Open Source Athlete - February Edition

Monday, 4th February 2013

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 weeks, and one which I believe I have gained the most benefit from, is a lung busting interval session. I have chosen a 1.6 mile (2.5km) loop, which also happens to be at 7,350ft altitude. 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 10 mins 30 secs for the first interval. The aim is to leave for the next interval / loop 2 minutes afterwards. 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 10 mins 10 secs, sometimes 10 flat. Again leaving after the 2 minute rest period. The 3rd loop is harder again, as the struggle is to reduce the 10:10 loop by a further 15-20 seconds. Ultimately aiming for a sub-10.

Once I was able to complete 3 loops comfortably, I moved to 4 then 5. In the past I have used this interval session in the build up to some 100 mile (160km) races. The difference being the length of the interval. 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 1 mile (1.5km) loops, capping it at 2 mile (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.

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