By Ed Eyestone
When I was a professional runner, I would take a few months ‘off’ (i.e. slow and easy) every few years to recharge my batteries. Then, when I got going again, I would travel to the lab of exercise physiologist Dr David Martin where I would be run ragged on a treadmill in an attempt to assess my fitness.
After slogging my way through a build-up after one of these ‘easy’ rest periods, I made the trip and found to my delight that I had actually maintained my VO2max. Not bad – although I was disappointed to discover that my lactate threshold was woefully low.
This meant that my ability to utilise oxygen aerobically was good, but I was unable to buffer lactic acid properly as the pace of my runs increased. Simply put, I could run slow, but I had a hard time running fast.
The findings made sense: I had spent the rest months shuffling around the roads, faithfully getting in my 150km training weeks, but I hadn’t been making my weekly pilgrimage to the track for speedwork and most of my mileage had been long and slow.
For many runners, such training is all about aerobic maintenance. The lack of racing impetus and focused goals cause us - and allow us - to slow down and just put in the kays. But going long and slow certainly isn’t all bad. Such arduous workouts develop slow-twitch muscle fibres, enhance your ability to burn fat and improve endurance.
But runners hoping to gain racing form need to start adding tempo runs and a combo of long and short intervals into the training mix. As you work in tempo runs, you’ll build on the aerobic benefits you accrued before the rest period and boost cardiac muscle development.
Through a combination of long and short intervals, you’ll develop the fast-twitch muscle fibres that were largely ignored over the past few months, and you’ll increase your ability to buffer lactic acid, allowing you to run faster, longer without fatiguing.
Since it’s difficult to jump from slow aerobic runs into speedwork, try these three workouts (you can add one or two per week) to transition from slow slog to ‘low flying.’
In this hybrid workout, your pace picks up while the length of time you run fast decreases.
Warm up with an easy two or three kays, then run a little faster than tempo pace (about 30 seconds slower than 5km pace) for five minutes.
Recover with five easy minutes.
Then proceed down the ladder (four minute run with four minute recovery, three minute run with three minute recovery, etc), gradually picking up the pace of the faster segments and recovering with an equal number of minutes of jogging.
Progressive Tempo Run
Rather than hammering away at tempo-run pace for 25 minutes, ease into it.
After a 10- to 15-minute warm-up, run the first five minutes at slightly faster than easy-run pace, then pick the pace up slightly every five minutes.
Arrive at your normal comfortable/hard tempo pace only in the last five-minute segment.
400 metres with Double Recovery
After warming up, run six to eight 400-metre repeats with each about 10 seconds faster than 5km race pace, but instead of 90 seconds to two minutes of jogging recovery, give yourself some extra rest by jogging three to four minutes between each effort.