Open Source Athlete - December Edition

Sunday, 4th December 2011

LSD vs Intensity

I have always been a huge advocate of putting in lots of long slow miles in preparation for any length of ultra distance racing. These miles are necessary to create the diesel engine that ultimately gets you across the line.

However, they tend to be easier and more enjoyable than running at intensity, and more often than not become the predominant mileage of any training program. Ultimately by adopting a strategy whereby you continually choose long slow distance (LSD) over intensity, you will generally always finish the race.

Depending on your goals and motivation there is no issue with this strategy. But imagine if you sacrificed one of these sessions for some intensity, and over time with enough training, were then able to finish the same race quicker within the same perceived effort and output.

A classic example of the old LSD trickery is that of someone I know. The person trained constantly at 6min per kilometer pace for their entire marathon build-up. And then, in the week leading up to the event advised that their target marathon pace was going to be 5:45min per kilometer? It doesn't happen like this. However, with a few 5:45min / km sessions and lower, they may have stood more of a chance. They ran a 4hour 12minute marathon - 6min / km pace.....!

There is a misconception that for ultrarunning, speed work isn't necessary. The level of speed training is ultimately governed by the distance of the race. Ie: shorter more intense intervals for up to marathon distance, and longer more sustained efforts for anything longer.

Speed work doesn't have to be around a track or on the road. Break it up – get onto some rough surfaces, trails, and thick spongy grass. The latter will make your legs feel heavy and dead, but guaranteed you will feel like you are running super fast when back on a decent surface.

Speed training is all about getting out of your comfort zone. Exploring life beyond a shuffle is no barrel of laughs, but the benefits gained from some temporary pain, make it worthwhile.

My favorite session over the past few months, and one which I believe I have gained the most benefit from is a lung busting interval session which I like to refer to as Sugar "Caning" loops. I have chosen a 4.5 km loop through the sugar cane paddocks. Mostly flat although it has some undulating sections (all at the wrong time). Initially I started with 3 intervals. The aim is to run the first interval at a relatively comfortable pace. The time it takes to run the first loop sets the tone for the rest of the session.

Typically I'll finish in around 18 minutes. The aim is to leave for the next interval / loop on 20 minutes. Ie: 2 minute rest period. However, the problem comes in as the session is designed to reduce the loop time by 15-20 seconds from the previous loop. So now I have to arrive at the start point again in around 17 mins 40-45 secs. Again leaving on 20 mins. Now I have a longer rest period. The 3rd loop is harder again, as the struggle is to reduce the 17:40 loop by a further 15-20 seconds. Ultimately aiming for a 17:20 'ish.

Once I was able to complete 3 loops comfortably, I moved to 4 then 5. I used this interval session in the build up to some 100 mile (160km) races. It teaches the body about pacing, it teaches you to negative split, and it builds a huge tempo running platform, which ultimately increases leg speed, allowing for a higher rate of turnover at the backend of the race.

4.5km loops are probably the longest interval before it actually becomes counterproductive. Ie; one starts to lose speed over the distance, and also the ability to continually keep reducing the times.

I would suggest starting out at 2.5km loops, capping it at 3.5km. The goal is to become efficient at a sustainable length interval and then focus on reducing your times with the first loop becoming quicker over time.

So in the spirit of going out hard and hanging on – get out of your comfort zone, explore what it is like on the other side, learn about what you are made of, and bask in the glory of a faster race time.


#1 Stu 2012-01-30 20:26
I have also been an advocate for the long slow distance training, mainly cos it is well... Logical.... But have started throwing a random speed session into my routine and found my times are coming down and with less effort than before! Great advice and well worth a crack!

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