Marathons are extraordinarily difficult, but if you've got the training under your belt, and if you can run smart, the races take care of themselves. When you have the enthusiasm and the passion, you end up figuring how to excel - Deena Kastor
In the first post on high vs. low intensity training, I discussed how high intensity training can improve the markers of performance, for example increase VO2max and lactate threshold. Because of this, many people claim that high intensity training like Tabata intervals and Yasso 800's are the secrets to "performance". As a result, runners are questioning if they should ditch the mileage for more higher-intensity training. This is history repeating itself. We were here in the 80's when training shifted from Lydiard's high mileage method popularized in the 60's to high intensity training done by fast runners of the time, like Sebastian Coe. What we learned is that different models of training have different effects, both positive and negative on performance and health: Unfortunately, we do not have a training model that is the gold standard, there is no magic bullet, training remains a process of trial and error. The question we should be asking is what benefits do high and low intensity training provide?
VO2max is only one marker of increased running performance, but it is often referred to as the 'best' indicator and has become synonymous with 'superior' performance. A high VO2 is associated with endurance ability, but it is not the determining factor of running performance. Interval and high intensity training methods have gained popularity because of this direct relationship to increasing VO2, however, this does not make you faster. There is a myriad of performance indicators, not all are biological either, and a multiplicity of workouts that develop these other performance markers (Part 3 on training effectively will be posted soon). The reality is our VO2 curve has a limit, it increase rapidly with the demands of high intensity training but it levels off and may no longer be effective after 8 weeks of high intensity effort. Wisely, high intensity training is usually only at the end of a structured weekly training program 4-6 weeks before a goal race, or done in a periodized pattern (every 3rd week) in long term training approach. In other words, interval training offers short term effects and quantifiable gains, but focusing too much on these short term gains and skipping the mileage can ultimately lead to a decrease in performance in the long run (pun intended).
All runners need ENDURANCE, which is developed in low intensity, high volume training, commonly called base training (Lydiard's method) or LSD running. Research indicates that a relatively high percentage of our training should be dedicated to low-intensity training over a long period of time if we want to improve our performance, while the empirical evidence on high-intensity training remains less clear (Billat, 2001). Many studies on how elite runners, rowers, cyclists and triathletes actually train have confirmed that 60% to 85% of total training time is dedicated to low-intensity (below anaerobic threshold) training!
In endurance training, distance is crucial but it is more than simply running (sorry, Barney!). While you are doing low intensity sessions, you are developing the following skills and abilities:
Types of Long Runs
There is more to distance running than doing a long, steady run. The most familiar LSD run is using 10:1s and training with a group, or running solo in zone 2 (blue bar) and 3 (green bar) for approximately 90 minutes or more. Here are a couple examples of ways you can approach an LSD run:
Challenge: The "Start Easy, Finish Fast" Run
I love these because I love how our bodies and minds work. Another challenging LSD session is a "Hilly Route" with several hills to develop strength - the trick is to keep your HR relatively low on hills! Look to make sure your average HR is still between 65%-75%.
The "Scenic Route" Run
Sometimes I want to not focus on running, training and performance and simply want to enjoy a long run. In this run, I stopped several times to take pictures of the scenery. I like running in the mountains because the change of scenery refreshes me. I run run a 90 minute LSDs almost every Sunday all-year long, but I stay motivated by changing the purpose of each session, and sometimes I simply run.
The Training Effect
When we do an LSD run, though the intensity is low, the session can be nonetheless "stressful" on our bodies. Training effect is quantified by time, intensity and frequency. The image is that of my training load, which is quantified each session in terms of stress. Green is good to go, yellow is high intensity but manageable with recovery, and red is not recommended. The distinctive peak in the red in my training load for a 32km LSD session. Though we would assume a "high-intensity" workout like a 10km tempo run or a 800m repeat workout would be more stressful because it feels "harder", the actual physiological stress of training at low-intensity, high-volume can be higher. Our bodies are complex, which is why training is often referred to as a process of self-discovery, or a passion for learning to excel.
In the end...
1. LSD is not a myth, and low-intensity runs are not "junk miles", so don't ditch the mileage for only high intensity training. I run 90 minutes almost every Sunday, all year round. The LSD has important place in my life - it is the time where I think, so it is more than a run. You can reach 90% of your performance potential just by training in 60-80% of you max heart rate, so don't be fooled by the claim that "only" high-intensity training improves performance.