Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Endurance Training Myths vs Truths

*Finishing my marathon in Ft. Collins, CO....my legs were done!

Typical endurance training has a way of taking over your life. If you've ever trained for a marathon, ironman, ultra marathon or the like, you know what I'm talking about. I can speak from experience. In the fall of 2006 I was talked into running a 1/2 marathon with my friend...3 weeks before the race! Without much knowledge on how to train for an endurance event, I did quick research and developed a plan that got me up to running 10 miles 1 week before the event. So, in two weeks I went from running max 5 miles, to now running 10 miles in preparation for a 13.1 miler event 1 week later. How's that for gradual training and tapering? Now, I wasn't going into this blind or out of shape. As an athlete my whole life and personal trainer I was active and strong, just clueless as to what 13.1 miles felt like. Turns out my body was okay with it...I placed 3rd in my age group and that sparked a flame for my love of running.

About a month after completing my 1/2 marathon, I decided to go for the full that next spring. I excitedly signed up with an online running coach and went for my initial testing at the Chris Carmichael Institute in Aspen, CO. I found out my VO2 Max was close to that of an elite male, while my lactate threshold needed a bit of work. At the time I was running probably around 8-10% body fat, 140lbs at 5'7". Needless to say, I was a bit shocked by their suggestion that I needed to lose weight to be faster. They said I needed to lose muscle mass, since I didn't have a whole lot of fat mass to lose in order to stay healthy. They told me to stop strength training all together and just focus on my endurance training and nutrition. It didn't seem right to me to lose muscle, wouldn't that make me weaker? But...I went with what the "experts" said and stopped strength training for 5 months and just hit the road for miles, upon miles, upon miles, upon miles.....

Come May, the race day was finally here and I felt great...or at least I thought I did. I beat my goal time of 3:30 with a 3:19 which qualified me for Boston...not too shabby for a beginner, eh? After the race, I did some thinking. Stoked about the fact that I had qualified for one of the biggest running races around, I had this empty feeling in my gut about putting my body through the constant pounding and the monotony of the hundreds of hours of one foot in front of the other for months at a time to prep for the event. I didn't want my life to revolve around running each day. I didn't want my joints to hurt. Not to mention the personal battle I was having with my image. I had gained weight through this whole deal...up to 145 and definitely a higher body fat % due to no strength training and consuming mostly carbs per my coach's instruction for fueling. After all, carbs are our main source of energy, right? WRONG!

Anyways, my waffling of whether or not to tackle Boston resulted in a definitive "NO" for the reason that I was more concerned about walking past the age of 40 (with my own joints) and getting my health and fitness back (leanness, strength, sanity)!

So...where am I going with this story?...

Okay...be prepared for this...if you're an endurance athlete or if you have hopes of becoming an endurance athlete...it's time to toss what you've thought to be true about training with lots of miles, lots of carbs, and lots of time.

Often times you'll see in an endurance training program some anaerobic intervals interspersed. This a is a great thing!!! But it shouldn't be the majority of your training. Anaerobic training benefits the ATP/Phospho-creatine system, lactic acid system and aerobic system. The time/distance and rest periods determine the system(s) that are stressed. They are all intertwined though and as you are working all three simultaneously you are working the aerobic engine. The good news about this is that you are able to cut back on your training volume which saves you from the pounding the body takes during typical endurance training. So...why not train anaerobically if you're getting the same benefits (if not more) as long slow distance (LSD) training and you're saving your joints and your time?

I mentioned above that I was told to stop my strength training in order to lose muscle mass to be lighter on my feet. Think about that a second, how is losing muscle going to make me stronger? I may be "lighter", but I also will not have the stamina and muscles to keep me going for a long time. So, incorporating 4-6 days of high intensity strength training is extremely beneficial to endurance athletes as well. Now, with strength training, endurance athletes are often told to do high reps and low weight. NO!!! If you are constantly using low weight you are not reaching the systemic stimulus needed to improve and get stronger. It is essentially a waste of time and energy unless you are challenging your body. You have to think that strength training isn't a "supplement" to your sport specific training...it IS the training for it!

The next part that is HUGE and more important than "pushing through", is the recovery time. Rest is where we get stronger and where we recovery in order to work to our maximum capacity when training. Recover comes from fueling right, resting adequate amounts, hydrating well, and sleeping enough each night. This topic is another blog post completely though.
Hopefully this gives you all some insight as to why higher intensity, anaerobic training is crucial to reaching your full potential as an endurance athlete and why constant slower aerobic training can be detrimental.

What do you think...?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jen! :-) Everything you're saying makes sense, but does it make sense for beginning runners? If you are a beginning runner (probably high fat body fat comparatively--although I am pretty sure practically everyone has a higher body fat than you :-), your aerobic ability isn't as developed yet, and even a slow jog will put a beginner into the anaerobic range. If you are cutting your aerobic training and doing more strength training, how do you build that aerobic threshold? Plus, even for more advanced endurance athletes, what about the time aspect? If you are strength training 4-6 times a week, when do you run? If you aren't fast (i.e. me), a five miler can take you an hour. If you do 30-60 minutes of strength training and then still have to run, you are looking at a 2 hour work out, which usually is not feasible if you also work full time (not to mention if you have kids or go to school or do anything on top of work). Plus, if you are cutting out your LSD training, how do you increase your mileage from say 5 to 20? Is there a balance you would recommend between the need to build the aerobic threshold, building the miles, and also obtaining the benefits of strength training? Also, I completely agree with you about the over carbing, but how do you fuel that amount of energy expenditure efficiently, without over doing the carbs, and without suffering fatigue in the middle of a run over 16 miles?