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RE: Mr. Renato Canova: Could You Please Answer a Question About Effective Ways to Improve the Lactate Threshold?

Rift Runner wrote:
I need some help to get my head around the lower intensity, higher volume stuff. Renato/Antonio/Jack D ???


A case study provided by John Kellogg (Weldon and Robert's coach):

"There is a point at which you optimally build fitness; if you go beyond that point very often, you begin giving some of it away. Your ideal frequency of threshold running (as well as your ideal mileage) simply depends on how often you can do it comfortably without needing a very slow recovery day (or series of recovery days). But it should also be regulated according to a few general rules:
1) Your age/running experience
2) Time of year (base training or competitive season)
3) Your long-term goals or lack thereof (also influenced by age)

I'll use Bruce Hyde as a case study, since he's followed things pretty much according to plan since his last season of high school.

During off-season training, Bruce would run at a "high-end" of aerobic effort only about twice per week when he was younger. On other days, he would either run very slowly the whole time or would add some short strides for mechanical efficiency. At first, he would (like most runners) go too hard, either testing himself as if to find out if he was any faster than he was a few days before or simply getting carried away and wanting to hammer it too often. As he became more experienced, he finally found the feeling you're supposed to find. It took some discipline on his part (and some constant prodding) to keep him from going too fast at times and giving too much away, but he finally embraced the high-end pace as the correct one for proper development. With maturity, he was able to progress to the point where he was hitting that high-end pace more often during his base phases. He still only does so about 4 times per week at most, and he only goes there 1-2 times per week during the competitive season when higher intensity is added (running very easy on in-between days so as to make this routine as safe as possible and repeatable for years).

Bruce took the 2003-2004 school year off academically and was able to get 5 months of pure base training which was uninterrupted by the normal college routine (this is a detrimental routine of tapering for a bunch of mostly meaningless races 3 seasons per year, running those races, recovering from those races - or staying run down - and never allowing complete development to take place). His mileage went way up from his previous levels (average of 106 per week for one 10-week period, highest of 125) and he was able to focus on threshold running as the staple of his preparation. In fact, he was getting ready for a marathon that he later decided to skip. At one point, he ran a 22-miler with 18 miles of that at an average pace of 5:20 per mile (several of those miles were hillier than anything on his target marathon course). From a training perspective, this aerobic development and this alone is what made him a better 1,500m runner. All his race-specific "workouts" were the same as they had been in previous years (although faster with the improved fundamental conditioning), so the specificity had next to nothing to do with improved performances - it was only the mileage and the consistency of threshold running over a period of months that made the difference.

You might know how the story played out after that: Bruce went on to run 8:03 for 3,000m in his first race the following season, a huge breakthrough into national class territory for him. He backed that up with a 4:02 mile, another big PR, and showed he could race with more seasoned runners when he used a 26.9 last 200m to place 4th in the USATF indoor 1,500m with another PR of 3:42.44 (equal to about a 4:00.25 mile). He sat out the outdoor season, again developing more aerobic endurance (up to a 142-mile week, with a few others in the high 120s), and returned to school for cross-country, winning the HEPS crown, the Northeast Regional title, and All-American honors at NCAAs.

Although Bruce Hyde is obviously a talented runner and not everyone can make themselves as fast in absolute terms as he is, that's an example of the personal improvement anyone can achieve with steadily increasing mileage and more consistent high-end running. Of course, everyone is different, so you have to experiment to find the right mileage and the right amount of threshold running for your current tolerance, body weight, and state of development. But these are universal principles - they work across the board. If you keep safely and steadily trying to push the boundaries out as the years go by, you may have some inevitable setbacks during the discovery process, but you'll find what's right and you'll continue to make an overall improvement for years to come.

Interesting story: Bruce had blood lactate measurements taken during a test about a year ago, and the physiologist was going on and on about how runners he tests are never able to accurately ascertain their true LT. They always think they're running with less distress than the measurements really indicate; i.e., they've passed their LT long before they feel like they have. But Bruce was just as adamant that his coaches (Rojo and me) had ingrained in him that same truth - that true maximum steady state is a more relaxed and controlled effort than runners realize and that they all pay lip service to the concept of LT but to a man they lack discipline and they go too fast. The physiologist had heard that story before and insisted that every runner with any head knowledge of LT thinks the same thing yet they always get too carried away with the pace and misjudge the effort. Well, Bruce proved him wrong. His true LT turned out to be precisely where he felt it was. The physiologist was impressed and remarked that, in his experience, no one had ever nailed it by feel. Here, finally, was someone who not only knew about "maximum steady state," but actually had an internal dialogue which was sensitive enough to put it into practice.

That's the kind of self-government you're looking for during threshold running. You want to find a pace you could theoretically hit for a portion of a run several days in a row before you need a complete recovery day or two. Trial and error (and factor analysis) indicates that actually hitting that high-end pace more than 3 times per week will expedite your fitness at a small cost to long-term development (also dependent upon how much higher-intensity work is being done). The take-home message in this is that if you're a newcomer to the sport or if you're younger than your prime racing years (25-35 years old for most long distance runners), you will be better served (at least from a statistical standpoint - obviously not everyone responds in exactly the same manner) by including more easy running in your base training regimen. If you are an older, experienced runner who is in (or past) your prime, you may be better served by running at a maximum steady state more often (4-6 times per week). If you're a high school or college runner who wants high school or college glory but doesn't plan to go a whole lot farther in the sport after those years, you'll also probably be better off running at a high-end pace several days per week, as long as you've done enough preparatory running to be ready for it.


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