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I can hear it now….”Know wonder they call you a Goof…you are crazy.”, “So, if I run slower I will get faster? You are out of your mind.” It was not to long ago I used to think the same thing, but as with everything I post, there are reasons and science to back it up.
Let’s face it, logic would dictate that pushing the pace of your easy days, as close to race pace as possible, would help you get fit faster and help you speed up, right? A lot of coaches, including myself, will tell you to run slow on your easy days, and easy days should be making up anywhere from 50-75% of your weekly mileage.
I have clients continuously asking me, “why are my easy days so slow?” The latest is my famous sit downs with my runners telling them to slow down after examining their data and finding them running tempo speeds during an easy day.
The answer to the question is what Arthur Lydiard and most other coaches would call the aerobic system. The aerobic system, or aerobic development, is the one of the most important fundamentals into unlocking your true potential.
Let us first check the stats on the energy contribution the aerobic system provides for races. As you can in the chart below, even the shorter events like the mile, over 80% of the energy required to run the race is produced via the aerobic system.
Aerobic System? What is it?
Aerobic training is the scientific fact that to move your body at higher intensities, the body needs to break down sugar and convert it to glycogen so it can be used as energy.
The aerobic system plus oxygen starts a chemical reaction known as Aerobic Glycolysis which continuously powers continuous endurance activities. In the aerobic system energy ATP is produced through Pyruvic Acid and Lipid/Protein fragments entering the Kreb Cycle and the Electron Transport Cycle.
During aerobic respiration (yeah, that’s breathing) the body uses all the oxygen it needs to power the muscles. When you are running in your “aerobic zones” (easy runs), your muscles have enough oxygen to produce all the energy they need to perform.
See? Improving your capacity to transport and efficiently use all the available oxygen to produce energy will enable you to race faster since this makes up 85-99% of the energy needed to race.
Since running easy is aerobic development, what better way is there to train the aerobic system? There is none.
What goes on in the body during aerobic development?
Capillary development – capillaries are the smallest of the body’s blood vessels and they help deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscle tissues while exporting waste products out. The larger the number of capillaries you have surrounding each muscle fiber, the faster you can transport oxygen and carbohydrates to your muscles.
Aerobic training (easy running) increases the number of capillaries per muscle fiber, thus improving how efficiently you can deliver oxygen and fuel to your working muscles and how quickly they can clear waste products.
Myoglobin is a protein in the muscles that binds the oxygen that enters the muscle fiber. When oxygen becomes limited during intense exercise, myoglobin releases oxygen to the mitochondria to produce more energy.
The more myoglobin you have in the fibers of your muscles, the more oxygen is transported under aerobic stress. Like, uh, during a race. Aerobic training increases the amount of myoglobin you have in your muscle fibers.
Mitochondria are microscopic organelle found in your muscles cells that contribute to the production of ATP (energy). In the presence of oxygen, mitochondria breakdown carbohydrate, fat, and protein into usable energy.
Therefore, the more mitochondria you have, and the greater their density, the more energy you can generate during exercise, which will enable you to run faster and longer.
Aerobic training increases both the number and the size of the mitochondria in your muscle fibers.
Suffice it to say that aerobic development is the single most important factor to long-term development.
Of course, track workouts, VO2 max sessions, tempo runs and cross training will increase your fitness and are still incredibly important to racing faster. However, nothing will help improve continuously like developing the aerobic system.
Aerobic development is dependent upon running in your aerobic zones (for my runners Zones 1-3). This is why running faster on your easy days develop the aerobic system. Once you step out of those aerobic zones, on easy runs you diminish development of your aerobic system, but you also increase the chance for injury. Nope, two negatives do not make a positive in running.
This is one of the single biggest mistakes runners of all experiences make in their training.
As a coach and trainer I have always distinguished myself because I am always able to give my clients and readers the “why”. (Sometimes my clients end up telling me to just shut my mouth. when I am training with them because I am continuously telling them why they are doing each movement of an exercise or workout. I guess it may not be an advantage all the time. Go figure.)
Optimal Aerobic Development
Scientific research has been able to identify how the aerobic system adapts and responds to certain training paces. Physiologically we know:
- Capillary development appears to peak at between 60 and 75 percent of 5k pace.
- Maximum stimulation of myoglobin in Type I muscle fiber (Endurance Muscles) occurs at about 63-77 percent of VO2max. 63-77 percent of VO2max is about 55-75 percent of 5k pace.
- Two researchers, Holloszy (1967) and Dudley (1982) published some of the defining research on optimal distance and pace for mitochondrial development. In short, Holloszy found that maximum mitochondrial development when running at 50-75 percent of V02 max. Likewise, Dudley found that the best strategy for slow-twitch, mitochondria enhancement was running for 90 minutes per outing at 70 to 75 per cent V02 max.
