Monday, December 12, 2005

Aerobic Conditioning

The pursuit of becoming fit, fitter, the fittest in marathon training is known as aerobic conditioning. Lydiard's success in his program all hinged upon his runners being so fit, they could run "tirelessly". Lydiard started the jogging phenomenon, he was attributed the father of long slow distance (a term that actually does not describe Lydiard), and was known to have a distaste for mixing phases. If you were doing speed without finishing your conditioning phase, he'd have you stop the speed or stop the conditioning. He believed that many runners had training "imbalances" that led to less than optimum performances when it mattered.

Yet, when I go on the internet and look for Lydiard, I see many people focusing on the later phases exclusive of the aerobic conditioning phase. Hills/Speed/Coordination/Taper. 10 weeks + 2 to taper. Add 8 weeks of a "build-up" and a pretty Lydiard-style program exists. Not much is said about the aerobic conditioning phase except in the context of getting through it to the next phase. However, if you read Lydiard - the words - he talks the most about developing the runner's aerobic capacity to exercise. He describes key physiological changes and developments. He mentions the need for voluminous running and if you actually sit down and do the math, you're out on the road almost 20 hours per week. It's a job in itself.

The error comes when you just read the schedules. It takes two words to describe the appropriate conditioning phase: 'run far' or 'run often' or 'run early' or 'run again'. But when you read the schedules for the final 10 weeks, there's technique, repeats, course descriptions, time trials - you name it. Grasping the whole program takes a little work and time becomes short. But the benefits derived from the last 10 weeks are only as good as the conditioning. This seems to be easier said than understood. Everybody has a level of conditioning from the years spent running - long or short. Put some speedwork to this level and improvement materializes. But this is not Lydiard. Lydiard wants the athlete to optimize the aerobic conditioning of the body. And I think this aspect of the program - the key aspect - is ignored, minimized, diluted, or rationalized away too often.

You don't get immediate improvement when you start aerobic conditioning. In my case, I've slowed down to avoid muscle and skeletal injury. My friend Marc says it must be like boot camp: "It breaks you down and then builds you up." The success I have found in my first 6 weeks of this program have come from pressing on when it would be easier to drop back; from hitting the new limits in miles; from showing myself I am capable of consistency with a little planning; and from rolling out of bed after a 22 miler and putting in 15.5 miles without too much trouble and on legs that feel better with each passing week. Last year, I could run my 20 milers over the hills of Eastport at 7:00 per mile. But that was at 50 miles per week. With the increase in miles, my times have slowed. I must have faith and patience that the aerobic development is taking place and the results will be my reward. Mike once posted that "100mpw is Hard". He is very right and I think that post is worth reading again.

What aerobic conditioning is:

1) Running high mileage - at the expense of pace. Slow down and develop the capacity to train over long distances for long periods of time. Build, build, build. Patience.
2) Running high mileage for a long period of time. If this "phase" is the "long as possible" phase, why do we allocate less time to it than speed? Long bouts of high mileage running will build the necessary stamina needed to excel. Multiple peaks serve to carve out 10 good weeks of aerobic conditioning per cycle. Lydiard always crowed about his runners performing when it mattered and occasionally pointed out their mediocre performances when they were in the throes of aerobic conditioning.
3) Increasing the pace that can be held for an hour (the steady state so-called). This pace increases from aerobic development not from smokin' 440's. (The 440's have a different function.) The more volume that is run, the greater the aerobic pace that can be handled.
4) Running close to the 'steady state' pace. Faster paced running - but all aerobic. If you can't hold the pace for an hour than it's too fast. Running at this pace stimulates increased aerobic development even greater than slow paced running.
5) Finally, aerobic conditioning is about gathering, transporting, and using oxygen in order to metabolize fuel. It's our lungs, blood, and muscles. The system to keep the oxygen flowing. This is why we want to fatigue our aerobic capacity when we train and not our muscles or tendons/bands/ligaments/joints etc. The pitfalls of high mileage running lie in the injury risk to our muscular/skeletal system. If this system fails us, we fail to reach the point of aerobic fatigue - the point when we are truly optimizing our training by zeroing in on the proper system. This is the main reason for slowing the pace down until the muscles can handle the mileage, for avoiding speed or hard hills, or too hard race efforts. We must avoid limiting our ability to stress the aerobic system.

Finally aerobic conditioning is not boring. It may not be as glamourous as running in circles on an indoor track, nor does it make for great stories of monster hills attacked and conquered, or races where we smoked the competition. Instead it is hard work that has the following components:

* Pace variation day to day
* Tempo running
* Fartlek training
* Leg Speed training (avoiding lactic acid buildup)
* Time trials (under the steady state)
* Supplemental jogging to keep blood flowing (junk miles some call it)
* High mileage (over 100)

I am new to this myself - all of this is from my reading and conviction that this first Lydiard phase is the greatest component of all - the limiting factor that all other training rests on. If it minimized, we miss great opportunity in achievement. Don't you want to *know* just how good we can get?

Knowing my propensity for over-excitement and resulting injury, when I wrote out my weekly plan for two years, it was an outline who's purpose was to build in slow progression. I remember when I wrote it out a few weeks ago I thought to myself that I was being overly cautious. I know now that I was not. So far the build up has been slow and appropriate. I reached 103 miles last week in singles and I feel great. I have weathered some soreness in about every muscle and Motrin is my new best friend. Yet, by slowing down I have been able to continue. This is amazing, wonderful, and very motivating. This week I introduce the supplemental jogging at lunch. It consists of 1 hour jogging (30 minutes out and 30 minutes back) slower than the core workouts. It's purpose is therapeutic. It increases bloodflow which relieves cramping and soreness. It also provides additional aerobic benefit. Today, was my first "double" in a long while and it felt great. Just like an hour massage. The full supplemental goal will be maximum of 6 sessions. This will be built up over the next three weeks. This week I will add 2 sessions (today and Thursday), next week add another 2, and finally 2 more the 3rd week.

You'll have noticed that my running so far hasn't included any of the varying components listed above. That is because the addition of each component (or inclusion I should say since it doesn't increase the mileage except for the supplemental) requires time in order to avoid injury. Each 2 week cycle will see additional components included and I will share this plan in the future.

Training last week: 103.4 miles. Wonderful long run with Steph and Mike on snow covered roads in Perry. Please see Mike's blog for a rundown and photos.

This week:

Monday 15.5 miles AM (2:32:37) completed
6.4 miles PM (58:59) completed

Tuesday 10 miles
Wed 15 miles
Thu 12 miles AM
~1 hour jog PM
Fri 18 miles
Sat 10 miles
Sun 22 miles


Blogger Duncan Larkin said...

Andrew, well put. Great posting. You, Mike, and Paul should ghost-write Lydiard's next book. My big takeaway from the great man is the base phase. Just run and run and run and run..SLOW!!!!

12/12/2005 10:48 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Yes, great post indeed. I especially enjoyed the part about Lydiard's conditioning not being boring. I often wish that my conditioning phase were longer than the 12 weeks I took so that I could do more of the fartlek/time trial/leg speed elements. I'm glad to hear about your lunch run, but I personally don't remember any hour long run feeling like a massage (though I wish I did)! You are definitely laying the groundwork to staying injury-free, keep up the great work.

12/13/2005 1:13 PM  
Blogger robtherunner said...

Thanks for the clarity in explaining some of the elements of the Lydiard program. I plan on doing some reading over my Christmas break and starting the base phase the first week of January. If you have any advice feel free to explain away.

12/13/2005 6:59 PM  

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