Aerobic training is boring, so use these tips to get some speed into your workouts.
Aerobic development is the primary avenue to long-term success in distance running. This reality has been proven through researchand confirmed time and again by elite athletes and the best distances coaches in the world, even as early as the 1960s.
Why is developing your aerobic system so important to running performance?
Most importantly, for races 5K and longer, 90 percent or more of the energy required comes from the aerobic system. However, aerobic training also elicits some critical physiological adaptations.
First, aerobic training sparks your body to create more capillaries, which are the small blood vessels that surround muscle fibers and help deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscle tissues. Second, aerobic training creates more and denser mitochondria, which break down nutrients into usable energy. Third, the number of myoglobin in the muscle fibers is increased, which help release oxygen to the mitochondria.
Simply speaking, aerobic development allows you to more efficiently deliver oxygen and energy to your muscles, thus allowing you to run significantly faster.
Unfortunately, developing your aerobic system isn’t exactly exciting. Aerobic training consists mainly of slow, easy running at around 65 percent of 5k pace, or about 65 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. To mix it up, you can add a few steady state runs, performed just as your aerobic threshold, but that’s about it. Moreover, even though aerobic training is critical to long-term development, running nothing but slow, easy miles means you ignore other systems, like your speed.
So, how can you stay focused on aerobic development while staying motivated about training and maintain your speed and turnover? Sneak it into your training! In this article, I’ll show you some sneaky ways you can add speed to your plan while still keeping your training focused on the long-term.
Tempo runs are a common workout for most runners. They are a great way to improve your ability to reconvert lactate into usable energy. However, because typical tempo run paces take you right to the edge of your lactate threshold, they are typically too fast to be in your aerobic development zone and less experienced runners can only maintain tempo pace for a few miles.
To solve this problem, you can break your tempo run up into shorter intervals with a very short, jogging rest between them. The rest, while short, allows you to run faster without reaching your lactate threshold and it enables you to run a greater volume since you won’t be as stressed.
Some of my favorite tempo interval workouts are 6 x 1 mile at 10 mile to half-marathon pace with a short 45-60 second jog; or 3 x 2 miles at half-marathon pace with a short 90 second to 2 minute jog between reps.
These can be a great way to keep a workout more aerobic focused while still running faster paces and adding variety to your workouts.
Jogging Rest During Speed Workouts
Another helpful way to sneak speed into your training without sacrificing aerobic development is to tightly control the pace and duration of your rest intervals. By jogging at a moderate pace during your rest intervals, you can maintain a mostly high-end aerobic effort while still running paces near 5k or even 3k race pace.
A couple of my favorite workouts are: 12 x 400 meters at 3K pace with 90 seconds jogging rest at 90 seconds slower than marathon pace; or 8 x 800 meters at 5K pace with 2 minutes jogging rest at 90 seconds slower than marathon pace.
It’s important during these workouts not to push the fast portion of the workout too hard. The focus should be on aerobic training with the secondary benefit being turning the legs over. Just because you can run the 400-meter portion of the workout faster doesn’t mean you should.
These types of workouts allow you to turnover your legs, but because you’re keeping the rest both active and at a solid aerobic pace, you can maintain a largely aerobic focus for the workout.
Finally, traditional strides and explosive hill sprints are an effective way to develop and maintain your fast twitch muscle fibers and speed while still keeping your training focus on aerobic development.
After your easy runs, you can include a series of four to six 20-second strides performed roughly at 1-mile race pace. Take a full recovery between each stride. Strides help with improving your running form and neuromuscular recruitment, which can lead to improvements in efficiency as well.
Another tactic is to perform eight to ten 10- to 12-second explosive hill sprints. Choose a hill with a 7 to 8 percent grade; stand at the bottom and, from a standing start, sprint up as fast as you can and visualize yourself exploding up the hill. Walk slowly and gently back down the hill, rest until you are completely recovered, and begin the next repeat.
It is very important when implementing strides and hill sprints to take a full recovery between each sprint. Most runners will need at least two to three minutes. Shortening this recovery time and trying to get “more of a workout” defeats the purpose and reduces the benefits of the session.
Adding these short bursts of speed improves muscle power, efficiency and neuromuscular coordination. However, because they are short, mostly alactic in nature, and utilize a full recovery, they won’t make you tired for your next run.
If you find developing your aerobic system to be too boring to maintain for long training segments, consider sneaking some speed into your training and get the benefits of aerobic development with the joys of running fast.
Jeff has been running for 13 years, at all levels of the sport. He was a two time Division-I All-American in Cross Country while at Brown University and competed professionally for 4 years after college for the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. Jeff's writing has been featured in Running Times magazine, Endurance Magazine, as well as numerous local magazine fitness columns.