well-rounded fitness year-round by keeping their running volume fairly high and keeping a variety of different workout types in their regular training regimen. This allows them to peak very quickly and effectively for races with a short period of very challenging race-specific training. The typical runner should take a page from the elites and reap the benefits of nonlinear periodization.
Nonlinear periodization may be thought of as a philosophy of staying within shouting distance of the fitness level required to race well at any distance at all times. Training is consistent, balanced, and moderately challenging at most times. Training in this way enables the runner to take on a very high training load with minimal risk of injury or overtraining when it comes time to sharpen for a race and thus to peak at a very high level of performance.
Runners who fail to practice nonlinear periodization have to play catch-up through most of the training process. They have to devote a much longer period of time to focused preparation for a race. This is true even if they have not allowed their training volume to drop very low. Simply cutting back too much on high-intensity training will put them in a similar hole, because they will have to spend large amounts of time working to shore up weaknesses.
As I do so often these days, I relied on Brad Hudson as my expert source for this article. He is a major proponent of nonlinear periodization and practices it very effectively with Dathan Ritzenhein and his other runners. You can learn more about Brad Hudson's training methods on his website and in his forthcoming book, Run Faster, which I coauthored. And be sure to check out my article in the June issueof Runner's World!