Now, before you guys get all soft on me and start commenting about how well I'm doing, please note the use of the words "having to". Yes. At this point the lack of speed is self imposed. I thought I would rehash some physiology 101 to explain.
Somewhere in my pile o' crap I have the book "Advanced Marathoning" by Pete Pfitzinger. Yes. The Pfitzinger who developed the Pfitzinger training plans. By the way - if you are serious about running, I would highly recommend that book. The book is not a motivational book. It is about why you do certain things in certain order when training. In short, it's the scientific justification for a structured training plan.
The first chapter of the book discusses the how and why of periodization. The upshot is for us to work like well oiled machines in a race environment, our muscles need to be able to process the fuel that we provide for an extended length of time. If everything is running okay, and we are burning fuel at a sustainable rate, our cells are able to breakdown carbohydrates and rid themselves of waste products in perfect harmony. This is known as the aerobic (requiring oxygen) cycle. If we are unable to provide oxygen to cells fast enough, our muscles use a different path to produce fuel - the anaerobic (without oxygen) cycle. This form of respiration is not as efficient as the aerobic cycle - creating more waste product in the form of hydrogen ions. At some point, our body's inability to flush these waste products causes a bunch of other biochemical processes to occur. We (first) mentally shut down, and eventually physically shut down. This is the infamous "wall" that we all either read about or have experienced.
The real key then is to spend as much training time as possible in the aerobic zone - getting our bodies to efficiently use oxygen for long periods of time. If we spend too much time in the anaerobic zone while training, we actually need to spend more time recovering and less time training.
So - how do we know if we are training in the proper zone? Well, the technical way is to use a device that tests blood acidity during exercise:
This is typically done by taking blood samples at certain points in time during exercise. Then a graph is constructed showing blood acidity versus heart rate:
Then, one can train at the ideal heart rate - right where blood acidity is at 2 mmol/ml. Training at this level maximizes aerobic conditioning.(*)
Well, most of us don't have a Lactate Pro analyzer, nor do we have a desire to get lanced every 10 minutes while training for an hour. But, what we do have is a heart rate monitor. When data is generalized over the population, it turns out that the anaerobic/lactate threshold for most of us occurs right around a heart rate of 83% of max. So, with your handy dandy Garmin, you set the appropriate heart rate range to beep when you reach this range. Now you are outfit to train efficiently in your aerobic zone, and train efficiently when your plan calls for LT training!
So back to my "problem". Right now, my Garmin starts beeping at me as I pass from aerobic to anaerobic zone. Unfortunately, that beeping occurs whenever a small incline is thrown into the mix, or I run at a decent pace for about half a mile, or .. or.. or. You get the idea. I'm not paying attention to my pace during a run. I'm just waiting for a beep, slowing down, and then speeding up again when my heart rate is back under control. And you know what? Each time I do six miles, I'm trimming a minute or two off my elapsed time. Yes. I think I'll be back to normal soon. As long as I don't run out of patience along the way.
Face it. We can all run a 7:30 mile pace. If you're like me, you can run at that pace for 50 yards. If you're aerobically fit, you can do it for 26.2 miles...
(*) This was the approach that was used by my daughter's and son's rowing coach to aerobically train. The end result was a rowing scholarship for my daughter and International racing for my son. This was also the approach the coach used to win an Olympic Gold in 1996 and a Silver in 2000.
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