Peter Coe

Martin & Coe’s Better Periodisation for Distance Runners

This is the next instalment of my series of articles looking at how and why influential coaches planned and delivered Periodisation for their athletes. Sebastian Coe’s father and coach Peter Coe along with American physiologist Dr David Martin worked together and influenced a number of top tier athletes from 800m through to the marathon.

Peter Coe started out dissatisfied with the coaching advice Sebastian was receiving from his local club (this was based around the methodologies for Arthur Lydiard). Fluent in German, Coe senior translated the books of prominent German coach Woldemar Gerschler. Gerschler was a pioneer and proponent for Interval Training back in the 1930’s. His methodologies called on a pace “so fast that the pace required in competition would seem moderate and achievable”, and this is a key principle that Coe senior used to build the fitness of Sebastian Coe to win Olympic gold medals in the 1,500m in both Moscow and Los Angeles, combining that with silver medals in the 800m in the same Olympics.

Dr David Martin was a physiologist who specialising in pulmonary, cardiovascular, and exercise physiology. He was publicly acknowledged by both silver medalist Meb Keflezighi and bronze medalist and Deena Kastor in the mens and woman’s marathons respectively at the 2004 Athens Olympics for his input and advice for their success.

Peter Coe and David Martin co-wrote Better Training for Distance Runners and it is from here that most of their methodologies around periodisation come from, which are in contrast to other articles I’ve written in this series.

This is the fifth article about Periodisation (English spelling with an ‘s’, American spelling is traditionally with a ‘z’) and the methodologies from coaches that guided my early philosophies around periodisation of training seasons and event build ups. Also have a read of the last article in the series about Joe Friel:

Martin and Coe quote Rudyard Kipling and ask six questions:

  • What should be done?
  • Why is it being done?
  • When should it be done?
  • How is it done best?
  • Where should it be done?
  • Who should do it?

They use these six questions to frame their planning process as they build up for any event or season. And therefore the answers to these questions guided and framed the periodisation of any training plan.


Martin & Coe describe periodisation as the specific time scale and format for all the various parts of a training plan. There are four primary aspects of adaptation to training:

  • Initial tissue catabolism that occurs from the load applied and causes an initial reduction in performance capabilities;
  • Adaptation to the stress of training as a result of tissue recovery and improved mental outlook from having successfully completed the work;
  • Retention and likely improvement in such performance characteristics following a tapering of training; and
  • Reduction in performance if training volume is decreased for too long a period.

In summary the training life of an athletes is a cycle of hard work (with fatigue), recovery (with regeneration), improvement in performance (for a brief period) and brief layoff (for mental and physical rest) to permit another cycle to repeat.

For any given athletic goal you need to identify all the training units (general training assignments) required to achieve the goal. Examples are: longer distance runs at moderate pace; upper body, strength training; shorter-distance, faster runs etc.

Next up the sessions appropriate to each unit need to be identified. That is a specific training assignment that identifies the volume, intensity and density of effort that will provide a training effect for the athlete.

Volume is “How far must I run?” Volume is more accurately defined as the quantity of training done in a given time period.

Intensity is “How fast must I run?” Training intensity identifies the quality of completed effort and is related to volume inversly (i.e. the longer you run, the lower the intensity will have to be and the shorter you run the faster you can run).

Density is “How much recovery been efforts?” The shorter the rest pause between efforts the greater the training stimulus density. As an example two 400m reps on the track each done in 1:30min with a 2 minute Rest Interval (RI) between them is of greater density than two 400m reps done at the same pace but with a 3 minute Rest Interval (RI) between each run.

The value of periodisation is that it provides a documented, methodological, incremental and logical growth and developmental outline. With the objective of bringing the an athlete into a peak fitness level at the proper time. Further more it combines all the requirements for a good performance brought into balance.

Martin and Coe further go on to explain that the essence of a well planned, comprehensive, periodised, master plan is its adaptability or malleability: its ability to be changed as needed to ensure ongoing effectiveness. This is the key aspect of both my Team and Elite Coaching services. They describe athletes who are locked into and victimised by training plans that provide the daily detail many months (or even years) in advance, as being susceptible to training plans that become less appropriate over time. My Team Qwik Kiwi and Elite Qwik Kiwi coaching services are updated weekly for this very reason. They list a number of reasons why continual adjustment is needed for optimisation of any coaching or training plan:

  • Variable rates of adaptation to specific training (some athletes respond better than others to various types of training sessions);
  • Small set backs such as a minor injury; and/or
  • Personal life vicissitudes that temporarily demand increased attention. I had to look up what vicissitudes actually means – “a change of circumstances or fortune, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant.

Multipace Training

Training balance and specificity is described by Martin & Coe as involving harmonious inter-development of strength, speed, stamina and endurance all during the year. Never excluding any component entirely from the overall training plan. They further define multipace training as as including training assignments at a variety of different paces over the entire training year.

There is strong disagreement from Martin & Coe with methodology that prescribes large volumes of solely longer distance running over an initial period of weeks, followed by a concentrated bolus of solely higher-intensity speed sessions over succeeding weeks. They see this as in invitation to injuries from over use and maladaptation. They believe that the emphasis on slower paced running decreases the fitness within Fast-Twitch muscle fibres.

