Almost everyone has pet peeves—little things that continue to annoy you. As a professional coach and exercise scientist I have quite a few. One of the most annoying is listening to coaches and other so-called “fitness experts” tell their athletes that lactic acid causes them to slow down or make their legs sore.
It is a myth that began many years ago. Way back in 1922 Nobel Prize winners Dr. Otto Meyerhof and Dr. Archibald Hill independently conducted research in which electric shocks were administered to severed frog legs. Initially the frog legs would twitch before eventually becoming still. Upon inspection, the severed frog legs were awash with lactic acid. The scientists deduced that since the severed legs were not receiving a supply of oxygen from the original organism, then the anaerobic energy system produced “lactic acid,” which led to a condition of “acidosis.”
It was then assumed that “acidosis” shuts down muscle fiber contraction. Coaches and runners readily accepted this theoretical finding and then spent nearly sixty years attempting to train to overcome the effects of lactic acid.
It wasn’t until 1985 that University of California at Berkeley physiologist Dr. George A. Brooks demonstrated that lactate is actually a valuable fuel for our muscle fibers and not the villain it was assumed to be. First, you must understand that lactate is for all practical purposes lactic acid minus a hydrogen ion. The new theory was that lactic acid splits to create both lactate and hydrogen ions; lactate is good and hydrogen ions are bad. So lactic acid still remained somewhat of a villain to athletic endeavors.
Then in 2004 Dr. Robert A. Robergs and others presented another blow to the dwindling ill-famed reputation of lactic acid. In their paper they claimed that lactic acid “is never created during anaerobic energy production.” Instead, the dreaded hydrogen ions arise independently of lactate. And, lactate actually decreases acidosis in muscle tissue both by consuming hydrogen ions and by pairing with them to exit the muscle fiber with the assistance of transport proteins.
Dr. Laurence A. Moran, a biochemist and textbook author, celebrated Robergs’s, (and associates) findings by proclaiming, “The important point is that lactic acid is not produced in the muscles so it can’t be the source of acidosis.”
More recent research has continued to challenge the role of acidosis as a cause of fatigue. McKenna and Hargreaves stated, “Fatigue during exercise can be viewed as a cascade of events occurring at multi-organ, multi-cellular, and multi-molecular levels.”
The current thinking is that lactic acid is not a villain at all. Instead lactate is a valuable energy source, which can be used to continue muscle contraction. It is formed and utilized continuously in diverse cells under both anaerobic and aerobic conditions. So, lactate itself does not cause fatigue but certain accompanying products might. The accumulation of hydrogen ions and the corresponding lowering of pH is most likely the cause of acidosis, which has a direct relationship with muscle fatigue--an inability to generate high muscle contraction forces and sometimes producing a burning sensation in affected muscles.
Smart coaches and athletes have adapted their training methods to increase the utilization of muscle (and blood) lactate. Our own experience with training our post-collegiate, Olympic development athletes is that we have targeted very specific training to increase lactate utilization during both training and competition. Our “Lactate Shuttle” sessions are a core part of our training programs.
We utilize “Lactate Shuttle” sessions to “buffer” the effects of hydrogen ions within the muscle fibers and enhance the movement of lactate within and between the cells. Lactate is a fuel, not an acid, but is still closely associated with the production of hydrogen ions. Lactate and hydrogen ions leave the muscle fibers together escorted by specialized transport proteins. Our “Lactate Shuttle” workouts are targeted to increase these transport proteins, therefore increasing the facilitated diffusion across the cell membrane and improving lactate dynamics.
Lactate DOES NOT cause muscle soreness. Since lactate is a fuel source, it is utilized quickly and removed from both muscle tissue and blood soon after even intense exercise bouts. It does not linger for days and is usually reduced to “normal” levels within an hour post exercise or much sooner if a cool-down session follows.
In summary, if your coach or trainer states that “lactic acid” is causing you to fatigue or produce sore muscles, you should be cautious, as they are uninformed and propagating a “myth.”
Author Mike Caldwell is coach/director of ASICS GTC-ELITE and this article was written for and originally appeared in PACE Running Magazine.
When does running 4:04 for 1600 meters leave you out of the money? Well, in the men’s Olympic 10,000 meter final to list just one instance. For those of you who have continued to read, you know that is four laps of the track and just nine meters short of the imperial distance known as the mile.
For those of you who watched the recent 2016 Olympics in Rio, there were many exciting Track & Field events, including multiple world records. On the opening day, the women’s 10,000 meters set the tone with an amazing world record run by Ethopia’s Almaz Ayana. Following a rarely seen opening 5,000 meters of 14:46 by Kenyan rival Alice Nawowuna, Almaz did the unthinkable and increased her pace to cover the final 5,000 in 14:30. Her amazing final time of 29:17.45 broke the long-standing world record of 29:31.78, set by China’s Junxia Wang from September 8, 1993. Ayana covered the 10th and final kilometer (1,000 meters) in a speedy 2:54.57. That is averaging 69.8 per 400 meters for the final K and under 2:57 per K for the entire 10,000 meters.
The men’s 10,000 was conducted the following evening and featured Great Britain’s Mo Farah and his attempt to repeat one of his gold medals earned at London’s 2012 Olympic Games. Track experts anxiously waited to see if the rumored strategy of the Kenyans teaming together to wear down the MoBot and tame his well-known final “kick”. As everyone is very aware now, they were not able to do so.
It is always interesting to read or hear comments by many non-elite and even former very good runners regarding such races. Many opine that someone should have run hard and fast earlier to ensure that Mo used more energy and couldn’t kick. More than one commenter espoused that American Galen Rupp should have thrown in a surge earlier and by doing so he would have been able to place among the top three and medal for the USA. Another stated that the American should have gone out at 26:40 pace and that would have garnered more success than his (Rupp’s) 5th place finish.
Hogwash! It has been well documented that a faster than needed earlier pace in distances above 800 meters is not successful in producing top finishes in more than 90% of competitions. What many observers didn’t quite grasp was that the men’s Olympic 10,000 was indeed a “fast” race. Let’s take a quick look at Mo’s 1,000-meter splits: 2:58.7, 2:49.8 [5:48.5], 2:42.8 [8:31.3], 2:43.7 [11:15.0], 2:39.7 [13:54.7], 2:43.2 [16:37.9], 2:41.7 [19:19.6], 2:42.0 [22:01.6], 2:35.4 [24:37.0], 2:28.2; for a final time of 27:05.17. And remember, he took a tumble to the track during the third kilometer, but got back up quickly and resumed his quest.
Another view would be Mo’s final 2K segments. He covered the final 2,000 meters in 5:03.6 or an astonishing 60.72 per 400 meters, the final 1600 meters in 4:01.2, the final 1200 meters in 2:59.0 (59.6 per lap), the final 800 in 1:56.6 (58.3s), the final 400 in 55.3 (now we’re moving), the final 200 in 27.3 and the final 100 in 13.4.
