Part VI

Ha ha, I should put up a sign saying “this thread will shortly be available in paperback”. Feels like it sometimes, with all this typing. But we’re nearly done. No need for drooling, though, because these are certainly not original thoughts I am relating here.

I am even referencing supporting science from decades ago to show that this is nothing new. All this stuff is already known/being implemented by many coaches and successful runners. It’s very simple, and I believe that Lydiard was saying essentially the same thing.

If you are not as aerobically strong as you should be (you have no pace relationship as race distances get longer, as explained way back at the beginning), it can only be for one (or both) of two reasons:

  1. You don’t run enough miles.
  2. The miles you do run are being run too fast.

Fix either (or both) of those, and (aerobic) improvement will follow.

2 April, 2003.

Let me try and squeeze some more mileage from my toothpaste analogy:

If you open a brand new tube, you can squeeze anywhere and expect to get some toothpaste. Without wanting to be too simplistic, see the tube as a new runner: pretty much any training you give him or her will result in improvement (toothpaste).

It could even be possible that you are not a new runner, and have been running for some years but are now failing to improve substantially and believe that you have tapped all of your “trainability”. Here it is very possible (especially if you have no pace relationship) that all you have merely achieved is to squeeze all you can from halfway up the tube. You might have done a very good job of doing so, and seen sizeable improvement (toothpaste) for some time. However you might now (mistakenly) believe that is all there is in the tube.

I think most people would agree that to get everything possible from a tube of toothpaste (to get every last drop), we need to go to the very end and squeeze/roll carefully all the way up. That, if you can excuse the analogy, is what this whole thread has been about. Maximising your trainability. So we can all walk away from the sport as “old farts” secure in the knowledge that we got out of ourselves every last bit of genetically limited potential.

Okay, the reasons why I suggest/promote this method of training are already out there, and so is an example of how effective it can be. Within that example, I believe the “how” is quite clearly discernable, but let me be more clear and give some general guidelines that almost all runners should be able to apply to themselves.

I have already mentioned that in one of Lydiard’s books (Running With Lydiard, by Lydiard and Gilmour 1983) he suggests the initial one-week (mainly) aerobic training in his schedules is repeated “for as long as possible” before going on to the later parts of the programs. The advice contained in this (and the earlier) thread is my version of the training aimed to get every runner to an extremely high level of aerobic fitness. The first time it is undertaken (like “Joe”) it may take some months to get to a very high level of aerobic fitness. But if this is not lost after each competition period, each subsequent “build-up” period will require less time (you start each time from a higher level). And in time will become more like 10-12 weeks instead of the (first time) 20 weeks.

I believe that if you get this first part right, then the major proportion of your training for any distance event will already be complete. You will be able to rock and roll pretty much year round. (Here we might consider such runners as Ron Clarke, as an example of this being possible). Okay, you might not be always in PR shape, but your season will not be characterized by odd peaks and deep troughs either.

All or any other (interval, speed, call it what you will) training undertaken will be done better, and achieve more, if it is added onto a correct implementation of this first stage. Of course this is not all the training you will need if you are aiming for middle distance success. But get this first part right and you will be one mean “mutha” when you step onto the track for your first interval session. Indeed, I would refer you all to re-read and understand HRE’s comment above by Peter Snell and MacFarquhar that it is very possible to even race close to your (middle distance) best simply off of this base period.

Editor's note: I have included the comment from HRE below,

Peter [Snell] had a training partner called Don MacFarquhar who later became a coach. MacFarquhar was a "Lydiard guy" but also an independent thinker who had come to believe that it was the "conditioning" phase, the aerobic work, that was the key to Arthur's system. Once that was done, MacFarquhar thought there were many things you could do to put the anaerobic edge on and that you didn't need to devote tremendous amounts of energy or time to doing those things.

Peter had usually come up short of the 100 mile weeks in his build-up phase over the years. He'd get the odd hundred mile week, but was usually, he told me, in the 70-80 range. But in 1965 (I believe) he put himself through the entire 1,000 miles in 10 weeks routine. He did a mile race immediately at the end of the build-up phase and ran sub 4:00 which he didn't believe he was supposed to be able to do. Then three weeks later he set his second WR at one mile at a time when he "should" have been three or four months of progressively more anaerobic/speedwork away from that level of fitness.