It is pretty clear now right? Your optimal easy run pace for aerobic development is between 55 and 75 percent of your 5k pace, with the average pace being about 65 percent.
It’s also evident that running faster than 75% of your 5k pace on your long run has very little additional physiological benefit.
In fact, the research indicates that it would be just as advantageous to run slower as it would be to run faster. Running around half of your 5k pace is pretty easy right? Wouldn’t you know it, the evidence is clear that it still provides near optimal aerobic development.
Feel free to let me hear your feedback. I welcome any other case studies, personal experiences and other research as I am always learning. I provide you with the best content I can, but I have an open-mind and know that there may be other research out there that may negate information I post.
There is a few races that I have neglected to report on. I decided that being most of them were smaller and very…well…uneventful, I thought I would just give the highlights.
Escape from Ft DeSoto Sprint Triathlon
Taking part in brick workouts at the North Beach at Ft DeSoto allows for familiarity of the surroundings, so when competing in a race in the same location, it is like having home field advantage, unless the course goes off the path.
The swim was 800 meters which for me is usually pretty slow, but the current was decent and I was able to stick next to the bouys so I felt like I improved on the swim, but it still wasn’t fast enough. I was able to sprint out of the water and head to transition with energy to spare.
The bike was one simple loop around Ft. DeSoto with a familiar headwind on the way out and a tail wind on the way back. I averaged over 21 mph, so I felt pretty good, but I overdid it just slightly because I felt it on the run. The run was slightly longer than a typical sprint and the second half was on the beach, so I really felt it on my legs. I still had enough to sprint into the finish line, but it was a lesson learned that even on a ten-mile bike leg, I still need to take it easy at the start and ride negative splits in the second half.
Afterward the finish line was filled with excitement sharing stories of the race with friends and watching a few of them at the award ceremony on the podium. It was a fun race and while I am not huge fan of Sprint Triathlons, I will definitely be taking part in this one again.
Tampa Corporate 5k
This race was put on by my friends Ben Mena and Beth Shaw (MenaShaw Races). It was incredibly well-organized with numerous tents for vendors and a line of food trucks preparing everything from smoothies to homemade doughnuts. Of course a beer truck was strategically placed near the finish line to provide access to exhausted runners looking to replenish their carbohydrates.
It always amazes me when Ben and Beth pull these races off. I know it was basically the two of them doing all the organizing, fundraising and negotiating with vendors and sponsors, so when I walked up to the site and saw an enormous amount of people and activity, I was overwhelmed with pride and honor just to know these two personally.
I was on Nick’s team, No Limit Marketing, so he gave me my shirt and we took a couple of photos and lined up for the race. I really wanted to just take it easy during this race, but the energy got the better of me. The course was interesting, as it led out of downtown, then off the beaten path where the terrain changed to broken pavement and then a turnaround back to the start. I was on track for a PR, but the course turned out to be 3.4 instead of 3.1 due to a last-minute logistical changed ordered by the city. Interesting enough, I only know this due to a conversation with Ben after the event was cleaned up. There was no mention of it during the event which is a credit to my friends, because it was seamless and no one really cared, because everyone was having a great time.
Our team actually came in 4th but just a couple of minutes. St. Anthony’s Triathlon was going on that weekend, so Nick decided to just coast through it, which was smart, but he kicked himself later because if he would have actually ran it we would have placed. We still had a great time.
St. Anthony’s Olympic Triathlon
It was a crazy day for St Anthony’s this year. The expo was as expected with numerous vendors all giving free swag, free trials, and providing goods for the race and future races. They all kept the excitement of the race consistent. I could not keep my heart rate down during the expo. After a quick bike, run and swim I walked over to check-in and a press conference was taking place. On the panel were a number of champion triathletes and NFL superstar. Hines Ward, former NFL player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was on the panel due to his upcoming entry into the 2013 World Championship Ironman Triathlon in Kona, October 12th. He has never competed in triathlon before so on his road to the Ironman he is competing in the different distances and St. Anthony’s was to be his first Olympic Distance Triathlon. My favorite triathlete, Mirinda Carefrae was sitting right next to him, because they are both sponsored by Chocolate Milk. That was a huge treat for me, especially since I was able to talk to her and I got a hug from her afterward. (Awww.shucks) She was on her way to a meeting, so unfortunately I didn’t get a picture, but maybe she will recognize me at a later date and at that time I will get a pic. But I digress.
The next day the expected wave of anxiety especially since the water looked a little choppy and being my confidence in the water is a little shaky, I was even more anxious. I guess my feelings were correct because after the pros started Phil LeHaye, the race director, came over the loudspeaker and stated the course would be shortened for safety sake. I really thought that I would be happy due to my limited swimming confidence, but I was amazed at how disappointed I was. To me it was no longer an Olympic Triathlon. I ended up doing this exact same course two years prior when they moved the swim but I was even worse at that point.