So why did it come down to a final kick over the last 400 meters? Why not? In almost every running event over 200 meters, the runner who covers the final 400 meters the fastest (if within reasonable striking distance after completing the penultimate lap) either wins or comes very close. The trick is staying with the lead pack to be able to attempt a “kick.”
For many reasons, many “track fans” despise a slow early pace and desire what they term an “honest” pace from the start. They believe that is a more honorable method for racing. Well, the British believed that marching in unison, while wearing attractive red coats, was an “honorable” method to fight a battle. And how did that work out in the American Revolutionary War? Not so well.
The object is to win, not to see who can run the fastest for the first portion of the race. In Rupp’s case, he covered the final 1600 meters (remember that’s almost one mile) in 4:04 (approximately a 4:05 mile) and could only garner 5th because four others closed just as fast or faster. But what if had run faster earlier in the race? Then he would not have been able to close as fast as he did and would more than likely have finished 6th or worse.
Many opined that Rupp couldn’t kick. That depends on how you classify a kick. He did run a 56-57 second final 400 meters and a sub 1:59 final 800, so that seems to be a pretty decent “kick.” But Farah, Paul Tanui, Tamirat Tola and Yigrem Demelash were just a little bit faster on that night. Fifth in 27:08.92 was still a very good effort for the man who is probably the USA’s greatest track distance runner, if you look at his consistently fast times and top performances over the past decade.
Postscript: Rupp later earned the bronze medal in the Olympic Marathon.
Note: this article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of PACE Running Magazine.
When you have coached and worked with runners as many years as I have had the good fortune to do so, you develop an innate ability to recognize many runners from a distance by observing their running form. This is especially true for athletes who I see on a regular basis. With the exceptions of many elite Kenyans or even Ethiopians, most runners have very different styles of running. Some are extremely efficient while others have glaring asymmetry.
During the past decade I have become somewhat confused and almost perplexed at the number of runners who have enhanced their asymmetry and distorted their running form by carrying needless containers of either water or some other fluid replacement. Some carry “handhelds” while others strap devices to their backs in their attempts to “keep hydrated.”
Is this really necessary? Do they really believe they will become dehydrated on a training run of two hours or less? If so, the marketers of such products (containers and sports drinks) have been extremely successful in their promotions as they exaggerate our need for daily fluid consumption.
Dehydration refers to a deficit of the total amount of water in the body with an accompanying disruption of metabolic processes. Dehydration may also be a cause for hypernatremia, which is elevated sodium content in the blood. The loss of plasma fluid (water) results in an increased percentage of sodium in the plasma. Water is lost in a variety of ways including perspiration, minimal losses from breathing and also from urinating and bowel movements.
Since in most cases runners are not urinating or stopping to empty their bowels frequently during a training session, perspiration is the major cause for loss of fluid/water.
One of the common current myths is that you should drink as much as you can tolerate so that you maintain fluid levels during your run. However, that may not be the case. The human body has evolved an exquisite system to regulate water consumption and it is called “thirst”. The body is well equipped to deal with transient dehydration, which usually lasts from 4 to 8 hours. It is chronic dehydration, which lasts for days, that leads to health issues.
The human organism reacts to applied stress by adapting and compensating so that it can function at an elevated level once the adaptation has occurred. This is the “training effect.” It may also be the case with fluid intake and replacement.
Dr. Tim Noakes, a South African physician, researcher and author, has written thousands of pages on running. One of his most intriguing books is entitled “Waterlogged—the serious problem of over hydration in endurance sports.” The book devotes 428 pages to the subject. Believe me, those are a lot of pages to discuss hydration and the potential issues of “water intoxication.”
His interest was spurred by the death of Cynthia Lucerno, Ph.D., who passed away a few hours after stopping at the 22-mile mark of the 108th B.A.A. Boston Marathon in 2002. Her death was attributed to “hyponatremia” or “water intoxication.”
The basic premise of the book is that man is the best-equipped land mammal to perform with limited amounts of water intake, if replenished appropriately following exercise. Noakes informs us, “The biological record appears to give a consistent answer. Humans developed as long-distance runners especially well adapted to run in extreme dry heat in the middle of the day while drinking infrequently and conserving sodium stores. Humans are bipedal, reducing the radiant heat gain from the midday sun. Through evolution, we have developed adaptations that allow both superior thermoregulation and the ability to run economically for prolonged periods. The key is the number of sweat glands in human skin.”
A potential disadvantage of sweating is that it reduces total-body water content, which may cause dehydration. “Once the reduction in body water causes the solute concentration, especially the sodium concentration of the blood to rise, the brain detects the change and develops the symptom of thirst. This is a normal biological response that has evolved in most creatures to ensure that they maintain a constant body water content at least once a day (usually following the evening meal).“
The primary symptom of water loss is thirst. The human body has mechanisms that produce the thirst sensation. Other symptoms indicating dehydration include the color and viscosity of one’s urine output. Slightly yellow usually indicates “normal” total-body water content, while a dark and thicker void indicates dehydration and very clear urine may be indicative of hyperhydration.
Young children many times get thirsty very easily during activity. However as their body matures, the thirst sensation usually is delayed until later or following short periods of activity. Trained athletes usually don’t need fluid replacement until later in or even after their respective work bouts, but this is mostly dependent on the environmental conditions and the amount of sweating produced.
In our experience, our elite distance runners regularly complete longer runs of two hours without ingesting fluids. Their bodies have adapted. Without the necessity of “carrying” water bottles, they can maintain good running form and operate at a very efficient level. However, they do replenish with appropriate fluids once the run is completed and continue until their total-body water is back to normal (usually during the evening).
Non-elite runners would benefit more by not carrying fluids and focusing on having better form and efficiency in training runs of less than two hours. Another reason to not carry water on runs shorter than two hours is that research has indicated that more adaptation occurs when the organism’s water content is 1-2% decreased. It is sometimes referred to as the “quart low” theory, although the unit “quart” should not be taken literally. So it is actually beneficial to lose some fluid during training so that you force the appropriate adaptation, become more efficient and increase your fitness. The “super-compensation effect” is not promoted when your body maintains the status quo of pre-training bout levels.
So, unless you are running more than two hours, you really don’t need to carry those containers unless the conditions are extremely harsh. Pre-hydrate a few hours before your run and re-hydrate with more than just water following your run and throughout the evening.
Mike Caldwell is director/coach of ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE. This blog was originally written for and published in the Summer 2016 issue of PACE Running Magazine.
It was hot! With apologies to Jimmy Buffett, “We spent four busy days in a bright LA haze and we just want to be back on our side (of the country).”
When we established the ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE post-collegiate, Olympic development program in July of 2012 one of our goals was to have our athletes qualify for the USA Olympic Team Trials. We achieved that goal with four athletes, two men and two women, qualifying for the marathon by running under the qualifying standards at the half marathon distance. Americans could qualify by running a marathon under 2:19:00 for men and under 2:45:00 for women, OR by running under 1:05 and 1:15:00 for men and women respectively.
