Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is your workout effective? Part 2: Aerobic workouts

Aerobic paces are paces that you are able to run for more than one hour. There is some benefit to all paces from that pace you can maintain for only one hour to the pace you would be able to maintain for ten hours. For people that are interested in racing anything longer than a minute there is only aerobic and anaerobic metabolic systems.

The goal of aerobic running is more diverse than anaerobic running. The means to accomplish that is also more diverse. There is a difference between the type of aerobic workouts that a 5k runner needs and a marathon runner needs although there will both benefit from much of the same training.

The goals of aerobic workouts are:
  1. Improve the pace that you can run without continuously accumulating lactic. This is accomplished through tempos slightly slower than the anaerobic threshold or lactate threshold. That is paces at or slightly slower than the pace you can maintain for one hour. The 20 minute tempo is basically the golden standard for this training goal. It is run at a pace slightly slower than the pace you can maintain for one hour, which for more competitive runners is about half marathon pace. These workouts should be uncomfortable but very manageable. A few minutes after the workout is done you should feel about as good as you did before you started.
  2. Improve the ability to burn fat instead of carbohydrates. This is more important for marathoners and ultra runners. This is accomplished by running for a long time usually 2+ hours, running for about 1.5 hours at a faster pace, or running an easy pace for a long time 1-2 hours then running at a faster pace (such as marathon pace) for 20-40 minutes. These are the workouts where your whole body gets tired. You just want to sleep afterward and you feel as mentally tired as physically tired.
  3. Increase your running efficiency. That is reduce the number of calories it takes to cover one mile. This is something is not greatly understood, but in general it seems that the more time you spend running the more efficient you become. When you get to mile 23 in a marathon your efficiency will make a huge difference. These workouts are every single run you do. From those three mile jogs barely faster than a walk to everything else.
These workouts should feel somewhat easy to recover from. That is to say that the day after a tempo or a long run there is a good chance that you could do another workout. These are the workouts that lead to the most long term development. There are thousands of people in the world that can run 5:30 pace per mile for an entire marathon, which is like 98% aerobic. There are millions of people in the world that can not run one 5:30 mile. The top athletes have demonstrated that pace can be an aerobic pace with enough training. If a person can run 5:30 pace miles for a marathon then with some anaerobic training they will most likely be able to run much faster for a 5k. Aerobic training is like the cake and anaerobic is the icing.

So how do you know your workout is effective? All aerobic paces are slow enough that at any time you should be able to start sprinting. Aerobic workouts do not run the sprint out of your legs like anaerobic workouts do. The classic team run is a perfect example. The team is out running together and when they come around the last corner all of the sudden a sprint for the finish is on and everyone has an extra gear. They had run most of the run at an aerobic pace and that last part they have all of that anaerobic capacity so sprinting for a few hundred meters is no problem. While you may not feel this is the case as the end of an aerobic workout a few minutes of rest followed by a sprint will result in a faster sprint than after an anaerobic workout.

A few numbers from Joe Vigil's book: the 10k is 90% aerobic and 10% anaerobic and the 5k is 80% aerobic and 20% anaerobic. So when considering what type of training to help you improve in your desired event, I would recommend that anything around 4 minutes or longer focuses on aerobic training over the course of a season. Which is to say for the six month long season that contains only six weeks of racing the majority of the workouts would ideally be aerobic. Considering a runner running seven times a week and doing two or three anaerobic workouts a week fits within the idea of mostly aerobic running.

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