I have written about these individually in different posts. But I think it is important to tie them together into one. I’m not going to go into as much detail in this post on each one. Instead I will try to keep it simple and cover the basics.
What are the five keys to reaching your potential? Improving in these five key running areas: V02 Max, LT (lactate threshold), run economy, easy runs, and nutrition. There are more than five key areas of running, but these five can be improved by proper training. The other keys are given to you by your DNA, and there’s not much you can do about them. But by improving the keys you can reach your goals and win your age group. There are a lot of people out there training and working hard, and a lot of that hard work goes for naught because they’re either running too fast or too much, or not running the right run. Of course if you just want to finish a race and are not worried about a PR, then maybe this is not for you.
By improving these five areas in your training, you will ensure that you are reaching your potential in your next race. So let’s talk about each one a little and go into how you can improve them.
1) VO2 Max (Aerobic Capacity) – The max amount of oxygen you can take in, transport, and utilize. It is affected by: Heredity; Gender; Age; Body composition; and Training. With 12 months of training you can expect an 28% increase. The average untrained male 18-22 has a V02 max of ~43. The average trained male 18-22 has a V02 max of ~57. As we age V02 max goes down. After age 30, we will lose ~1% a year or 10% every decade. It is easy to get tested and find out what your V02 max is. The cost is ~$100-150 and takes about 15 minutes on a treadmill. Ask your local running store where you can get tested. To improve your V02 max, you simply need to run. Put the miles in, and as you progress in your training, add speed work (intervals). Speed work will improve your V02 max the most.
2) LT (Lactate Threshold) – The lactate threshold is a point during exhaustive, all-out exercise at which lactate builds up in the blood stream faster than the body can remove it. As your LT increases, so will your performance. You want to run at a pace that you consume as much lactate as you produce so your blood lactate levels do not rise. Training to improve LT is best done around 75% of max HR. A simple way to figure you Max HR is 220-age. This is a rough guess, but it can be used if you have not been V02 tested.
3) Run Economy – Run economy is optimizing all the energy you’re using to move you horizontally. I could write a whole post on this, and I have. But to keep it simple I will only cover a few things to watch for. Posture – lean at your ankles and keep your body straight. Arms should be bent 90 degrees at the elbow and move front to back and not cross the body. Cadence should be 180 steps per minute. Short steps, your leading foot coming down mid-foot (not the heel), directly under your center of gravity. Arms, shoulders, hands, face muscles should be relaxed. Any tensing is wasted energy. Your face, hands, and shoulders should flop as you run, relaxed. If you feel tension in your shoulders or arms as you run, focus on relaxing that muscle. Use caution when changing how you run, though. First study how you’re running and work on small changes. If you feel uncomfortable with the change then don’t change it. Find what works for you.
4) Recovery Runs – What is an recovery run? Well it is a run day that you don’t overload. It is really not a specific area of running, but it for sure is something that we as runners can all improve on. After a hard workout, the recovery run is how you loosen up the muscles, put the miles in and improve your slow twitch/fast twitch muscle usage. When you are running fast, you use your fast twitch muscles in the first few minutes of that run, maybe in the first few seconds. Normally, this is done when we are anaerobic, meaning no oxygen. For example, most, if not all, of a 5k is run anaerobically. When all of your fast twitch muscles are used up, your slow twitch muscles take over and you are forced to slow down. This is why we feel so great for the first mile or so of a run, then all of a sudden have to slow down because we feel like crap. So now you’re running along on your slow twitch muscles. What happens when your slow twitch muscles are gone? Well most of us that have been there know what happens. Now imagine you start out slow, using only your slow twitch muscles. And after a while when they start to get worn out they (slow twitch muscles) send out a call for help. The fast twitch muscles hear the call and join in. The only difference is now you’re running aerobic and there is plenty of oxygen to fuel the fast twitch muscles. When this happens you get a burst of energy, some of us would call it our second wind. So the more recovery runs you do, the more your training your slow/fast twitch muscles to work together and produce a strong finish.
5) Nutrition – It is important when you’re training to fuel your body correctly. The first step is to figure out how much you should be eating. To understand what your daily calorie needs are figure out what your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) is. Use the following simple formula to compute your BMR. Keep in mind this is just a good guess. If you want to be more exact there are other formulas that can be used.
- Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
- Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
Next account for your activity. BMR x (activity factor)
- Activity Factor:
- Sedentary (little or no exercise): BMR X 1.2
- Lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week): BMR X 1.375
- Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week): BMR X 1.55
- Very active (vigorous exercise/sports 6-7 days a week): BMR x 1.725
- Extra active (very hard exercise/sport & physical job or 2x training): BMR X 1.9
Now that you have figured your calorie needs, what should you eat? Well USDA recommends the following. Again, this is a rough guess and everyone is different. Contact a CSSD nutritionist to get the best advice.
- 55%-65% of Calories
- <30% of Calories
- <10% from saturated fat
- 12% – 15% of Calories
- Vitamins & Minerals
Ok, so what does all this mumbo jumbo mean? V02 max; Run Economy; Lactate Threshold; recovery runs. How the heck does that help me run? Well it is very simple. There are four key runs that if you do each week, you will reach your potential at your next race. What are those key runs you ask?
- Interval (speed work) – You run relatively short distances of 400 meters to 2000 meters repeatedly. Between each short distance is a brief recovery. Track repeats improve maximal oxygen consumption (V02 max) and forces you to run more efficient (run economy). Interval runs should be about 22.5% of your weekly miles.
- Tempo/pace Run – You run at a steady pace for one hour. The pace for this run is about the same as your 10k pace. If you’re not sure what that pace is, start off running a comfortable pace, and then pick it up just a bit. So the tempo run is just a little faster than comfortable. You can maintain the pace (for an hour), but you would like to slow down a bit. This run improves Lactate Threshold. Tempo/pace run should be about 22.5% of your weekly miles.
- Long Run – The long run is in my opinion the most important one. Especially for marathon training. Your pace is slow, about 75-90 seconds per minute slower than your 5k pace. If you’re not sure what that pace is, you should be able to have a normal conversation without having to gasp for breath. The long run should be 35% of your weekly mileage.
- Recovery Run – The recovery run is the most forgotten run. For this run you run slow and easy. You could do cross training on this day. Either way, whatever you do keep your heart rate low, below 65% of max. I recommend two recovery runs a week, each run should be 10% of the weekly mileage (so a total of 20% over two runs for recovery runs)
It really is that simple. Remember that as you train and do intervals, tempo/pace, and long runs you are overloading your body. The gradual increase of training will allow the body to adapt to that overload. These adaptations occur at the cellular level. This change to your body will continue as long as the overload doesn’t overwhelm your body. So it is important to listen to your body. You can run every day, but you cannot overload every day. Each of the above runs only work if you allow enough rest or recovery after them and before the next. So never run any of the above runs on consecutive days. After each of the above runs either rest the next day or do a recovery run (heart rate below 65% of max). Increase your weekly miles no more than 10% a week. Before you know it you will be leading the pack to the finish line.