Although I was previously not in favor of having an athlete qualify with the half-marathon performance, I grew to accept it’s legitimacy when Ricky Flynn joined our program in December of 2013. Ricky had qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials marathon by running a 1:03:44 half marathon. Then he ran his first, and only, marathon at the 2012 OMT in Houston, TX. Not only did he prove that he could finish a marathon, he actually placed 12th overall with an excellent time of 2:13:41.
In this current Olympic quadrennial, we planned for Ricky to meet the “B” standard (which is for those qualifying by half marathon or running between 2:15:00 and 2:19:00 over the marathon distance for men) by running the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in Duluth, MN in June 2014. As planned he qualified there with a sub-1:05:00 (1:04:50) performance.
At our team retreat in Maggie Valley, NC during late August, we discussed our individual goals and left thinking that we might have one or two of our newer members attempt to qualify via the half-marathon route. The potential candidates each were successful at the 5 and 10K distances in college, but had the ability to move up in distance.
So, in early September I began looking for possible half marathons that offered the possibility to run fast in a competitive field. There are not as many opportunities as one would think. And two of our women had never run a competitive race longer than the 10K—less than half the distance of the half marathon. One potential opportunity was the Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon in Florida. However, the event’s featured distance was the marathon. With a call to Richard Clark Fannin, who coordinates the elite athletes for the prestigious Gate River 15K, we discussed putting together a small group of elites to pursue the OT qualifying standards.
The rest is history. RCF did a magician’s job of attracting over 110 athletes to participate in what he named the Olympic Trials Marathon Project. And on a cool and raining early January morning over 41 men and women athletes qualified for the 2016 USA Olympic Team Trials marathon in Los Angeles, CA.
On a Wednesday in mid February six of us departed 25-degree temperatures in Greenville and arrived in LA to a very warm 80-degree day. Our group included Ricky Flynn, Mark Leininger, Dylan Hassett, Nicole DiMercurio, Coach Laura Caldwell and myself. Of the four athletes, only Ricky had completed a marathon. While experiencing the very warm conditions, we were pleased that we had brought our 32 special fluid bottles for Saturday’s race.
While waiting for our bags at LAX we were greeted by Elkanah Kibet, who won last year’s TD Bank Reedy River Run 10K and had later run his first marathon in Chicago in 2:11. He told me that he had been heat-training n Arizona and hoped it would be hot so that he had a better chance of making the Olympic Team.
On Thursday, we checked in at USATF and the athletes received their welcome packets before going through the process of checking each apparel item that would be worn on race day. That included tops, bottoms, hats, warm-up items and T-shirts. Besides a small manufactures’ logo, each item could only have a small (40cm2) team/club logo displayed. To assist us our apparel sponsor, ASICS, had provide new tops, bottoms and hats for our four athletes. With LA’s intense sunshine, hats would be necessary to help limit their body temperatures on Saturday.
Then it was a drive down the course to Expo Park and the famous LA Coliseum and the USC campus (that’s University of Southern California for readers from the state of SC). While we attempted to decipher the course maps, the sun beat down upon runners from all over the country and many told their personal stories of how cold it was when they left their homes to come to LA. Almost everyone expressed their concern over the 10:06 am (men) and 10:22 am (women) starting times for the race. As we would be informed on multiple occasions, it was because NBC would be covering the event live for the first time in history and that it would be good preparation for the Olympics in Rio, Brazil. Following the business portion of the morning, we drove to Santa Monica for lunch at the famous Dogtown Coffee and then a visit to the beach. We might as well acclimate to the heat.
Thursday night we attended the Athletes/Sponsors dinner at the California Science Center and had dinner beneath the Endeavor Space Shuttle, which hangs from the ceiling in a very large room. Between reading about details regarding the construction of the aircraft, we mingled with the other coaches and athletes with some entertaining musical artists. Soon to be four-time Olympian Meb Keflezighi welcomed everyone, as did some of the USATF leadership.
Friday’s itinerary included our women runners being interviewed for a film documentary about the pack of women who qualified at the Jax Bank Half Marathon. We hope to see videographer Wendy Shulik’s final version in the near future and may have a showing at a future Greenville Track Club meeting. While the women were being interviewed, Ricky and Mark were eating breakfast at the athletes’ hospitality room and then Ricky received treatment for a nagging leg injury.
Laura and I attended to labeling and beginning to fill our fluid bottles, which would be placed on eight carefully selected tables along the course. We had decided to use a mixture of gels and water for LA. Our great friends at Run In Greenville had given us a variety of GU products for this endeavor and it was much appreciated. While Laura and I worked on the bottles many of the other elite athletes joined the process and also went through uniform check-in.
It was good to see and talk with Galen Rupp, who is the USA’s best current distance runner. As a former Portland, OR, resident, I had known and followed Galen since his high school days. He told me he was ready to go in his first attempt at the marathon. From his confident works and smile, I immediately made him my pre-race favorite to make the USA team of three. I had already selected Meb as one of those three despite his age of 40. In the marathon experience usually is a high success factor.
Luke Puskedra came into the room with his wife and young child and almost immediately asked if he could take a full case of bottle water as he would need all of it. That’s 24 bottles of water, but he is one of the tallest competitors in LA for the trials. Also, arriving was Jared Ward. He had won last year’s ASICS LA Marathon on the Stadium to the Sea course, and had shown that he could run well in the heated conditions that could prevail again in LA. I decided to add him to my short list of the three favorites.
After our athletes had completed their pre-race shakeout runs, we completed our fluid bottle preparation and delivered them to the “fluid control” room. Each athlete signed in, presented their bottles for storage, and were instructed on how the process would work. With over 400 entrants (since the men and women would be running at the same time) this was the most ambitious fluid distribution process in history. Remember, each athlete would have up to eight of their own special bottles along the course with only eight bottles or less on any given table. That is a lot of tables.
Friday afternoon we attended the mandatory Technical Meeting, at which every detail was addressed; from what time breakfast would open and close to possible drug testing and processing in the event you were one of the top five finishers in Saturday’s races.
The most time was spent on reviewing the course. It would begin with a 2.2 mile loop going north amongst the tall buildings of downtown LA and then proceed with four six-mile loops which ran up and down Figuoria Street and through the USC campus and adjacent to the LA Coliseum. After the first smaller loop, there would be very little shade.
Saturday arrived and so did the sun. Unfortunately for us, Ricky’s leg injury had not healed enough to attempt to run. So it was just Mark and I as we walked from our hotel to the starting area about a mile away. We used the time to once again discuss race strategy. While we had believed he was ready to run between 2:16 and 2:20, we decided to be very conservative since the sun was already heating the sidewalks and roads. With reluctance, we decided to begin well off our former pacing plans.
