Following up on the heels of my last post regarding endurance training and long slow distance, I want to spend a minute talking about interval training itself. As a quick recap, in order to get faster you must provide the body with a training stress large enough to disrupt your body’s homeostatic balance. Running the same long distance over and over and expecting improvement in speed will not suffice as the body adapts to this distance (and this speed). Therefore, interval training is required to give the body the disruption that it needs in order to initiate a response and create an adaption via improving your VO2 Max. VO2 Max can be simply defined as the rate of exercise where the heart and lungs have their maximum ability to deliver oxygen to working muscle. Improving this then allows for you to go faster for longer.
But here’s the catch, and I would be willing to bet that a lot of you reading this right now fall into this trap. These intervals have to be efforts ABOVE your current VO2 Max in order to initiate the homeostatic disruption response. Which means you likely aren’t doing them fast enough right now. AND, once you adapt to THAT effort you have to take your intervals even FASTER.
The quick and dirty scientific explanation:
When someone becomes “winded” in exercise it is because their heart and lungs are not able to keep up with the oxygen demand of the muscles. Not only do the heart and lungs need to deliver this oxygen , the muscle cells must extract the oxygen from the blood and use it in a conversion process to produce usable energy. All this must occur in a rate and time dictated by the intensity of exercise. Oxygen molecules bind to hemoglobin in the blood as a delivery mechanism. In a normal, healthy resting person, oxygen saturation of the blood is between 97-99%. During exercise we lower our oxygen saturation of the blood. During efforts above delivery capacity (above VO2Max) we lower our oxygen saturation to very low levels (94% or below). When our levels drop these very low levels we have to slow down significantly or stop. The good news is this creates a homeostatic disruption in the body which means we adapt to the effort that caused this disruption and thus get stronger. But, again, the catch is: these efforts MUST be intense enough to drop oxygen levels enough to trigger an adaptive response.
Taking your intervals PAST the edge of discomfort to create complete body distress is the only way to see significant gains in speed and fitness. It’s not up for debate- it’s science.
Wanting to become an endurance athlete? Wanting to become a better endurance athlete? There is still a widely practiced belief that the best way to build and improve endurance are to just go out there and do it- long and slow, then a little longer and slow, then maybe even longer and perhaps a little slower. This is true for people starting a journey on running anything from a 10k to a marathon, cycling events, and triathlon. The problem is that learning to build endurance and learning to improve endurance are two very different things.
In order to explain this you must first understand a few basic concepts in building fitness. In the early 1900s a Hungarian endocrinolgist Hans Selye developed the concept of General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). While originally determined in stresses such as disease, the syndrome has also been proven to relate to training and fitness. After all, exercise/training IS a stress on the body. Seyle basically said that when exposed to stress an organism creates a short-term response to deal with the stress, and then a long-term adaptation to the stress, should the organism live through the initial stress. Essentially, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
The explanation of GAS as it relates to exercise is simply explained as follows:
Our bodies like to remain in a normal biological functioning state known as homeostasis. This is where we function the best, and our organ systems are constantly monitoring our internal and external environments and adjust their functioning to maintain homeostasis. From a fitness standpoint, this is our normal working capacity.
The second phase of GAS refers to the body being exposed to a stress (exercise) that sets off an alarm. This alarm creates a cascade of events that disrupt homeostasis and actually reduce normal working capacity. The catch in this phase is important: in order to set off the alarm the magnitude of the stress MUST be greater than levels previously experienced. If it is not, then the alarm phase is not reached.
The third phase is resistance. In this stage, once the stress has been removed (recovery) the body works rapidly to return itself to homeostasis. In doing so, however, the body actually creates an INCREASED work capacity, thus making us stronger.
So, what’s the take home message here? In newer or untrained athletes, just increasing your distance each training period IS enough to set off the alarm- because you’ve never done it before. But once we have adapted to certain distances, just going the distance alone will not set off the alarm, and therefore no improvement in fitness will occur. In these instances increases in intensity must be introduced in order to set off the alarm and improve performance. And, in fact, these intensities need to be extremely intense. Very high intensity exercise works the lactate threshold and VO2 max systems of the body which allow you to sustain harder efforts longer. In other words, allow you to kick your endurance speed up a notch (or two, or three).
