Good stuff, Antonio. And of course you and I have talked about this distinction between types of runners (ST vs FT) for a number of years now. Indeed many readers of this thread (a number of whom I coach by email) will have heard me make this distinction over and over since I first starting corresponding with them way back in 2003 and even earlier.
We are fortunate that these Portuguese WR Holders, Lopes and Mamede, physically encapsulate this distinction, making it easier to discuss them as types. Within seconds of each other at 5,000m and 10,000m, they demonstrate that they achieved these levels of performance by two separate routes. Lopes with his killing-LT runs and Mamede who favoured hard interval sessions.
Of course there might be some reading this who are not old enough to recall these runners in their prime. So perhaps we could try and put this in a more modern context by asking the following question: do you think Ryan Hall and Alan Webb should train the same?
Like their Portuguese counterparts, the capabilities of these two US runners are not so far apart at 5,000m and 10,000m (okay, Hall might need to update his marks at both distances in light of his recent HM and M times). So, should Hall and Webb train the same? Or are they achieving their near-equal performances at 5-10km by different routes?
Let me also note the point Antonio makes about Mamede having the highest VO2max recorded at that time. Lopes’ would have been (significantly) lower. But what we can surmise from this is that Mamede probably had the poorer running economy, (needing more oxygen per running pace) and that Lopes with his lower maximal oxygen uptake could offset this, compensate for this, with a superior running economy (having a lower oxygen requirement for a similar running velocity).
(In a similar vein, Jack Daniels once published a paper on two runners with 3,000m performances within seconds of each other, but with significant differences in running economy, which mirrors the two runners we are discussing).
As you and I have long discussed, Antonio, (and the impetus behind this thread), it is vital for each runner to determine his/her running “type” in order to train optimally. Would Lopes have succeeded so well if encouraged to run intervals like Mamede (very fast reps with short recovery)? Would Mamede have set a 10,000m WR if forced to run regular LT runs like Lopes each week?
Almost definitely not. In both cases.
Moniz Pereira is to be commended for recognising the differences between these two, and adapting the training approaches to suit each of them.
Although I define the two types as ST (slow-twitch) and FT (fast-twitch), things are not so black and white (they never are, are they). We need to see the difference between ST and FT as a wide spectrum, much like the 256 shades of grey that lie between Black and White on a computer screen.
First of all, I need to point out that I am not referring to ST as someone with 100% ST fibres and FT as someone with 100% FT fibres (neither of which might exist in human form). When I refer to “ST”, I generally mean an athlete with roughly 80% ST and 20% FT fibres.
Of course the opposite of this would be an athlete with 80% FT and 20% ST fibres, but anyone with this mix would more likely be attracted to sprint training and not be drawn to distance training. So let me define the “FT” end of the spectrum I refer to as someone who is an 800-1500 type of athlete (or even a 400-800 type). Someone we might generally refer to as a “middle-distance” (M-D) runner.
It is most unlikely that an M-D runner has an 80% FT and 20% ST mix. Much more likely would be 50% FT and 50% ST, or similar. So, for the purposes of this discussion I would define the types of runners at both ends of the ST vs FT spectrum as follows:
“ST” = ~80% ST and 20% FT fibres
“FT” = ~50% ST and 50% FT fibres
The values are not intended to be precise; the biggest distinction between the two types would be in their ability to develop energy from the glycolytic (lactate) energy system. And of course most of us will lie somewhere between both polar opposites.
By providing evidence of two runners with near-equal performances at 5,000m and 10,000m, yet totally different approaches to training, Antonio is reminding us that all roads can lead to (uh...) Lisbon.
There is not just one single way to train to run a given time at any race distance. There can be many. And each possible way of achieving the performance time depends on the kind of runner doing the training. The type of training you do must best suit the kind of runner you are. What works for your buddy Joe, may do so primarily because of the kind of body Joe has. His kind of training might not work so well for you (and here we can compare the differing approaches of Lopes and Mamede).
So, before you go any further, if you are really going to train yourself the best you know how, it would help if you understood what kind of runner you are. The ancient Greeks said this best, “Know Thyself”.
We could do this a number of ways (and a number of you have already written to me asking how you might do this):
1. Muscle biopsy. Go in, cut a bit of muscle out, and analyse it for fibre type content.
What? No takers?
2. Lactate test. Run a 600m all-out TT and determine peak lactate value (take a number of readings till BLa peaks post performance). We might find 8-12mM BLa for ST (depending on recent training; lower end if training for an upcoming marathon) and 18mM (or higher) for FT (depending on event).
Even more simple… (remember, these are only rules of thumb – not hard and fast rules)
3. You line up with other friends of a similar 10k performance level, for some hard 100m reps, you invariably finish last. (If you answer yes, you are likely to be more ST than your friends).
Here Antonio will probably tell us that Lopes would invariably last in the interval session of 400s… and then then finish first in the weekend race.
4. Final kick over the last 200m in a 5k or 10k race. You lose to your rival every single (%^) time, even though your PRs are pretty much identical. (If yes, you are more ST. When you get fed up, go longer, you’ll smoke ‘im at HM and M).
5. You positively dislike interval training with a vengeance and the long Sunday run and long LT-type runs are your favourite sessions of the week. (If yes, there is a good chance you are more an ST-type).
6. Look up your performance points on the IAAF Scoring Tables (available for download from iaaf.org). If your point score rises as the race distance lengthens, chances are you are more-ST.
As can be seen, and should be appreciated, there are no hard-and-fast rules for determining into which category (ST vs FT) each runner might fall. The outliers at both ends of the spectrum are the easiest to classify, but just like in any Bell Curve, most of us will tend to fall in the middle. Over time and by checking how well they respond, or not, to different types of training each runner should get a better idea of where he/she lies on the ST-FT continuum. This knowledge will help them to fine-tune the optimal training for their particular physiology.
Final point: this distinction ST vs FT does not predict who will win in a head-to-head over a particular race distance. It is simply meant to offer you some guidance as to the kind of training that might work optimally for you.
Note: I’m busy with grading papers right now. I’ll get back to discussion of the HR graphs shortly. Lots more to say.