As Laura walked with Dylan and Nicole, they discussed similar strategies. Since Laura had experienced multiple Olympic marathon trials her advice should have been golden. We were not allowed in the athletes’ warm-up area, but had our own coaches’ box next to that space. The crowds were large and noisy. We could not hear on our phones and were too busy to return many of the texts from friends and supporters. As one would expect in LA, the start was an exciting production. Almost every athlete was cheered as a celebrity, much like the musicians that would be in the same area for the Grammy’s on only two days later.
Following the excitement of the men’s start at 10:06 the women assembled in the holding area to await the men’s completion of the 2.2-mile loop. About 12 minutes later the men completed the loop and crossed the starting line for the second time. Mark had followed instructions and was fourth from last in the field of the country’s best distance runners.
At 10:22 the women began their quest to make the Olympic Team. Laura and I made our way, with some other coaching friends, to see our athletes along the long stretches of Figuoria. When Dylan and Nicole passed us they were not too far behind the lead pack, but running much faster than we had wanted them to do. In our training plan we had estimated that both could definitely run sub-2:40 and possibly a few minutes faster, even though it was their first attempt at the marathon. However, the recently predicted high temperatures had changed those plans. We wanted them to adjust to run 15-20 seconds slower per mile. But by five miles they were close to 6:00 pace, which fueled our fears.
The men’s race developed into a large front pack, which included ASICS Furman Elite’s Wilkerson Given, a 2013 Furman grad, who had also qualified via the half marathon and would be running his first full one. Wilkerson is known to run with the lead pack for as long as possible and that was very true again.
We also had some other interesting stories within the race. Nicole’s boyfriend, Tyler Pennel of Reebok/ZAP Elite, was a potential favorite. Tyler was definitely a contender and ran strong up at the front. As predicted, Meb was always there as was Galen Rupp.
However, behind the lead pack the runners had begun to string out. The blazing sun was already having an affect on a huge number of highly trained athletes. The 5:00-5:10 per mile pace that many of them had planned to run was just too much to sustain in such conditions.
The women’s pack was broken when Bowerman Track Club teammate Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg pushed the pace and opened an ever-widening gap as they completed the first two of the four six-mile loops. HOKA Northern Arizona Elite’s Kellyn Taylor looked solid in third. However, it is a marathon and it can be cruel.
Just after 25K, Pennel decided to drop the pace and covered the 17th mile in 4:47. Meb and Rupp followed. Ward ran a very hard 4:50, but managed to stay in contention. Tyler’s lead grew to a reported 40 meters, but was to be short-lived as Meb and Galen reeled him in and began a two-man battle. It wasn’t a battle for long as Rupp’s sub-27:00 10K talent took the toll on the aging fan-favorite. Rupp would go on to victory in his debut marathon (qualifying with via the half marathon proves positive again) running 2:11:12. Meb would follow in second in 2:12:20 to make his 4th Olympic team.
The surge after 25K had broken the pack, but it also may have been the undoing for Tyler Pennel. It was a gutsy move, but both a hard charging Ward and Puskedra passed him as they placed third and fourth. As a side note, it may be that fatherhood was the difference as the top four finishers are all proud fathers.
Wilkerson Given had remained in the lead pack through 25K, but attempting that pace had exhausted his energy stores and he faded to 54th place over the final brutal miles. Another gutsy effort and a final time of 2:27:50, but losing over 16 minutes to Rupp over the final ten miles.
Mark Leininger, seeded 115th, had followed our strategy well. Although running much slower than we had desired before arriving in LA, he gradually moved up through the field. He placed 60th with a time of 2:28:17. So our two representatives from Greenville finished with 30 seconds of each other—with completely opposite strategies. There are many ways to skin the cat.
While the women’s race became very interesting as Shalane began to experience the negative effects of the conditions, Desi Linden began to make her move and looked strong. She had passed Taylor , and was also holding her lead on everybody’s favorite Kara Goucher. Amy Cragg attempted to motivate and assist her teammate Flanagan, but realized Linden was closing the gap. Cragg then used her strength to pull away from Shalane and earn the $80,000 first prize and the first spot on the Olympic Team. What a difference from four years ago, when she placed a devastating fourth as Amy Hastings. The top five women were the same top five finishers from 2012, although in a different order. Linden was now second and Flanagan third with Goucher fourth this time and just missing another Olympic Team.
Our ASICS GTC-ELITE women were learning the harshness of the marathon. Nicole passed halfway in 1:20:47, which was still a very good effort for the conditions. However, the last six miles which she had been warned about were every bit as bad as advertised. She managed to finish in 2:52:10 for 82nd place. Dylan also experienced the wall after passing the half in 1:21:08. She struggled, but finished in 113th place with a time of 2:58:46. Both women will run much faster in their future careers.
As many of our coaching friends commented after the race, “It was carnage out there.” Each elite training group or program had gone to extreme planning and details to prepare their athletes for these trials. However the heat had taken its toll on most.
As we collected our athletes and gear in the athletes restricted area following the races, I saw Elkanah Kibet, who had placed 19thst, lying by bags of ice. He looked up at me and said, “Mike, it was very, very, very hot.”
Mike Caldwell is director/coach of ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE. This blog was originally written for and published in the Spring 2016 issue of PACE Running Magazine.
The following blog, by ASICS GTC-ELITE director Mike Caldwell, appeared as an article in the Summer issue of PACE Running Magazine.
In the spring issue of PACE Running Magazine we discussed running form and some of the solutions we use and recommend. We recommended scheduling an evaluation of your running gait by expert Kent Kurfman at Pro Axis Running Academy. Kent has been very good at evaluating some of the post-collegiate, Olympic Development athletes who are members of our ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE program. He uses his years of experience and training to analyze each athlete’s running gait, conducts appropriate measurements of flex angles and prescribes solutions and drills to correct any issues that are discovered.
Some of the solutions may include various stretches to increase flexibility in specific areas, or may be as simple as adding eccentric calf stretches to your ancillary workout program. Although we already have our athletes doing ancillary work for approximately three hours per week, we have added some additional items at Kent’s prescription.
Another resource that we are seeing good results from is our use of the ElliptiGO trainer. According to the company’s description, “The ElliptiGO is the world's first elliptical bicycle. Designed by runners as the ideal cross-training device, the ElliptiGO combines the best of running, cycling and the elliptical trainer to deliver a low-impact, high-performance workout outdoors. We believe it is the ideal cross-training device for healthy runners and the best replacement for running for injured runners. It delivers an exercise experience that is closer to running than anything else available today.”
A couple of years ago, one of our athletes had incurred an injury, which would continue to be compromised by the pounding due to actual running. So we researched the ElliptiGO and decided to obtain one to use when running was not possible. It turned out to be a great decision. Much like an elliptical machine found in most fitness centers, the leg movement is similar to your running stride. However, there is no striking ground force involved.