I've seen numerous runners turn in fast "off-season" or early season times and say in post-race interviews that "I did it all off of base training. I can't wait to see what happens when I start doing speedwork." Yet rarely do they run as fast off of the speedwork as they did off of the basework.

However, Peter told me that once you've developed your cardiovascular fitness you need to become fairly sedentary to lose it and that the slowing that comes with age is related to loss of muscular fitness rather than cardiovascular fitness. As evidence he says that he's had his VO2 max tested three times, in 1965, 1973, and 1981. It's been the same all three times but that in 1965 he was able to run a four minute mile and that he couldn't run nearly that fast in 1981, so he thinks it must be lack of muscular fitness which is to blame.

– "HRE"

Now the guidelines I am about to offer have not been proven with the rigor of a scientific study, but have arisen as a general trend out of repeated testing and training of distance runners over the years. I have found these to be valid for runners of all ages from 17 years and over. I would not suggest applying them to runners younger than 17-18 years old.

  1. Do an HRmax test on yourself (how-to example is in the text) and make every effort to ensure your complete and absolute confidence in the result (note that within 2-3 bpm of HRmax is accurate enough. Whether it is 195 or 197 will not affect how you train).
  2. Perform a 2400m test on yourself (from easy training pace to a max of 5bpm higher than your particular HRmarathon - see below). Once again ensuring you are fit, fresh, rested as if for an important race and all possible variables (wind, etc) are controlled as much as possible. Since you are going to conduct this 2400m test again and again, you must try and ensure that, as much as possible, all tests are done under near identical conditions (or else you start wondering such thoughts as, “am I faster because it was less windy this time?”). Do all you can to control against such doubts having to occur (ie: don’t test in gale force winds).

As a general rule, the best possible HR/pace/effort you can maintain for a full marathon (without crashing, hitting the wall, etc) will not be closer to HRmax than 15-20bpm. Getting within 20bpm of HRmax might be hard enough at first, but with proper training it is possible to get even within 15-20bpm of HRmax. Closer than this (as an average over the whole race) I would not expect you to be capable of.

So, HRmarathon is ~20bpm below HRmax, and easy running HR is another 30bpm (or more) below HRmarathon (therefore 50bpm or more below HRmax). Like this:

If your HRmax is 193 OR HIGHER, then the following applies:

HRmax: 193+ (even if over 200)

Best possible HRmarathon: 175-177 HRav (note, this is the average taken from mile 5 to mile 25, not the peak. Your HR might peak to 181 in the final miles as you throw everything onto the fire).

Suggested training HR’s: Easy every day running: 145 HR or lower (If you begin really unused to this form of training, initially you might start at 150, but as soon as the pace at this HR improves, it is recommended that you reduce your easy running HR to 145 or lower). This can often feel very slow to begin with, but should improve within 3-6 weeks and continue to improve for months. You may do as much running as you wish at this HR/intensity (always being careful to avoid overuse injury).

Initial LTHR (initial lactate threshold heart rate): As with Joe in the example, begin at 155-160 and do not let the HR rise on the run. Build up the distance you can run for, over time, to 10 miles. At first, you may have to slow down within the run to maintain HR, but over the weeks and months, you should note that the running speed begins to remain more stable and you do not have to slow down (so much) to stop your HR rising. In time, the running pace at this HR (and all other HR’s above it) will also improve. Only move this HR up when your running pace vs HR is rock steady and you (easily) are able to run 10 miles at this HR without loss of pace or rise in HR. At that point, only move the HR up by 5bpm and begin again. The slower you build up the first time, the better your pace at HRmarathon will be. Remain at each HR as long as you are seeing improvement on the 2400m test and definitely until your pace vs HR is stable. You are trying to reach a state where your predicted/expected marathon pace and your 170 HR pretty much coincide in the 2400m test. And that this pace per mile can be maintained in training for 10-15 miles at 170-175 HR without rising effort or rising HR.

For example training weeks (60, 70, even 80+ mpw), go back to Part V (B) and plug your numbers into the example weeks given for Joe’s training. (Want to run more mileage? Add in some extra miles at 140-150 HR. This can be as doubles on some days, up to 8miles in the morning and 10 miles at night. All easy aerobic running.)

