David Lowes on speed en­durance


Athletics Weekly - - News -

THE world’s best en­durance ath­letes have one great as­set – they can run for­ever. No sur­prise there then. How­ever, all of them can also run fast over the clos­ing stages of their races – and some can run un­be­liev­ably fast. So much so that it al­most feels like what hap­pened be­fore the bell blurs into ob­scu­rity.

An ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple over 10,000m is Mo Farah. With 24 tough laps com­pleted, the lap counter sig­nals just one fi­nal 400m cir­cuit and it is game-on for Farah.

While oth­ers run a swift 55-56sec cir­cuit – and as im­pres­sive as that sounds – it usu­ally re­sults in a place out­side of the medals, whereas Farah, at his pomp, was able to run a 52-53sec fi­nal lap.

In this ar­ti­cle I’ll take a look at the role of speed in en­durance events. How­ever, be­fore I do this let’s con­sider that the phys­i­cal make-up of an ath­lete can have a huge in­flu­ence.

I’m talk­ing here about mus­cle fi­bre in par­tic­u­lar. The per­cent­age of fast, slow and in­ter­me­di­ate twitch fi­bres varies from per­son to per­son and is de­ter­mined by ge­net­ics, but can be changed with ap­pro­pri­ate train­ing. I’ll ex­am­ine some of the lim­i­ta­tions, po­ten­tial­i­ties and op­tions for train­ing these in the fol­low­ing in or­der to im­prove en­durance speed as well as look at the dif­fer­ent types of speed re­quired for suc­cess­ful en­durance run­ning – see the panel op­po­site for more on mus­cle fi­bre.

Three speeds

If we look at events from 800m through to the marathon, it’s quite easy to see the speed and en­durance re­quire­ments. There are three ba­sic speeds of train­ing: slower than race pace, race pace, and faster than race pace. All are vi­tally im­por­tant.

Those that gain suc­cess deal with the spread of those paces bet­ter than oth­ers. Too much ‘top-end’ speed, although es­sen­tial, has to be blended with slower paces, in­clud­ing an ap­pro­pri­ate re­cov­ery to pro­duce im­prove­ments and peak per­for­mance and de­velop mus­cle fi­bre rel­e­vantly.

Although many club run­ners love a 16x400m ses­sion with a 60sec re­cov­ery, a 4x400m flat-out ses­sion with a 5-8min re­cov­ery can be even more ben­e­fi­cial if done at the ap­pro­pri­ate time in train­ing.

A chat with most en­durance run­ners would re­veal that they class fast 400m reps as speed work when in fact it is a speed en­durance ses­sion al­beit with a high in­ci­dence of lac­tic acid.

En­durance run­ners face the dilemma of try­ing to train at many dif­fer­ing paces and dis­tances in the hope of im­prov­ing race per­for­mances by way of in­creased aer­o­bic and anaer­o­bic ca­pa­bil­ity. These con­tain: within race pace, cruise pace and within top-end speed, sub-max­i­mal sprint­ing and of course out­right max­i­mum speed sprint­ing.

The lat­ter is a lot eas­ier to pro­duce when free of fa­tigue but when legs feel like a lead weight, it is no easy task at all. This there­fore needs to be prac­ticed reg­u­larly all-year round. And with this comes a big fo­cus on men­tal tough­ness too – of which more later.

Be­fore we go any fur­ther,

I’ve not found many run­ners who can de­liver all of the above speed op­tions. Cer­tain run­ners will push hard for most of their cho­sen event and wear the op­po­si­tion down, while oth­ers will be able to hang in and make a long run for home well be­fore the sound of the bell.

How­ever, whether your race is 800m or 10,000m, it will cause great frus­tra­tion if you have played all your aces and still have three or more run­ners breath­ing down on you with only 100m re­main­ing.