As a coach I am always searching for an edge that may assist in the continual development of our elite athletes and improving their competitive performances. And as an exercise physiologist my tendency is to refer to research to find out what might work better than our current methods. I have always believed that our workout sessions should be based on concepts that I could actually complete if I was back in my prime or had the same abilities as our current elite athletes. So, when our ElliptiGO unit arrived, I was probably more excited than our athletes.
A while back, I had observed some elite/professional athletes using ElliptiGOs. Former NCAA cross country champion Adam Goucher had experimented with training on an ElliptiGO, when we lived in Portland. Then, during our quadrennial sojourn to Eugene, Oregon for the 2012 USA Olympic Trials we observed other elite athletes doing supplemental training on “GOs”. And more recently, 2014 Boston Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi has been an advocate of supplementing his training on the ElliptiGO.
Why is it different from cycling? Well, first, you are standing and can’t sit down. So the exercise mimics running. Metabolic testing research has been conducted comparing the cost of riding an ElliptiGO bike versus running and conventional cycling. The energy cost of exercising on the ElliptiGO was on average 33% (+ or – 11%) greater compared to cycling at a given velocity.
The comparison with running demonstrated that at the two highest velocities tested (16 and 18.5 mph), the energy cost of exercising on the GO was similar to that of running at 7.5 and 8.6 mph (8 and 7 minutes per mile pace). However, at lower velocities on the ElliptiGO, the energy cost of running at 6.0 and 6.7 mph was actually greater than when exercising on the ElliptiGO. The heart rate responses and perceived exertion were markedly higher on the GO than for cycling, but similar for those parameters when running.
From such research, it seems that riding the GO at speeds of 18.5 mph closely correlates with running at 7 minute-per-mile pace on flat terrain. Since our athletes usually run at approximately that pace on their recovery days, we can substitute a 45-minute workout on the GO for a 45-minute run and reduce the cumulative impact-related forces, while experiencing the same VO2 and energy costs associated with the training.
Previous research has also indicated that stand-up cycling training can improve 10K running performance. Statements from Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter and Ironman champion Dave Scott had intrigued researcher Tom Miller. Both believed that standing up on bicycles while pedaling intensely uphill had positively influenced their running performances. The results of Miller’s study found an 8.6% improvement in 10K running performance after stand-up cycling training.
So we decided to have one of our athletes use the ElliptiGO for her secondary workouts on the harder days in each training microcycle. While we do not have a control subject, or an appropriate number of subjects to conduct research, we have been extremely pleased with her progress and development. One of the additional benefits seems to be that stride length and turnover rate is maintained and even enhanced when using the ElliptiGO in supplemental training, and with no additional impact.
In summary, we are impressed with the training effects accumulated without exposing the athlete to additional running mileage when using the ElliptiGO. It has become yet another vital component in our group of resources.
Do you remember the first time you heard your recorded voice played back? For most of us that voice did not seem like what we thought we sounded like. But, no matter how many times we replayed the recording, it was true; that is what we actually sounded like.
There is a similarity with your running form. When you see a photo of yourself in forward motion, it probably doesn’t look exactly like what you envisioned. And when you observe a video of you running, it may look even worse than the photo and worse than you imagined. It has been stated that a picture is “worth a thousand words,” so a video is worth many more.
While most of us don’t attempt to change the way we speak, since it would require almost constant conscious effort and might even include using a professional voice coach, the same holds true for the majority of runners regarding their form. While an unusual or unique speaking voice in most cases does not produce any ill effects (besides maybe annoying some acquaintances), poor running form CAN be harmful to your body.
Research indicates that 82% of runners become injured. Now, that seems like a large percentage, but all of us know a runner who is currently injured. Why do so many runners experience injury? There are multiple reasons. While most runners immediately focus on their footwear as the root cause, it is usually more associated with poor running form and biomechanics. Many animals seem to learn to run naturally, but that is not always the case with humans.
A wise person has stated, “practice doesn’t make perfect, but that perfect practice makes perfect.” And to extend that concept, “imperfect practice leads to imperfection,” especially pertaining to running form. The more you run with poor running form, the higher the percentage that injury will occur. So just how do you improve (and perfect) your running form?
First, you need to observe yourself running. In today’s digital age, this is extremely easy as all you need is an iPhone or equivalent. Although “selfies” are the trend, it works much better if you have a friend or coach video you at several different running speeds. Yes, you may, and probably do, run differently (form) depending on the speed of your pace. So the first step in the process is watching you run. Ugh! Not as pretty as you envisioned.
However, if you like what you see and have never been injured, you are finished with the process. Keep up the good work (you might be in that 18%). But, if you don’t like what you see and don’t look quite as effortless as those free-striding Kenyan and Ethiopian distance runners, then there might be a little work to do.
Second, (for those who observed some quirks in your running form), you need an “expert” to analyze your form and determine what is not working in the kinetic chain that allows you to propel yourself forward efficiently. Such experts are usually highly trained experienced coaches or certified professionals. While there are many people with the title of “coach”, there are only a few who actually have the requisite education and training to breakdown the biomechanical movement patterns and recommend the correct changes required.
Even with our post-collegiate athletes in the ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE program, we are constantly working on improving running form. We have been fortunate to include experts in our resource group that have been instrumental in assisting our athletes recognize needed changes in running posture, form, arm-carriage and foot-strike patterns.
Brad McKay of Performance Therapy is a vital part of our program and continues to address muscular issues with our athletes. His work with addressing Kimberly Ruck’s chronic hamstring issues with a change in running gait has produced very positive results as evidenced with her recent performances.
Our philosophy includes analyzing our athletes’ biomechanical and musculoskeletal systems and addressing any weaknesses with appropriate drills and strengthening exercises. We also rely on Kent Kurfman at Proaxis Running Academy to provide one of the most complete evaluations and analysis available. Kent has measured and evaluated some of our athletes and diagnosed issues that are now being corrected.
So that you don’t join the 82% of injured runners during this year, it is highly recommended that you contact Kent and schedule an evaluation of your running form and identify any discrepancies in your musculoskeletal system and flexibility angles. Once identified, he can prescribe appropriate measures for you to correct and improve your running gait and form. The monetary cost of the evaluation is well worth the price and is usually less than purchasing a couple of new pair of running shoes. Since the usual thought-process regarding injury starts with your shoes, it can be much more cost-effective than buying new shoes every time you experience an injury and definitely more effective over the long run (pun intended).
If you are serious about your running, then get your form analyzed and corrected (if needed). Remaining healthy will lead to the consistency needed for improvement and a much more enjoyable running career.
The above article, written by Coach Mike Caldwell, originally was published in the Spring 2015 of PACE Running Magazine.
Q: What is the training like for the GTC-ELITE group?
