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.
Last weekend I participated in the Paint Wars Mud Run in Oldsmar, Florida. Well, mud run is not necessarily an accurate term, most of it was just wet, but it was fun. The obstacles were more nature made with some added ropes for safety, some hay bales and of course paint.
When registering for the run I was taken in by the description of the race which was, of course, a little exaggerated. The paint was to be squirted by Paint Ninjas at a lot of different points in the course. I only came in contact with two, but the anticipation made it fun. Let me start at the beginning.
I drove into the Whispering Oaks Horse Ranch with my little Mini Cooper Clubman where a volunteer pointed me in the right direction of the parking lot. Thank goodness I was driving my little car, because I ended up having to make a spot down a dirt road, but it just added to the suspense of the run. Upon following the signs to the registration table, we, Sarah and myself, were told to sign a waiver for the property, ok no problem. As we made our way to the registration line however we were then told to sign a waiver, this time it was for the race. One waiver for the property and one for the race? Whatever. We then got into a line for the registration and goggle pick up. It didn’t seem all that long, maybe 10-12 people, but it took almost 45 minutes to get through it. When we finally had a names checked and were given a SWAG bag with two promotional flyers in it, we moved over to the t-shirt line where we gave the volunteer our sizes. The next words out of his mouth floored me. “That will be 38 dollars.” What? Really? For a cotton t-shirt? Yeah, thanks but no thanks buddy. We went back to the car to drop off our phones and bags and headed to the start. We did receive a decent introduction to the course, basically letting us know that there was a few river crossings where if we decided to take them, we should know how to swim, because the depth was not shallow. At that point, my progressive 4b friend Sarah and I, took off at a decent pace.
It started with a trail run for about 500 yards and then a dead stop to wait for an obstacle. A tree crossing where the tree was underwater. I guess a lot of people took there sweet time, but Sarah took it like it was not even there and I just a tad slower. (Sarah is about 18 years my junior, so give me a break.) The crossing ended with a steep climb both up and sideways, with the recent rain adding to dirt making it a little slippery. Sarah was nice to her old partner and waited up a bit. I didn’t fall but I realized my agility is a little less than I would like it to be. (I think I need to get back to boot camp. As a matter of fact all the way through this course I was thinking that.) The next couple of obstacles were through the trails over trees and up hills till we came to another stop. We actually couldn’t see why we were stopped until we reached the top of this hill that then returned back to sea level, but in the middle was a rope swing that dropped you off into the water where you then swam about 100m to the other side with a strong current that could definitely keep you from reaching the exit point if you didn’t have some sort of skill. I think I had just enough.
I will say I wore my New Balance Minimus’ during the race which didn’t hold much water, but I think I might have been happier with the five fingers. The minimus’ would be great for Tough Mudder where there isn’t a lot of hill climbs, but here I think I would have liked the extra traction my toes would have received, but I digress.
After the swim there was a nice trail run with only a couple of puddles and a few hay bale hurdles to include a run through the ‘WAR ZONE’. OOOOOHHHH….we thought we were going to get it bad, we actually wore white so we would get it bad, but…nothing. Not a single Paint Ninja anywhere. SOOOO disappointing. Oh well, we kept running and a real nice pace. Sarah is has ridiculous stamina and while I was right on her tail the whole time, I was starting to feel it, luckily we hit another line for another tree crossing. This one was elevated over the river. We crossed that with ease and headed through another long trail run, through the war zone again, and with the same result, no Paint Ninjas, right into the one and only mud obstacle where our shoes got muddy, and it sprayed a little on our legs, but that was it. We crossed the finish line and went to the beer line.
We got in line and saw that athletes were paying 3.50 and we both decided to forget it. We found the cooler with gatorade had a couple of dixie cups and headed back to the car.
Was it fun, yes, but I wonder was it because of the race or because I had a partner who was very enjoyable to run with. I am going to say the latter, or maybe a little of both. Sarah said this was her break from studying for the third test out of four for her CPA. Sarah if your reading this…thank you for inviting me, thank you for running I had a great time, and I really hope you were extremely successful on your test.
Previously I mentioned all that was; the Top Gun Triathlon for me. Today I give you the run-down of my experience with the Twilight Triathlon I competed in that same evening. Are you ready? Are you in suspense? If you said “yes” then I know you just are humoring me, but I’ll ramble on for a bit anyway.
