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
Mike Caldwell is the Director and one of the coaches for ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE. For more on Mike please visit his page on this website.