MC: We base our training on many years of experience, sports science and a little bit of voodoo. I was fortunate to have been able to train with some Olympic caliber athletes while running with the Florida Track Club, in Gainesville, back in the early 1970s. Olympic Marathon Gold Medalist Frank Shorter was there as were Olympian and American 5,000-meter record holder Marty Liquori and two-time Olympian and world indoor mile record holder Dick Buerkle.
Whenever you are exposed to such greatness, you tend to add to your body of knowledge. I was working on a graduate degree in Exercise Physiology at the time and my major professor, Dr. Christian Zauner, challenged me to incorporate the science I was learning with the practical training I was experiencing and seeing first hand with those great athletes, among others.
Over the years, I have become more and more sure that recovery is one of the most overlooked components of many training programs. Many very good marathoners think an easy day still can allow a 15-mile entry into their training log. I’ve been adamant with our runners over the years that our recovery days are more in the range of 40-45 minutes of easy running, which might be 7:00-7:30 per mile pace. That may not seem slow to some readers. However to an athlete who can average well under 5:00 per mile for 5K, it is fairly slow.
We incorporate at least three “easy/recovery” days into every week (or 7-day microcycle) alternating between our primary training sessions which include: intervals to increase or maintain our VO2max, tempo efforts that push the limits of our lactate threshold, and we almost always include a long run of 90-120 minutes each week.
Q: That sounds similar to the F.I.R.S.T. (Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training) program developed by Furman University professors and published in their books “Run Less, Run Faster.”
MC: Well, basically it is. I give a lot of credit to professors Bill Pierce, Scott Murr and Ray Moss for developing such a program suited for those business professionals who don’t have a lot of time to train. Their ideas of long run, intervals and tempo runs were obviously not original. We were doing such training back in the ’60 and ‘70s and had learned such from those before us.
However, their idea of substituting cross training for running on recovery days was bold and seems to work very well for many runners. I applaud them for publishing their books and making running more reasonable for so many people.
Q: So why don’t you use cross training instead of running on your recovery days?
MC: That would be nice, except that for the elite or post-collegiate professional runner that we are usually working with, it just isn’t enough time-on-their feet to compete at a regional or national class level. It just isn’t enough mileage for the runners I am used to coaching. You have to realize that most of our competition is running 85-120 miles per week. Imagine trying to run a marathon in the 2:20 range (which is always our goal at this level) on only 50-60 miles per week. The race would be 52-44% of the runner’s weekly mileage. We just don’t feel that it is realistic in most cases.
We do a lot of dynamic movement drills pre and post workouts (totaling 2-3 hours per week), so we really don’t have a lot of available time for cross training. That’s not to say that we would never do such. Sometimes, during our post-season break, we prescribe cross training as part of our “active” rest. It is just that we tend to run easy and work on strength and flexibility on our non-hard days instead of cross training.
In the past year, we have had a couple of athletes join our training group that have different needs and we have adjusted accordingly. One has some inherent issues regarding her gait and we have substituted workouts on an ElliptiGO instead of a second running session on the days we double. So far we have experienced a very positive result with this change.
We also have a young man, who has an excellent cardio-vascular system, but has struggled with musculoskeletal injuries during his running career. He actually spends as much time in the pool as he does running and has been successful in his competitive schedule using such a combination of training.
Q: What is the average mileage for your runners?
MC: It varies from individual to individual depending upon their background, current level of fitness, and racing goals and objectives. While we definitely aren’t high mileage, we are not low mileage advocates either. Most of our athletes average between 60 and 90 miles per week. That is with only two or maybe three days of double workouts—which are on our “hard” days. If we were to double five or six days a week their mileage would be 10-20 miles more per week, but I believe that the recovery days are much more important in our training process. My belief has been to maximize the output with optimal training versus just running a lot of miles.
This concept of stress/recover/adapt and repeat was learned back in grad school when we studied Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome. Basically, the hypothesis states that an organism becomes stronger when it is stressed and has adequate recovery before additional stress is applied. We have proved this true over years of training and racing.
Q: What is the average speed of your athletes’ training?
MC: Well, that might be somewhat controversial since we don’t actually measure mileage except for interval or tempo sessions. We use the “Badger Miles” system made somewhat famous by former Wisconsin coach Jerry Schumacher (currently coaching elite runners in Portland’s Nike Oregon Project). That is we run for a specific amount of time and then divide by 7:00 per mile. We did this even before Jerry was coaching at Wisconsin, but I like the label he came up with.
Some of our athletes have been a little hung up on measuring their exact mileage run, but after a while they understand that running for time works just fine (with the obvious exception of specific interval or tempo sessions). The body doesn’t really have a pedometer, but at the cellular level time spent utilizing a specific energy system is important.
However, in today's GPS environment, our athlete's do have access to tracking their actual pace and we do use such measurements during our steady-state, tempo or progressive runs.
Q: Looks as if you follow the F.I.R.S.T. program with the exception of replacing the cross training days with running?
MC: On paper that might look true. However, there is as much art as science in the application of training concepts. For example, the long run is much the same as prescribed in their books. The tempo runs are similar, and I tend to favor shorter tempo efforts in the 20-25 minute range at a very specific pace that we monitor on a track or measured course. We like to have feedback every 400 meters to ensure that the pace is at our prescribed target zone.
We sometimes do some longer tempo efforts, but usually our longer efforts are at what we term “steady state” or “progressive.” The former is usually a 75-90 minute run at about 80% effort. The “progressive” starts slow as we get warmed up and then gradually increases the pace (going faster) until our athletes are running fairly fast over the final third of the run.
The major difference between our training and that prescribed by F.I.R.S.T. might be in the speed of the interval sessions. I’ve done quite a bit of research on training intensities and actually published some academic papers many years ago ,which relied on specific speeds of running and the corresponding amount of oxygen used and lactate response. After many years, you get a pretty good idea of what it takes to be able to race at a specific pace and time. I don’t believe the tables for the intervals in the F.I.R.S.T. program are correct at the faster end of the scale. I believe they are somewhat faster than they should be.
According to the F.I.R.S.T. tables, for example, a runner who has run a 15:00 5K would need to run 400-meter repetitions (with appropriate rest intervals of at 62 seconds each. So to cover the goal of approximately 5,000 (actually 4,800) meters of work that would be 12 x 400 at 62 with 200 meters recovery between each. That goal is much faster than is practical for athletes whose current 5K is 15:00. We would probably target somewhere between 68 and 70 seconds per 400 to accomplish work to increase VO2 max. If we were working on speed then we might drop the pace to 65 seconds per 400, but would increase the time of recovery somewhat. Once again 62s seem much more in the wheelhouse of someone running 14:40 for 5K. That may not seem like a big difference, until you try to do it.
If you think in terms of 1,000 meter items, F.I.R.S.T targets at 2:43 seconds each. I have not had a 15:00 5K runner in all of my years of coaching that could complete a workout of 5 x 1,000 (remember we are targeting 5,000 meters of hard work for the session) averaging 2:43 (65 pace).