Truth be told that was the most unusual part of the race. I completed the swim without any real issues, the bike was uneventful with an average of 20.8 mph and I even was able to complete the 10k run with only one hitch; my bladder told me after mile 4 that I needed to empty it. I told it that we only had two more miles, but I had already held it for a while and it just wasn’t going to allow me to keep going for another two miles without relieving it. I ended up using a port-o-potty on the route which took even longer because I was wearing a one-piece tri suit that Zoot had sent me with their new technology. I usually am not a fan of one-piece tri-suits but this one even though it was black, was cool and comfortable.
I finished in 2:43 which was 37 minutes better than two years prior with the same distance. If it wasn’t for the stop it might have been up to 7-8 minutes faster. Either way I was happy with my performance and I felt really strong crossing the line.
Police Appreciation Run
My friend Rich texted me a few days before this 10k race. I had no intention of running it, but
I had not had the opportunity to hang out with Rich for a while and I wanted to catch up with him. Of course Rich is really fast genetically, so even with all the training I had been doing I still couldn’t catch him, but I enjoyed the race.
This is a Chris Lauber directed race, whom I just have the utmost respect for, not to mention the race was dedicated
to the current and fallen Policemen and women in the area. Great cause, and a great race, even with the 10k going off course for a bit. We didn’t know this until we returned to the finish line, but Chris was lucky because even thought we drifted, it was still exactly 6.2 miles, start to finish. There were plenty of vendors afterward, with food and recovery fluids. I highly recommend it to anyone.
Miles for Moffitt
I believe I have stated this in other posts, but to make money to live I contract myself out as an IT Program/Project Manager for large firms. What exactly do I do? Well, companies hire me to manage projects that usually have over million dollar budgets, like re-designing an online banking site for a well-known financial company, or the development of a government website with over 50,000 pages and applications. I identify the scope of the project, procure the resources both human and material, set the schedule, manage the budget, mitigate the risks, serve as a liaison between the business executives, IT department, internal and external vendors and worker bees, and manage the tasks in order to complete the project.
My latest contract is with Gerdau Steel and they are a major sponsor for Miles for Moffitt, which is a very popular event in the Tampa Bay Area. Gerdau was nice enough to allow me to run the 5 mile race for them. They have basically three races the 5 miler, the 5k and the 1 mile run/walk. The 5 miler and the 5k can be run either timed or untimed. This was a well-organized event with a relatively flat course on the campus of the University of South Florida. Surprisingly enough there was a couple of hills, but nothing that felt terrible. I saw a few of my clients while out there and hung out with Rich again. I averaged 7:30 miles as I did the week before during the Police Appreciation 10k, so I was content with my performance.
After the races concluded, and the thank yous are stated, they have a parade for the cancer survivors that ran the race. It was a really awesome site to see all of these people who were diagnosed with cancer now running in a race. it was inspiring and motivating to know they came back from as close to hell as one can get, and stronger than before.
The Dunedin Sprint Triathlon
I have completed this race for a couple of years now, and since my first triathlon is no longer around, the Morton Plant Mease Triathlon, I decided to make this one my annual “remember how it all started” race.
This race is held on Honeymoon Island which is a great beach with usual minimal issues, but this year we were told that the bottom was a little rocky and we should bring water shoes. I decided to wear my Vibram 5-fingers because they do not hold a lot of water and I thought they would be easy to get out of.
The swim was pretty much a water run due to the shallowness of the water. I usually incorporate some water running during my swim sessions so I know the resistance that water can put on your legs, so I dolphin dived/swam most of the way. I was going to be using my legs enough during the bike and the run, I didn’t need to be wearing them down, prior. I came out of the water in the faster 10% of the wave, but was slowed down by two things. The first being getting out of my shoes. While there was no water giving me issues, the shoes had constricted around my foot so I had to fight to get them off, and then exiting transition had a very narrow trail, so there was a line of us only able to shuffle to the start mat. Other than that the race went great I finished in 1:05 which was another PR for me by a couple of minutes.
And that brings us up to date on race reports. My next race is the NYC Triathlon which is an Olympic distance triathlon in the heart of New York City July 14th. I am really looking forward to this race due to the course being around my favorite city.
It’s January 9th and I have been trying to provide a base now since November 6th. I think I am doing pretty well. I couldn’t swim 600 yards without changing up strokes from freestyle to sidestroke, to breaststroke. Now I can go about 800 yards with strictly freestyle..at least in a pool. Yesterday, January 8th 2011, I ran the Disney Half-Marathon without stopping in 1:59:32. It is not great, but not that this is an excuse, but it was extremely crowded and I was in the very back of the pack. Last week I cycled 40 miles, with a 5K run at the end. I think as far as my endurance factor goes I am a little a head of the game.