Monday, February 1, 2016

The Corner: Running Well By Gordo Byrn

The Corner: Running Well
By Gordo Byrn

Running Well

This week, I thought that I would share practical suggestions for improving your run fitness.

Remember that the quickest way to improve your run performance is to increase cycling endurance and back-end-load your race pacing.

In the most recent edition of Inside Triathlon, Matt Fitzgerald shares some interesting thoughts about how we emphasize variables that are easy to measure –Matt was exploring our obsession with VO2max. As I wrote in my Training in the Fourth Dimension article, triathlon performance seems to link more closely to fitness measures that are tougher to pin down.

I started as a runner in the mid-90s. Early in my running “career” – before I knew I was even going to have a career (!) – I was unable to break 60 minutes for a 10K (fresh). Under the guidance of Scott Molina, I trained myself to the point where I was able to run a marathon 2:49 (off the bike).

Tips and workouts that will help you become a better runner.

Balance – the best training program for triathlon is swim/bike/run training. Your capacity to access your run fitness is going to be materially impacted by your swim/bike endurance. Aside from special occasions (see below), you’ll be best served by maintaining balance in your program.

Frequency – run often. The most important metric for your running log is runs-per-month. Build, and maintain, your capacity to run often. Use special event challenges, like 30-runs-in-30-days, sparingly and in the worst weather months for cycling.

Long Run Quality – it took me YEARS to figure out what quality means in this sense. When I started triathlon, I always assumed “quality” meant “race pace” and it does. Trouble was, I had NO idea what race I should have been thinking about! I also grossly overestimated my likely pace on race day.

I’m going to use a specific example from my own log. If you want to measure your true triathlon run fitness (all distances) then this is THE workout to utilize.

We call the workout the Poker Pacing Run and it was developed by my good buddy, Jeff Shilt. Jeff’s instructions are to split the run into thirds, based in duration:

***Easy effort for first third

***Steady effort second third

***Hold your Steady pace in final third, effort may increase a bit

Always start at an effort that leaves you room to finish strong.

This is an endurance session, keep the effort comfortably aerobic at all times.

Practicing Run:Walk Technique is highly recommended.

To wrap some numbers around those efforts for you, my heart rate zones are:

137-143 = Steady

151-155 = Mod-hard

158-163 – Threshold

Top of my Threshold zone is my average HR for 10-mile best effort race (~60 mins). My Mod-hard zone is estimated backwards at 8-12 bpm under my hour-of-power HR. Breath markers line up well at ~140 and ~155 bpm – those are the key breakpoints that we call Aerobic Threshold and Lactate Threshold, respectively.

While “top down” zone determination methods have a place in our sport, I don’t use them in my coaching and am constantly ratcheting intensity zones down for most of our team. Short duration, high intensity tests do a poor job of estimating endurance training zones for the general population.

You may notice gaps in my training zones. The gaps are physiological grey zones – our minds don’t really like gaps so authors/coaches/scientists tend to smooth everything into continuous ranges. If you’d like to understand more about the “why” behind my zones then accessEndurance Essentials in our website library.

OK, back to the workout! By thirds my implied targets were:

***Keep it under 140 bpm

***Keep it around 142 bpm

***Hold steady pace, with last couple miles at bottom of Mod-Hard zone

The paces that resulted for a two-lap measured course were 7:56 per mile @ 139 bpm then 7:34 per mile @ 147 bpm. The exact #s aren’t important – being able to increase pace and stay comfortably aerobic is what we need to achieve.

Based on my current fitness, I probably started at my Steady pace and finished at my Mod-Hard pace. So I had the capacity to speed up at the end of the workout without leaving my Mod-Hard zone.

Developing the Protocol

My recommendation would be to continue to focus solely on endurance until you are able to sustain your Steady pace for the final 90 minutes of a two-hour run. You need to be able to hold that Steady pace without your heart rate entering your Mod-hard zone.

This benchmark is a fundamental measure of aerobic capacity for ALL race distances. Building this capacity will do more for your run splits than all your track & tempo sessions combined.

Once you have your steady-state endurance established – repeat the workout for two out of four weeks to make sure that it is really there. Then rest up and see what you can do in a race!

The next step in your development is to seek to hold your Mod-hard pace towards the end of your long runs. This is high-octane training and should be used sparingly at the beginning. Similar to what I did this past weekend, start by seeking to hold Mod-hard pace in the final third of your run. Do not leave your Mod-hard intensity zone to do this. If your HR spikes then you lack the steady-state endurance and have to focus on fundamental fitness.

Ultimately, the best runners in our sport get to the point where they can run up to two hours at Mod-hard pace (LT Pace, more specifically) without their heart rates leaving their Mod-hard zone.

Measuring Pace

I benchmark Steady and Mod-hard paces using the Run Test that I outlined last week with 140/150 bpm respectively. If you run the numbers then you will see that there is allowance for cardiac drift in the long run protocol:

Target #1 – hold fresh 140 bpm pace for two hours with HR < 151 bpm

Target #2 – hold fresh 150 bpm pace for two hours with HR < 155 bpm

For the scientifically inclined:

Target #1 – hold fresh AeT pace for two hours with LTHR cap

Target #2 – hold LT pace for two hours with FTHR less 8 bpm cap

Target #2 is extremely challenging and represents what is required to run at the fastest levels in our sport.

Wrapping Up

Achieving target #2 took a decade of focus and that can be a tough message to swallow. However, if your fast running doesn’t translate to fast run splits then I wanted to go on the record with sharing an alternative approach.

The three stages that I recommend:

***Build endurance through frequency;

***Build steady-state endurance through progressive long run pacing; and

***Ultimately, focus on lactate threshold endurance rather than velocity at FT/VO2max.

There’s a lot in here – if something doesn’t make sense then use the contact form on our website to send me a note. This is the first time I have sat down to explain what I really do as well as the reasoning behind the running program that we use over at Endurance Corner.

No easy way,