Oh, I have had runners do such a workout, but they were more like 14:10-14:25 at 5,000 meters. Most runners who can run 15:00 can usually do a 5-6 x 1,000 workout (with 500-meter jog recovery) at about 2:48-2:53 effort, or slightly slower.
To summarize: the concept is right on, however I believe the algorithm for the tables might need some tweaking at the faster end of the performance spectrum.
Q: You mentioned art versus science. Which is best?
MC: Neither works exclusively without the other. I see so many runners getting “coaching” programs from books, the Internet, mail-order (if that still exists) and such. It always sounds and looks so neat. However, the reality of coaching is being flexible and sequencing the right workout for the right time for the right athlete. That’s where the art comes in. You used to be able to buy one of those “paint by numbers” sets and just connect the lines and fill in the appropriate colors recommended and you had yourself a picture. But was it really considered “art”? Maybe it is “art” to the painter, but not to a real artist. A good coach has to have a little artist in them and hopefully be grounded in the fundamentals of exercise science.
One of my mentors once said, “A runner who coaches himself is probably a fool.” While I’m not sure if I would go that far, I will say that a runner who is self-coached will most likely not reach their potential.
Q: Do you believe that you are a good coach?
MC: Well, I might not be the best coach in my own family. My wife (Laura), who ran collegiately at Florida State and professionally for Nike for many years, is an excellent coach. She has an innate ability to observe and understand her athletes and then apply just the right mix of training concepts to allow them to achieve their goals. I watched with amazement when she was coaching high school back in Oregon as she developed those that I might not have had the patience to work with.
Then when we were coaching the middle-distance and distance runners at Furman University, we always bounced ideas off each other before assigning our workouts for the day. It was uncanny that almost 90% of the time we had very similar workouts in mind. That might have been a product of her having me as a coach for her professional career or because we just have many of the same experiences. We both have experienced a lot of success, so I would rate us as being good coaches.
However, most coaches are only as good as the athletes they have the privilege to coach. I have been very fortunate and blessed with some very good athletes over the years. It is our plan to continue to attract and develop more of the same in the near future.
Q: Who do you consider to be the best that you have coached?
MC: We tend to associate “best” with the “fastest,” so I would have to say Benji Durden would be the first to come to mind. Benji was a pretty good runner during his collegiate career at the University of Georgia. We had the honor of competing against each other when I was running at Furman. However, neither of us was near the best in our conferences. While both of us continued our running careers following graduation, Benji began to show promise by placing well at various road races throughout the Southeast.
Eventually, he asked me to coach him since he too believed that even good runners need the advice and monitoring a good coach can provide. I actually lowered his weekly mileage and added more recovery between hard efforts. He listened carefully and the end result, after much hard work, was his personal best of 2:09:57 at the 1983 Boston Marathon, which qualified him for the World Championships in Helsinki.
So as not to get into trouble at home, I would like to add that coaching my wife, also ranks high on my list of personal accomplishments. She was almost the perfect athlete to coach, always listening to not only the “what” of the workout, but also to the “why” and what we were attempting to accomplish. Her athletic resume speaks to our mutual success.
With appreciation to sage William Shakespeare, many times the most important question in a runner’s day is “to run, or not to run?” For over thirty years, I avowed to answer that thought with, “To run” of course. Consecutive days of running soon became weeks, then became months and soon became years. Over 11,200 days came and went and each one contained running. Mileage during that “running streak” totaled over 75,000 and would have continued except for a freak accident while taking care of yard work one day following a 60-minute run on Paris Mountain.
Yes, that is a very long streak of not missing a day of running. However, there are others with longer streaks. An old acquaintance by the name of Mark Covert had a streak of 45 years, when he decided to end it in July of 2013. What I admired about Mark was that he wasn’t just someone who went out and jogged a mile as some “streakers” do. Covert was a highly competitive athlete and once placed 7th in the 1972 USA Olympic Marathon Trials and was the first runner to complete a marathon in a new brand of footwear named Nike.
So running everyday must be good for you as a runner? Not so fast my friends. Although I was fortunate to have experienced a very memorable running streak of over 30 years, that would not have been the case if I had still had the desire to compete at a high level. Following a very good high school running career, but a modest collegiate experience while at Furman University, I relocated to Gainesville, FL, to join the Florida Track Club and their collection of post-collegiate runners--including Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter and Olympians Marty Liquori and Dick Buerkle. While there, I learned to endure high mileage training consisting of weeks of 120-140 miles with no planned off days. If you missed a day of running it was usually due to injury. We even had a route around the airport in Atlanta so you could get in a run if you had an extensive layover when traveling.
And then I became educated in the art of training smarter. As a studied for my post-graduate degrees in the areas of physiology of exercise and movement science, I gradually accepted the fact that an organism needs to recover from the stress applied in order to adapt and develop. Bill Bowerman, the famous coach at the University of Oregon, had used his philosophy of “hard” days followed by “easy” days of training to produce an amazing number of sub 4:00 milers as well as Kenny Moore, who later placed 4th in the 1972 Olympic marathon in Munich, Germany.
Moore, who had incorporated very long runs, sometimes up to 30 miles, into is training regimen had previously earned the ire of Bowerman as an undergraduate at Oregon. Bowerman had “forced” Moore to reduce the mileage on his “easy” days to a mere 3 miles so that he could recover from his harder workout days. Counter-intuitive to what most runners want to believe, the “hard/easy” system produced many top performances. Running hard every day was not the answer and most likely became the problem.
I had also witnessed the excellent performances of some of the European runners who had migrated to the United States to compete for various universities as NCAA athletes. To our dismay, some of them actually took complete days off from training following a very hard workout day. And many of them became NCAA champions.
Soon I began to change my philosophy regarding training and the body’s response to stress. That continued to evolve over the years, but has been centered on optimizing each training cycle by including “recovery” and “regeneration” days.
While our philosophy with our ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE athletes is centered around a group-training experience, we ensure individualization is promoted regarding recovery/regeneration days. We plan an “off” day into every micro-cycle (which may be 7 or 14 days in length). Many times that day may include some light running, but limited to an easy 30 minutes, or some alternative exercise such as aqua jogging, swimming or time on the ElliptiGO. We have found that not only is it okay to take a day off, but it is beneficial to our athlete’s development.
However, it is our belief that the sequencing of training is vital and that is why we usually schedule our “off” day on Mondays, following our Sunday long run and before our Tuesday hard workout session. We will not consciously schedule a workout session the day following our long run, as we prefer 36-44 hours of recovery and adaptation following those extended efforts.
We also schedule two other “easy” days within each 7-day micro-cycle or a total of six easy days within a 14-day cycle. These easy days usually consist of a 40-50 minute run followed by 45 minutes of ancillary work for strength, balance and flexibility. So each harder day is followed by an “easy” running day to recover, except for our Saturday sessions, which are followed by the regenerative long run.
