Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The over/under marathon workout

Last Monday I spent a fun evening with the folks over at Running Forever in Taunton showing them the over/under marathon workout. It was the last of this springs Somerset Athletics Network sponsored development events so it was good to have a mix of coaches and athletes present from the Taunton area as well as a small group who came down from Burnham.

The workout is one I first used 10 years ago and the concept was introduced to me by Renato Canova though it has been used in various guises by many coaches. The basic idea when I was doing the session was to alternate a segment of running at just faster than my Anaerobic Threshold with one at my Aerobic Threshold. These terms get used in all sorts of different ways so to be clear, for me this meant about 3.05/km and 3.30 - 3.25/km (getting faster as I adapted), so corresponding to paces that I could hold for about an hour with a lactate level of around 4mmol and 3 hours with a lactate level of around 1.5mmol respectively.

Why these efforts and what is the effect ? The faster segment burns pretty much 100% Sugars (which starts to empty the fuel tank) and produces a manageable level of lactate in the blood which is available to the muscles as fuel. The slower segment using a proportion of Fats as fuel and this is where the body can also learn to recycle the lactate. So over the course of a long session (I used to do 20km continuous) as your sugars get depleted the body has to get better at using fat and lactate as fuel.

The 'watch out for' in this session is going to fast on either segment. Too fast on the fast ones and your lactate levels will get too high and you wont be able to clear it. Too fast on the slow segment and you won't be burning a sufficient proportion of fats.

So back to last monday and we had the runners aiming to run at 10km race pace (for 40-60 min 10k runners) and then marathon pace (for 3hrs+ marathon runners). Ideally we would be a bit more specific for individual runners but without a lot of lactate testing we had to use some best guesses.

The first few efforts were a real challenge as people struggled to adjust to the right pace. We started with some 200m efforts just to get the feel for it before stretching things out to 3 minute efforts on the track. in total the group did about 40 mins of running and the progression for workouts like this is to extend the total duration before starting to bring the pace of the slower segment closer to the fast segment. Thats all a bit counter intuitive from a typical approach of running faster as you adapt !

Of course one of the additional benefits of a session like this is learning to feel the effort and the pace judgement that gives you in races. In a day and age when everyone seems to have their face stuffed into Garmin you can't overstate the benefits of learning to run mor elike a Kenyan ! 

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