Those that have a great fin­ish may well have that as­set as a nat­u­ral in­her­ent abil­ity (and the de­ter­mi­na­tion to un­leash it). If you haven’t got it then you had bet­ter do some­thing about it so that you have at least a chance to suc­ceed. More on this again later.

How you can cap­i­talise on your speed

If you are born with a pre­pon­der­ance of slow twitch mus­cles fi­bre you may ac­tu­ally strug­gle to im­prove your speed at all. How­ever, hav­ing said that most re­search in­di­cates that most of us are born with a fairly even dis­tri­bu­tion of fast and slow twitch mus­cle fi­bres. This means we should be able to take them in a spe­cific sport­ing di­rec­tion with the right train­ing.

Although con­tin­ual aer­o­bic work, speed en­durance and strength en­durance ses­sions will be the sta­ple of an en­durance run­ner’s train­ing regime with its fo­cus on slow twitch mus­cle fi­bre – speed, and its po­ten­tial ef­fects on fast twitch mus­cle fi­bre, should never ever be ne­glected.

If we de­fine speed as the abil­ity to run as quickly as pos­si­ble be­fore the on­set of lac­tic acid, it should be­come ob­vi­ous that very short dis­tances are de­sired to pro­duce this ef­fect. In con­ver­sa­tion with the great Peter El­liott many years ago, the ath­lete said: “I came to re­alise that do­ing flat-out 200m and 150m reps were not only giv­ing me con­stant in­jury prob­lems but also the com­pre­hen­sion that I never ever ran any­where near that pace in an 800m race.”

He added “I then started to run at, or around, my race pace and fin­ished off ses­sions with things like fly­ing 40m sprints which were done at 100%.”

These ex­plo­sive ef­forts done reg­u­larly can help with leg turnover and stim­u­late fast twitch mus­cle fi­bre. Re­search in­di­cates that run­ning at these high anaer­o­bic power ef­forts will also boost run­ning econ­omy, VO2­max and lac­tate tol­er­ance.

A fur­ther idea may be to do some sprints of maybe a slightly longer du­ra­tion on a very slight down­hill slope, so that the as­sis­tance al­lows for an in­crease in speed com­pared to on flat run­ning. This may im­prove your run power and turn over.

A strong mind and body

Also, what’s of­ten ne­glected when it comes to speed for en­durance is po­ten­tial mus­cle weak­nesses in ar­eas such as the core, glutes, ham­strings, quadri­ceps, calf mus­cles, or tech­ni­cally in­ap­pro­pri­ate foot plant, arm ac­tion and so on. These must all be iden­ti­fied and ad­dressed ac­cord­ingly through some form of test­ing and im­proved pos­ture, ap­pro­pri­ate drills, work in the gym and ply­o­met­ric ex­er­cises.

As I’ve eluded to, a fur­ther as­pect that’s of­ten over­looked when it comes to en­durance speed and one that can make a huge dif­fer­ence is work­ing hard on your men­tal tough­ness to the point where you al­most dis­re­gard fa­tigue and con­cen­trate solely on the ex­e­cu­tion of your race. Your “speed” will take care of it­self and hope­fully your com­peti­tors.

Train­ing is where you will work on this and the idea is to make your­self be­lieve that no mat­ter how tired you feel you still have the gears to ex­plode into ac­tion when re­quired. It’s tough, but it can be done.

While aer­o­bic im­prove­ments can be im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly, even with the ap­pro­pri­ate train­ing, speed im­prove­ments may at best be min­i­mal. How­ever, if they are im­proved by even the small­est mar­gin then those three run­ners breath­ing down your neck with the fin­ish line in sight, may still be do­ing that as you take vic­tory!

David Lowes is a free­lance level 4 coach, writer and pho­tog­ra­pher, BMC academy chair, event or­gan­iser, English Schools 880 yards win­ner and 7:52 3000m and 2:15 marathon run­ner

Mo Farah: would line up in top-level global races con­fi­dent of his sprint fin­ish

Peter El­liott: adapted his speed work with ex­pe­ri­ence

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