Note - as always, please contribute and call me out when you think you smell BS. Sometimes I miswrite, sometimes I assume too much, and even on rare occasion I'm just plain wrong! ; ^ )
My hope is that most people are well on their way with their fair weather training plans. However, sometimes one needs to revisit exactly what their training goals are.....or even if they have any. Here I hope to open a discussion about the benefits and pitfalls of "easy" training.
As I've said many many times, there is a huge benefit to training less intensely. By "less intensely" I mean something that is in Friel's zones 1 and 2. Something that you can do for a long period of time and comfortably carry on a conversation. For running this is typically at 65%-80% of your max HR.
This benefit is that it develops our aerobic energy system, something that is of crucial importance for ANY race longer than 1 minute (YES, ONE MINUTE!!!!). Training at this level will cause physical changes to occur in your body that will simply allow you to go farther and faster.
However, there is one big catch. Training slow doen't really give you any more benefits than training fast does. In other words, a 1/2 hour easy running is no more beneficial than a 1/2 hour fast. So then why do it?
This is the part where I become a broken record: YOU TRAIN SLOW SO THAT YOU CAN TRAIN MORE.
The difference isn't between running a 1/2 hour hard or a 1/2 hour easy. It's between running a 1/2 hour hard or running 1 to 1 1/2 hours easy. For long term improvements, inevitably the MORE approach is going to yiled greater results. This doesn't mean that you should do nothing but easy training 4 weeks out from a sprint triathlon championship race. There is certainly a place for hard training, especially as the important races get near. What it means is that you should always strive for a high training volume on a year to year basis.
SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR TRIATHLETES:
One problem that triathletes run into is that when balancing the training between three disciplines, only the very very serious athletes will be willing to put in the training time to maximize their potential. In otherwords, if YOU did nothing but easy training for 6 months straight, you would probably hit a point where you simply run out of available training time. That point might be 10 hours, it might be 15 hours, it might be 25 hours......but that point will be reached. What happens then?
My recommendation is FIRST strive to get to that point. Gradually increase your mileage by 10% every 1-3 weeks with a goal of maximizing your training volume. Do that until you get to a point where you simply won't train any more. THEN start adding in intensity giving priority 1st to 20-40 minute tempo runs at ~90% max HR or longer, slightly slower tempo runs (especially if training for longer races), then to short intervals with long rests and hills.
Again, I'm refering to a focus throughout most of the year. As important races near, your focus may change and you'd likely want to shift everything toward more harder efforts.
A POINT SYSTEM:
I addmitedly am stealing this part from Jack Daniels, but have simplified it here so that it's easy to remember. Again, I'd love to hear comments or different approaches peopel use.
Each hour easy counts as.....1 hour easy.
Each hour at 1 hour race pace (plus 15 seconds a mile) = 2 hours easy.
Each hour at 1 hour race pace = 3 hours easy.
Each hour at V02max (11 minute race pace....10-20 seconds faster than 5k pace for most) = 5 hours easy
Each hour at 5 minute race pace (HARD!) = 7 hours easy
So, for example, if you have maxed out your run training at 3 hours a week and you are ready to take another 10% jump in your training, instead of going to 3.3 hours you could add in a tempo run. A 20 minute tempo run = 60 minutes of easy running (intesity wise), so 2.3 hours of easy running plus a 20 minute tempo run is roughly equivalent to a 3.3 hour week. You can now keep this 20 minute tempo run and gradually increase your weekly mileage until you build back up to 3 hrs a week. Then....increase you tempo run again. Etc. Eventually you may get to a point where a 3hr week includes 40 minutes of tempo, a 1 hr tempo +15, and a 90 minute long run. It's not ideal......but you do get to see your family.
Right now this point system seems to be working well for one of my athletes. He runs his own investment business and has picked up a lot of big clients at the same time his assistant got called in for 5 weeks of jury duty. His TOTAL weekly training gets cut in half some weeks. On those weeks I have him do a lot of cruise intervals (tempo pace) to make up for all the training that he isn't able to put in. So far, so good.
What I descibed above is merely one way to look at training. Every situation is unique and there is no way that someone could possibly write a generic fail safe cookie cutter program for all to follow in just one short post. I mainly throw it out there to hope that it will spark a training discussion. Sometimes I get flamed by people who don't know what they are talking about, but other times flaws in my thought process are exposed. I'm always learning.
NEVER FORGET - There really is no substitute for high volume training, but there are work arounds that may get you 90% there and enjoy a healthy life outside of training.
-----------------------------Baron Von Speedypants
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