At the end of our macrocycle, following our targeted “goal’ race of the season, we schedule 3-5 days of non-running activity and recovery to recharge our bodies and freshen up for the next training cycles.
So would I embark on a running streak if I had it to do over? Not if I had competitive goals. To reach those goals, it would be much more productive to incorporate some “off” days into the training cycles so that my body could recover and adapt to the stress applied and thus improve.
As professional running coaches, my wife and I are often asked about how many miles our athletes run each week. That would seem to warrant a fairly simple answer. However, we usually have to do some quick mental calculations to determine the appropriate answer.
Why? Primarily because we plan our training using “time spent running” versus total distance run. In recent years, there have been quite a few other coaches also espousing the use of time versus distance for calculating training and total work values. It should be noted that we do use distances in planning our interval or repetition training sessions, but for the overall long, medium or easy run days, we just set a target time such as 2 hours, 80 minutes or maybe 40 minutes of running.
For our weekly targets, we total minutes spent running. Our athletes averaged between 350 and 900 minutes per week, depending on their specific individual needs and strengths. If we desire to calculate miles per week, we just divide by a default such a 7:00 per mile or 4:20 per kilometer. This method is as old as the hills and became familiar to me during my days of training with the famous Florida Track Club. More recently, former University of Wisconsin coach (now with the Bowerman Track Club in Portland, OR) labeled this method “Badger Miles” when he used it with his Wisconsin Badger distance runners. For example: a 70-minute run would be 10 miles (70 / 7 = 10) even though the runner may have gone slower or faster (usually faster at their level). It usually averages out over the week.
For some reason Americans like to measure things in miles. The majority of American runners time their runs and are tethered to “pace per mile” for their acceptance of whether their training session was successful or not. Ironically, the majority of running events are measured and run over metric distances: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, 5000, 10000 meters and are not easily divided by the imperial measures such as yards or miles.
Yes, your GPS can easily calculate your pace per mile for a 10K, but it is easier to switch the unit value to Kilometers (Ks) and receive more frequent feedback of actual segment splits rather than the computed average. If you don’t have a GPS, dividing segments within the metric distances is much easier than in the imperial measurement system when running metric distances. For example: a 30-minute 10K is just 10 x 3:00 minutes for each K and a 40-minute 10K is just 4:00 minutes per K.
Just for fun: mentally calculate the mile pace for either of those times (30:00 or 40:00 for 10K) in the next 15 seconds. Not very easy?
Many runners still think that each lap of a standard outdoor track is one/quarter of a mile. And it almost is, but not quite. Our 400-meter ovals are just short of 440 yards and running four laps is about nine meters short of a mile. Close enough if you are only running one mile, but obviously as you run longer distances, the gap begins to grow.
So, after many years of running and coaching, we definitely plan our timed-quality workouts using meters. Our brains have accepted the metric system.
So what about minutes versus miles, or kilometers? As previously stated we target specific metric distances for interval or repetition workouts as we usually run such on either a 400-meter track or some other measured surface such as grass or asphalt. (You can find our GTC-ELITE athletes on Greenville’s Swamp Rabbit Trail on quite a few Tuesday mornings during the year.) But we use time, especially minutes, for the majority of our runs.
For instance, our usual pre-workout warmup includes a 20-minute run instead of a 4K or 5K run. Even though each of our athletes may wish to run at their own pace and perceived effort for their warmup run, everyone starts and finishes at approximately the same time (20 minutes). If the target warmup was a specific distance, there would be discrepancies among the athletes and we would have to wait for some to complete the exact distance.
But, most importantly, the human body does not have a pedometer to measure distances, but does have an internal clock at the cellular level, which computes time spent using a specific energy system. For example, when using the phosphogen energy system, there is enough energy to run 8-10 seconds. The body does not compute the distance covered, but the time it is working. The same holds true for the anaerobic energy system, which is utilized for work bouts under 120 seconds. If an athlete is running hard (above anaerobic threshold and above VO2 max) the muscles are energized by anaerobic systems.
This philosophy of using time versus distance corresponds very favorably when incorporating the important “long run” into training programs. Many marathon programs prescribe a 20-mile run. However, we always target time since each of our athletes will most likely run at a slightly different pace. Some may cover 36 kilometers in their 120-minute (2-hour) run while another may only complete 30K. Even though there is a difference of 6K between the two athletes, each of them produced a positive training effect, respective to their current capability.
And time, not distance, is even more important on our recovery days. We like our athletes to run easy and not force the pace to cover a prescribed distance. We usually cover from 30 to 45 minutes depending on our target for the week and what transpired on the previous workout or harder day.
So the question may not actually be “minutes versus miles?” but more correctly “minutes versus kilometers?” But the answer according to our philosophy is that elapsed time trumps distance covered. So ladies and gentlemen “start your watches”.
As a coach I am always searching for an edge that may assist in the continual development of our elite athletes and improving their competitive performances. And as an exercise physiologist my tendency is to refer to research to find out what might work better than our current methods.
A while back, I observed some elite/professional athletes using ElliptiGOs. The GO is actually an elliptical workout machine perched on a an elongated bicycle frame. After much thought, we decided to try out the ElliptiGO for supplemental training or the return to training following injury.
I have always believed that our workout sessions should be based on concepts that I could actually complete if I was back in my prime or had the same abilities as our current elite athletes. So, when our ElliptiGO unit arrived, I was probably more excited than our athletes.
One reason is that I have been slowly recovering from major knee surgery. From 1981 until 2012 I had not missed a day of running--stringing together almost 31 years of consecutive days. And then I slipped doing mundane yard work and fractured the patella and ripped part of my quadricep apart. After 8 weeks on crutches and another few weeks still in a knee brace, I started cycling on a stationary bike to begin the rebuilding process. I had lost over three inches in girth around my quad and couldn't walk without a limp.
Slowly I began to walk and then walk/jog and then actually jog. Steady progress lead me back to being able to cover 60 minutes of jogging or "slow running." However, my stride length was very short and my knee still had occasional bouts of weakness and instability.
When our ElliptiGO arrived I decided to test it before we had our athletes use it to see how it worked. The first time I used it, I was impressed that I was getting a very good cardio-vascular workout and I was only on it for 15 minutes. I increased that day by day to 30 minutes of riding, usually following 45 minutes of running. After 3-4 weeks I noticed that my running pace was getting faster without any appreciable change in effort. And, my knee was feeling much stronger.
Upon more thought, it seemed that my stride was actually longer (therefore the increased pace) and smoother. As a former researcher, I wanted to see some data to support my hypothesis. However, I had not conducted a scientific study (a study of one?) nor had set up the proper parameters. Research or not, I know that the ElliptiGO has been a major component of my increased fitness, pace and stride length. Now, it is time for our athletes to experience development using the GO for their supplemental training.
Mike Caldwell, GTC-ELITE Director/Coach