After a little breakfast I went home and hoped to catch a nap but had no such luck. I did chill out for a while and watched some of the Olympics, but before I knew it I had to head on over to Outspokin to pick up a ride to the tri. I headed out with Nicky Z, both of us continually wondering what the heck we were doing. I wasn’t really sore or anything, but I was a little exhausted. After what seemed like forever, an hour, we showed up to what looked like a cluster fuss. Cars lined up, making ‘U’ turns to find parking, a sheriff’s deputy telling drivers where to go and vendors still putting tents up less than hour before what was supposed to the start of the race. We ended up really lucky and did find a parking space pretty close to transition.
Walking up to transition the announcer’s voice was hailing over the loud speaker something I never heard at a race before. “Don’t buy anything from the food truck. He has been trying to keep this triathlon from taking place!” Excuse me what? Really? A guy in a food truck doesn’t want an extra night of better than average income? Seriously? That ended the negativity and the following were the instructions for packet pick up, body marking, and warnings about lights on our bikes. After picking up my packet and t-shirts, one for this race and one for the Sunrise/Sunset challenge. Nick and I looked at each other a little surprised they were both cotton, but we were given the explanation that DRC Sports, the sponsors for the Twilight Tri, bought both shirts since Top Gun really didn’t need the extra advertising. Oh well, no biggie.
After finishing up my setup in transition I went out to the beach to warm-up a bit and then I headed out to the water. All I can say about that water was….YUCK! It was very shallow, 86 degrees, murky brown and the gulf floor was mushy and full of oysters. I was actually wishing I was back at Ft. Desoto. Of course, I didn’t spend much time out there not that I had a lot of time anyway, since I was heat number 2. The pre-race meeting gave us our instructions, there was a very nice rendition of the national anthem, we took a quick photo of all the athletes that had completed the Top Gun Tri and we were finally ready to race.
Nick’s wave went out first with mine three minutes behind. It was completely psychological, but the buoys sure looked a lot farther than this morning, and they felt that way too. I did not feel nearly as good as I did that morning which was obvious as I was three minutes slower. I did end up making part of it up in T1 due to transition being staged much closer than Top Gun. I was quickly back on my bike and headed out on the road.
My goal was the same stay above 20 mph and keep a cadence of 90-95. Heading away from transition to the turnaround point there was a decent tail wind which helped me keep my speed up. Unfortunately, a tail wind on the way out means…yep…a head wind on the way back. I tucked in and kept my cadence up the best I could, but I found myself falling at times to 18-19 mph which was disconcerting. I did catch a couple of miles over 22 on the way back but it still kept my average to 19.8 mph which was ugly compared to my mornings ride. I could make excuses as it was the wind, or the fact I had to slow down almost to a stop at the turnaround or even the fact I ran over a squirrel. (I hear you…WHAT?) Yeah, a squirrel darts across the street and literally runs right in front of me to where I had no other option that to run over it. Luckily, I looked behind me and it got right up and ran just as fast to the nearest tree and climbed right up looking none the worse for wear. Still it was no excuse, I just didn’t get the job done.
With a mile-and-a-half to go I saw the leader making the turn to the finish of the run. All I thought was what a loser I was. The guy only had a a minimal 3 minute head start on me and I wasn’t even finished with the bike and here he was on his way back to the finish line. What a beast that Zach guy is. Anyway, I sped into transition changed my shoes and headed out.
It was the complete mirror image of my run earlier that day except in slow motion. I felt like I had nothing in my legs until the turnaround and then they finally stretched out and I was able to pick up my cadence on the way back in. I will say the sunset on the way back the finish was gorgeous as was the good amount of extra protein I ingested on the way back due to the overwhelming amount of mosquitoes. No wonder I wasn’t that hungry after the race. Anyway, I ended up averaging around an 8:30 which was a little over a minute slower than earlier. Oh well, in all fairness it was my second race of the day and even though I was planning on bringing my effort level down, my ego got a hold of me and that just didn’t happen. I said it before and I will say it again…more bricks, more bricks, more bricks.
It was pretty uneventful after that. Nick got a massage from these two women and finally understood why Scott Bragan and I have been singing Lisa Jamison’s (http://www.liftperformanceenhancement.com) praises for over a year. in my opinion, massage should be a part of anyone’s training plan that trains hard more than 3 days a week. We packed up, grabbed some food, Gatorade and took the long ride home.
Overall; I don’t think I would’ve wanted to spend the day any differently. Great workouts, good friends and the feeling of accomplishment. What could possibly be better?