So, is there any place for long and slow distance? Yes. In this type of training we can completely deplete our glycogen stores and teach the body to tap into fat stores more efficiently. Using all of your stored sugar is most certainly a homeostatic stress, and thus sets off an alarm. However, only if the depletion is greater than ever before. Ultimately this type of training can assist in teaching your body to better use fuel- and thus help you to go longer. But does nothing to improve VO2 Max, which allows you to go faster. Therefore, in order to go longer and faster, you need to do both. How to get there is another topic all together and I will write more on this later…
Another great weekend of racing for my peeps.
Ken, showing that age isn’t slowing him down, won his AG and shaved 2 minutes off his last years time at the Folly Beach half-marathon, with a very impressive time of 1:42:00. Next up, he’ll be crushing the Cooper River Bridge Run- running in the Elite masters division.
Jason nabs his first 26.2 at the Miami marathon with a time of 4:30:00. This was just step 1 in 2014′s master plan. We’ve got IM Brazil on the horizion!
Good job, guys!
Jason gets it with 26.2
Ken wins his AG, shaves 2 minutes off last years time.
I am thrilled to announce that I have been selected as a lead coach for the 2014 US Military Endurance Sports team. The club program has more than 200 members, with an Elite program of 10 athletes, and approximately 10% of the club has indicated they are a “Wounded Warrior”. Additionally, I will be traveling to Tuscon, AZ in March to assist with their spring training camp. I am honored for this opportunity to serve our military athletes. For more information go to www.usmes.org.
US Military Endurance Sports is not an official activity of the US Government, the Department of Defense, or the Department of Homeland Security. Product Endorsement by its teams, athletes, staff, or its representatives does not constitute product endorsement by the US Government. More information is available at www.usmes.org
What a great weekend at the Charleston Marathon. The weather was NOT ideal: freezing cold temps and blustering winds made for tough conditions but the crew prevailed. Even with the majority of the course going into the wind we had some great results:
Pearce, Jason, and Hank trying to stay warm before the race.
In the full marathon: Pearce continued to impress by with a time of 3:53. This was a PR and his first sub-4 hour result so I am thrilled for him. We’ll be taking a few weeks of transition before we go full steam ahead for IRONMAN 70.3 Haines City and then IRONMAN Brasil.
Dan after his first marathon
Dan did awesome as well, finishing his first marathon in 5:03- much faster than he expected- and I am very proud of him. He, too, has IRONMAN 70.3 Haines City in April.
In the half marathon: We saw PRs for Ed at 1:39 and Laura at 1:50. Ed is going to take this momentum and prepare for crushing TryCharleston. Laura is working on planning a wedding for now but will gear up again for Escape the Cape in June.
Hank made me so proud for completing his first half (outside of a triathlon) with a time of 2:40. Hank is a great guy with a great story, and you can follow his training (next up IRONMAN 70.3 Haines City) on his blog The Business of Losing Weight or his blog on Huffington Post. Yep, he’s legit.
Neither Joelle nor Chris PRed, but they both put out some respectable sub-2 hour times and had fun. I may have even convinced Chris to quasi-un-retire from running! But maybe not…
Joelle, after her half, running in our friend Krystal during the full marathon.
And finally, a shout out to Jason, who decided to use this as a Miami Marathon taper training run and run with ME. Since I was involved in a cycling mileage “contest” over the holidays and then wound up with a broken arm, my running training obviously took a BIG hit. I was really just wanting to complete it and Jason graciously obliged to keep me company. And I must say his strategy of using all my coaching techniques and motivational sayings back at me was quite effective.
We didn’t break any records, but we had fun!
Next weekend is a bit more quiet, although we do have Rob heading up to Charlotte to race the big boys in Winter Short Track. The season is fast approaching, however, so stay tuned!