Rid yourself of any sign of impatience and just knuckle down to the work. Remember, a constantly dripping source of water will eventually erode solid rock. For this to work, you need your muscles to change, and change takes time. Mitochondrial growth takes ~6 weeks. So look for small change every 3 weeks or so, and significant change every 6 weeks or so. It is not suggested you 2400m test more regularly than every 6 weeks. More often is just frustrating, like someone who is trying to lose weight, jumping on the scales every morning hoping to see the pounds drop off. Just do the work and give it time to have an effect. Farmers don’t pull up their potatoes every five minutes to see if they are growing…

If your HRmax is 183, read all of the above, but use the following numbers:

Best possible HRmarathon: 165-167 HRav

Easy running: 135 HR or lower (This training HR will not change with time - it may drop, but the pace at this HR will definitely improve.)

ILTHR: Begin with 145-150 and only move it up (only by 5bpm each time) when your pace vs HR is steady and you are able to run 10 miles at the particular HR without loss of pace or rise in HR. You are eventually trying to reach a state (some weeks or months down the line) in which you can run 10 miles at HRmarathon with no rise in HR and finish confident that you could go round again at the same pace with no rise in HR or loss in pace at constant HR.

If your HRmax is 173, read all of the above, but use the following numbers:

Best possible HRmarathon: 155-157 HRav

Easy running: 125 HR or lower (This training HR will not change with time - it may drop, but the pace at this HR will definitely improve.)

ILTHR: Begin with 135-140 and only move it up (only by 5bpm each time) when your pace vs HR is steady and you are able to run 10 miles at the particular HR without loss of pace or rise in HR. You are eventually trying to reach a state (some weeks or months down the line) in which you can run 10 miles at HRmarathon with no rise in HR and finish confident that you could go round again at the same pace with no rise in HR or loss in pace at constant HR.

If your HRmax is 163, read all of the above, but use the following numbers:

Best possible HRmarathon: 145-147 HRav

Easy running: 115 HR or lower (This training HR will not change with time - it may drop, but the pace at this HR will definitely improve.)

ILTHR: Begin with 125-130 and only move it up (only by 5bpm each time) when your pace vs HR is steady and you are able to run 10 miles at the particular HR without loss of pace or rise in HR. You are eventually trying to reach a state (some weeks or months down the line) in which you can run 10 miles at HRmarathon with no rise in HR and finish confident that you could go round again at the same pace with no rise in HR or loss in pace at constant HR.

Obviously if your HRmax is one or two beats either side of the examples given, adjust the training HR’s accordingly. Note that if you are not well-trained aerobically, you will very likely NOT be able to maintain the “best possible HRmarathon” as explained in the race. It is more likely you will crash at some point and be reduced to running at a much lower HR/pace.

In the final example weeks of Joe, he was able to run two times per week for 10 miles at 165-170 HR without loss of pace (all other runs being 145-150). Once he no longer saw improvement in his 2400m tests, he would take ONE of those days and slowly build up to being able to run 10 miles at 175 HR (HRmarathon). The other day would remain at HRmarathon minus 8-10bpm.

Once he could handle 10 miles at HRmarathon (without loss of pace to maintain HR) once per week, he would be very close to being race ready.

How will you know when you are ready? When you can run at HRmarathon (or at least HRmarathon less 5bpm) for 10 miles+ with no drop in pace vs HR, and you KNOW you could go round again with no rise in HR to maintain pace, you can be pretty sure that your aerobic system is providing 100% of the energy being used. If you have never trained this way, you will be surprised how “comfortable” this will feel when you get it right.

At that point, and not until then, you can decide whether to aim for a marathon, or to build on top of this aerobic base to aim for some shorter race distances. It should make sense that if you are a young runner the best time to begin this build up is soon after your main competition period of the year. Those who aim for two marathons per year might adopt it as the early part of their 20- week build up towards their next marathon. Note that it was always a Lydiard belief that even middle distance runners should be capable of a fine marathon before turning to speed.

But what about “tempo” runs?

I would suggest that only when you are capable of 10 miles at HRmarathon (without loss of pace) would you think about running at so-called “tempo” pace (marathon pace minus 12 secs/mile). Indeed you might then find the following paces ideal and find a regular place for both of them in your training (like Hinderloppet): a 10-mile run at Marathon pace + 5-10 secs/mile (aka 10k pace + 35-40 secs), and 4-5 miles at Marathon pace minus 12 secs/mile (aka 10k pace + 18-20 secs mile).

Be patient. Do good work. And improvements will come.

Finito.


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