Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hitting The Training Pace Sweet Spot

Hitting The Training Pace Sweet Spot

Submitted by SSM-ed on Thu, 04/02/2009 - 15:05

April/May 2009/By Mike Arenberg Not so long ago VO2 was the physiological measure that was considered the best indicator of running performance. If you read enough training articles, you’ve seen the term VO2 about a thousand times. VO2 is simply a measurement of your body’s ability to deliver and use oxygen. VO2 max then is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can process in the production of energy. Factors that influence this are your cardiovascular and muscle capacity. VO2 max is quantified in milliliters O2/kilogram body weight/minute, or ml/kg/min.

For runners without a personal exercise physiologist and human-performance lab readily available, this number is not very helpful. However, just knowing your running pace when working at VO2 max, can help you to structure a training program to make the best progress in speed and endurance with the least danger of over-training. This pace is known as vVO2, the running velocity that you produce when you are at your VO2 max. It has come to be regarded as not only the best indicator of your racing fitness, but also one of the most accurate ways to determine ideal training intensities for specific workouts. This is because different athletes who can process the same amount of O2 might have different muscular strength or running economy. vVO2 factors in cardiovascular and muscular capacity and running economy, and gives you a practical number you can use every day to guide your training.

Recently I attended a clinic where the keynote speaker was Dr. Joe I. Vigil, exercise physiologist and three-time Olympic distance coach. One of his primary topics was the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand). The idea here is that an athlete’s body will make specific adaptations to the demands placed on it. If, for instance your goal is aerobic development, then your training must focus on that adaptation. The problem has always been accurately calculating training intensities to accomplish specific goals. That is where accurately establishing your vVO2 comes in—it turns out that the best way to ensure optimal results from your training is to base your running pace on your vVO2.

You don’t need a laboratory to accurately calculate your vVO2. You can do this by going to your local track and running a mile time trial. The pace at which you run this distance hard is your velocity at vVO2. Because maximum velocity at VO2 max for most athletes corresponds closely with race ability, we use this to determine training paces for aerobic training, lactate threshold development and VO2 max development. This time trial should be done when you’re rested, feeling good and not adversely affected by weather conditions.
Do some simple math with this number (your mile time trial) and you can calculate your ideal training intensities for every kind of session from aerobic running to tempo training and VO2 max training. For aerobic development, simply stick to a pace between 65–75% of your vVO2. A more fit or advanced athlete will run toward the upper end of this range. If you’re a beginner, start at the lower end. Calculate this range by taking the time in seconds divided by the desired percent of pace. 

For example, using a 6:00-minute mile time trial performance.

6:00-minute mile = 360 seconds
360 ÷ 65% = 643 seconds or 9:13 pace
360 ÷ 75% = 480 seconds or 8:00 pace

This athlete’s aerobic training range thus becomes 8:00–9:13 minutes. Continuous runs at this pace range for this person from 20 minutes to several hours will train your aerobic system to use fatty acids as your primary fuel source and allow your body to conserve glycogen. In addition, training in this pace range will develop 0more and lar­­­­ger mitochondria, as well as further capillary development.

For lactate threshold development (anaerobic threshold) there is a wide range of literature out there indicating a wide range of running intensities (and terminology) for the development of your lactate threshold. We use tempo runs, or tempo intervals, to bring about this adaptation. The ranges I prescribe and terminology I use may be different than what you read in other articles. One tempo run we use is called an aerobic threshold run and it’s run at 75–80% of vVO2. This is closely related to marathon pace. The second tempo run we use is called a threshold run, and is run at 85–88% of vVO2. Both of these tempo paces will help develop a tolerance to accumulation of lactic acid. Using our 6:00-minute mile time trial result we get the following pace ranges

For aerobic threshold pace (75–80% of vVO2)

6:00-minute mile = 360 seconds
360 ÷ 75% = 480 seconds or 8:00 mile pace
360 ÷ 80% = 450 seconds or 7:30 mile pace

For threshold pace; (85–88% of vVO2)

6:00-minute mile = 360 seconds
360 ÷ 85% = 423 seconds or 7:03 per mile pace
360 ÷ 88% = 409 seconds or 6:49 per mile pace

Threshold runs are of shorter duration than aerobic threshold runs. The duration of tempo runs also depends on the race distance you’re targeting. If you’re training for a 5–10K, then take 20–30 minutes for threshold runs and 30–40 minutes for aerobic threshold runs. For the half marathon to the marathon, use 25–40 minutes for threshold runs, 40–70+ minutes for aerobic threshold runs. The great thing about tempo runs is they can be done year round. They are an effective training tool for races from 800 meters to the marathon.

The rate of O2 consumption during aerobic training, and even during lactate development training, is too low to fully develop your VO2 max. For that, a higher training intensity is needed, and it, too, can be calculated accurately based on your vVO2 pace. The best return on investment is to run repeats of 3–6 minutes’ duration at 94–98% of vVO2, with rest periods of 2–3 minutes between repeats (less for fitter athletes). This is a standard approach to further develop your vVO2, although the exact lengths of the runs and percentages of vVO2 can be varied in consideration of personal factors (running programs, genetics, general fitness levels, goals, etc.). For some beginners running as low as 90–94% of vVO2 max can bring about substantial gains in vVO2 development. The key here is accuracy. Running too slowly will not elicit enough stimulus, while running too fast may overload the system and miss the desired adaptations—and render you burned out, injured or susceptible to niggling illness.

A major physiological benefit of this training is the enlargement and strengthening of the heart (left ventricle), improving its ability to transport blood and oxygen to working muscles. Another benefit is further development of lactic acid buffering capacity of the muscles. Again, using our 6:00-minute mile time trial we can calculate the following workouts of various distances:
For VO2 max development (94–98% vVO2)

6:00-minute mile = 360 seconds
360 ÷ 94% = 323 seconds or 6:23 pace
360 ÷ 98% = 367 seconds or 6:07 pace

For various repeats distances the following paces would be used:
600m repeats = 2:17–2:23 with 2 minutes rest (8–12 repeats)
800m repeats = 3:03–3:11 with 2–3 minutes rest (6–8 repeats)
1200m repeats = 4:35–4:47 with 3 minutes rest (4–6 repeats)
1600m repeats = 6:07–6:23 with 3 minutes rest (3–6 repeats)

Nothing is written in stone when it comes to running a good repeat workout. You can start out with an even lower number of reps than are listed. As I’ve stated in many columns, be careful about trying to do too much too soon too fast. Small steps.
Calculating training intensities using vVO2 is one of the best methods to determine training intensities. It’s simple, accurate and flexible. It can be altered over time based on your current level of fitness. You can do a mile time trial at various times during the year and make changes to the training intensities. If you want to hit the right training paces-those sweet spots-go to the track and get to know your mile time trial.

— Coach Arenberg

Coach Michael Arenberg has an M.B.S. in exercise physiology from the University of Colorado. He has been a competitive distance runner and triathlete for 39 years, completing 25 marathons and 13 Ironman triathlons, including 3 times qualifying for the Ironman World Championships. He has coached U.S. men’s and women’s Olympic Trial qualifiers in the marathon and two top-10 finishers in the U.S. Men’s Marathon Championships, as well as multiple Ironman World Championship qualifiers.
Coach Arenberg is available for coaching and can be contacted at makona94@aol.com.
If you have a training question for Coach Mike, send him an e-mail at the above address. While he is unable to personally respond to every question, answers will appear from time to time in upcoming issues of Missouri Runner and Triathlete.

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