TRAINING: Anaerobic Phase Begins

My anaerobic phase started yesterday too much trepidation. I’m one of those runners born not to take anaerobic training too well. Everyone has a different resistance to it. On the one hand there’s the resistance to the pain and discomfort (that I can do) on the other hand there’s the shock reaction from the endocrinal (hormonal) system (that doesn’t sit so well with me. Over since overdoing it at Three-Peaks in 2008, anaerobic training can cause me to feel quite sick after).

Whatever your background, however, I never let myself forget three things:

1. It’s the aerobic work that has gone ahead that really determines your success

2. Anaerobic training without proper aerobic conditioning is not worth the paper it is written on

3. Don’t leave your races on the track

I’m particularly adamant on reminding myself of these points as they were the exact cause of the destruction of my 2009 season. Some of my track sessions were spectacular, in fact they were too good, and my aerobic condition was simply too low. So all I achieved was to tear what aerobic capacity I had to pieces while at the same time expending the majority of my energy on the track and not having it for races.

This can happen to anyone. I see questions such as “how do I get my 800m/1500m time faster” answered with “you need to do middle-distance training”. These answers, because they lack context, are extremely dangerous and will lead athletes only one place: Nowhere.

All runners, middle-distance and long-distance, need to train exactly the same way for at least the first 10 weeks of their program and all will benefit from doing 4-6 weeks of hill resistance work on top of that. Only then, when you start the anaerobic and then the coordination phase, do sessions start to wary and then you can talk about “middle-distance training” and “long-distance training”.

Anaerobic Phase 1 – 3k to 5k Pace

Your first priority once aerobic conditioning and strength is achieved is to maximise your anaerobic capacity which is just your body’s ability to tolerate oxygen debt for a prolonged period of time.

All studies show that this is best achieved in work bouts longer than 2 minutes and shorter than 5 minutes which are run at a pace that for most runners correspond to 3k to 5k pace. Since 5k pace achieves practically the same benefits, but is safer, it can be largely preferred, but for your shorter repetitions (say 400s), you may feel 3k pace stimulates a better response. This pace roughly corresponds to what is called VO2 max pace in many systems.

What harm in running faster?

Under no circumstance should you be running repetitions faster than 3k pace at this stage. There is a time and a place for work bouts at faster than 3k pace but this is very specific work for the coordination phase (and not everybody responds well to it), so for your first anaerobic phase, leave them well alone (I’ll discuss those work-paces in training on the blog in upcoming weeks). Also, running faster than 3k pace will tear down your aerobic conditioning very quickly resulting in a very accurate “dosage” becoming essential.

Devil’s in the detail?

Lydiard frustrated many of his detractors (and even fans!) by being very unspecific about what constitutes at good interval session. The reason was simply that the details don’t matter very much as long as you know what sort of tiredness you are trying to achieve.

You need to be running fast enough that you let your body experience oxygen debt but no so fast that you have to terminate exercise prematurely (running at faster than 3k pace will almost certainly assure this).

3k to 5k pace achieves the balance of tiring your body while not making your legs so heavy and so acidic that you cannot complete the work bouts in proper form. Use a realistic pace, not what you hope you can run for 3k and 5k pace. Use recent race performances as your guide. There should be no sprinting to “hit target”, the only person you are cheating is yourself.

How long for? How many “k”?

Likewise you need to apply common sense in how large the total size of the work bout is. I’m starting my first session with 5-6x 800m with 2:30 recovery at a 5k pace of 3:34-3:37min/km. This gives a total volume of 4-4.8km of anaerobic running, or a bit less than a 5k race (but not as arduous due to the floats). This sounds like a work-out I should be able to tolerate based on my own previous experience. A good rule of thumb is that the total fast work bout shouldn’t exceed the distance of the race pace you are running at (e.g. 3000m of total work would be fitting at 3k pace, 5000m of total work at 5k pace).

What about 10k pace?

5k pace is more effective than 10k pace and 10k pace would most likely lead to too long a session, so should be preferred. Looking at schedules of the pros, 10k pace seems more useful as part of fast progression runs and time trials for that specific distance.

Rarely is it necessary to run more than 5-6k fast at any pace to stimulate the tiredness you are looking for; but there will come a time when you need to experiment on yourself and find the right balance. A properly conditioned athlete in the Lydiard system may tolerate as much as 3 full sessions per week. Lydiard generally prescribed a set of shorter reps (300-400s), a set of longer reps (600 to 1 mile), and a “time trial” (what we call a tempo today) at a set distance at a set pace (say 3000m). Races for often used for the latter, on the premise that the athlete could restrain himself to 7/8th effort rather than 100%.

My Approach

I couldn’t use Charlesland Track yesterday and felt a bit under the weather so decided to head straight home and do a “preparatory session” of 5x 300m with 300m recovery at 5k pace. This was simply to get a bit of quality work in as preparation for the originally intended session. As I feel forced to do this session today to leave two days recovery for Fairy Chase (that race replaces a time trial, it’s 3km hard ascent being suitable, if a bit harder than optimal) so had to ensure I could go into Wednesday feeling fresh enough to do the main session.

So why 8s? Well, two reasons. Lydiard often started with around 5-6 of these and as I mentioned above 4-4.8km seems a reasonable distance to cover at a strong pace without completely wearing me out. Secondly, I wanted to pick a distance long enough to be tiring at this pace. 300m yesterday was clearly easy, so I assumed 400m wouldn’t be much more strenuous (if I were to do 400s, I would do them at 3k pace or cut the recovery much shorter). I preferred the 5k pace as it’s “safer” and this is the first week of my anaerobic training. If I feel very tired tonight it may well prove that I should reduce the 600m for instance.

The key is to stay flexible and not plod through Yasso 800s or some such exercise simply because the program dictates it. If you know what feeling you are going for, pick the format that seems to bring you most effectively to it on the day. 10x400m with 1 minute float is not going to make you a much different runner than 5x800m with 2 minute float if both are run at the same pace. The key is that if you’re in very good shape or very strong anaerobically, 400m may simply be too short for you to get sufficiently tired (it may take you 2 or 3 repetitions before you start feeling it). Doing 800s may allow you to get that feeling of tiredness the first time around. In that case, that’s probably the better workout for you on the night.