Using 14 NCAA DI National qualifying teams and 16 non-qualifying teams, the authors looked to evaluate the training methods of the teams to determine advantageous and maladaptive training practices. Grouping workouts under repetitions, intervals, hills, fartlek, cross-training, drills, weights, rest, and two-a-days, and coupling these factors with the total training volume and longest weekly runs, the authors were able to determine beneficial and detrimental habits of DI cross country teams. The paper noted that there were other factors uncontrolled by the survey that could be at play here, but the founded results still can provide good predictive power.
The authors found that the “transition phase,” or spring to summer offseason (for a November championship), is best used for recovery and progression towards the fall competition season, with the most beneficial workouts being hill workouts (low impact) and some tempo runs. Speed work, intervals, increased mileage and two-a-days were associated with slower times, as these practices lead to overtraining and decreased recovery, while hill workouts lead to better times. During the “competition phase” (in-season), intervals and fartleks were associated with slower times, as they also lead to overtraining and injury within the teams. Additionally, coupling intervals with weekly competition in-season lead to slower times and increased injury and overtraining. Lastly, interval and tempo training within 4 weeks of the championship (peaking phase) lead to faster times.
It should be noted that this study was specifically for cross country 10k competition, although it appears that the results can be extended somewhat to ultra running, focusing on the offseason and the peaking phase, as there is very rarely a time with weekly competitions for ultra running. Workouts that allow for maintenance and strength during the off season appear to be the most beneficial, while the zone 3 workouts that push the body without providing an excess amount of wear-and-tear appear to be the most beneficial closer to competition.