This does not mean they ignore the principles of periodisation, they always include training across all intensities throughout the year or season. They have a smooth transition within training blocks to provide extra emphasis to meet the changing developmental focus. I.E. they include more endurance building emphasis when attempting to build a base (but still include higher intensity running within the week), when they are trying to develop speed they include a higher proportion of faster-paced running (without excluding lower intensity running). All that changes is the balance between intensities, but there is always exposure to all intensities.

If speed is important then never venture very far from it.

Multi-tier Training

They define multi-tier training as several layers or tiers of training, each of which builds on the previous one. Each tire has a specific and different developmental focus. With the overall development creating a well-rounded performance.

They have seven levels or tiers in their multi-tier training:

  • X0 – Foundation of full recovery
  • X1 – Establish aerobic base
  • X2 – Increasing intensity 1
  • X3 – Increasing intensity 2
  • X4 – Consolidation (confirming)
  • X5 – Event fine-tuning
  • X6 – Competition – tapering off for the ultimate goal

Martin and Coe describe periodisation with their Multi-tier training like building a multi-level house or building. You need various building materials (aerobic and anaerobic running, comprehensive conditioning, flexibility etc…). Several of the materials (training intensities and modalities) should be utilised in an ongoing fashion to complete the goal of a finished building (or a competitively fit athlete). Depending on the progress of the construction, the relative mix of ingredients will cary. They describe an expert in periodisation as having a similar job to a building contractor. As both are responsible for arranging the availability, quantity and pattern of use of all the various components for completing the task at hand.

Multipace training is very fundamental to the multi-tier system. Long-distance runs of moderate intensity build aerobic endurance. Fast-paced longer-distance running improves stamina. Very-fast, short-distance running improves strength and quickness.

A 1,500m specialist needs 5,000m distance-training as well as 800m speed training. A 10,000m specialist can benefit from a periodic very long run (although no as long as those done by a marathoner), but needs some of the speed training of a 5,000m runner as well. Training at the primary-event race pace teaches awareness of the event itself.

Mesocycles of Multi-tier Training

During a full macrocycle (a complete training period or season, typically a year) the entire building will be constructed (to continue using the building analogy). Each level of the building is represented by a mesocycle or a teir. Thus, a multi-tier training plan with several mesocycles or levels each of which has a different assigned goal for athletic development. The length of each mesocycle may vary depending on event requirements, fitness of the athlete and time available.

Recovery Mesocycle (X0)

This is a restorative period of general activity (alternative training that will maintain a semblance of fitness without specific run training) and is aimed at assisting recovery (mental and physical) from the previous microcycle/season and get ready for the next season/macrocycle. Duration 4 weeks (for a 52 week macrocycle).

Aerobic-Dominant Mesocycle (X1)

The purpose of this mesocycle is to develop anaerobic base. Inclusion of a single, appropriate speed-work session (or low-key race) ensures the multipace approach. Duration 12 weeks (for a 52 week macrocycle).

Increasing-Intensity Mesocycles (X2, X3)

The emphasis here is on higher-quality training intensities. Faster-aerobic work as well as anaerobic training. Close attention to monitoring total training load, to ensure adaption is successful by not over-doing either volume, intensity or density without excessive fatigue. The volume of aerobic load will gradually decrease to keep the total load manageable. Duration 8 (X2) and 7 (X3) weeks respectively (for a 52 week macrocycle).

Consolidation Mesocycle (X4)

This is the time to identify which training modalities may not have come-on or developed as desired. This is the mesocycle to r-target and further enhance these training modalities that are needed. Duration 6 weeks (for a 52 week macrocycle).

Fine-Tuning Mesocycle (X5)

This is the phase where finishing touches are added to the training. This is the time to further develop any specialist skills for the athlete and event. Training is greatly decreased in this phase of training to ensure a well rested athlete arrives at the Competition phase prepared to run FAST. Duration 3 weeks (for a 52 week macrocycle).

Competition Mesocycle (X6)

As with the previous mesocycle training is greatly reduced but it continues on each aspect of training. Duration 12 weeks (for a 52 week macrocycle).

Overall the combination of the multipace principles within the mulit-tier concept of periodisation is designed to develop an athlete to optimal performance.

Better Training for Distance Runners provides a prescription for success for today`s competitive distance runners and their coaches. The book combines recent research, sound training principles, and proven program strategies to improve performance in events ranging from the 800-meters to the marathon.

Runners and coaches will find it easy to apply the book`s cutting-edge information about running physiology and biomechanics. They`ll receive straightforward advice for conditioning and competing in the whole range of distance events. The book also covers many popular topics in running, including how to:

• accurately assess running fitness,

• gauge training intensity,

• adjust training loads to achieve peak readiness for competition,

• determine the most effective racing strategy for each event, and

• stay healthy throughout a running career.

Authors Dr. David Martin and Peter Coe are the perfect team for translating lab findings to the road and running track. As one of the world`s foremost researchers on running, Martin regularly tests elite runners to identify their best strategies for staying healthy and improving fitness. Peter Coe, father and coach of 800- and 1000-meter world record holder Sebastian Coe, has long been regarded as a master of devising training plans that allow athletes to reach peak fitness when it counts most. Together, Martin and Coe present the most comprehensive and useful resource on the art and science of distance running—the formula that has produced many national championship, Olympic medal, and world record performances.

Better Training for Distance Runners builds upon the success of the first edition by providing loads of new information, such as the effects of altitude training and glycerin loading, the health problems experienced by women runners who may be too thin, and the best strategies for running road races and the steeplechase. It`s an essential guide and a great read for serious distance runners and coaches who desire to excel in future seasons and events.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.