During high school track we had a bit of a joke going around. It happened at every meet we went to (and continues to this day). Wagers of snacks and food found in our travel bags were prizes for guessing when the bear would jump out and attack a runner. We would be watching a race from the stands with stop watches in hand taking splits and with near precision could accurately predict where and when the bear would begin the assault on his next victim. Typically the bruin would climb on the runners’ shoulders, clawing at arms and legs beginning somewhere on the backstretch. He would proceed to sink his claws into arms and legs that ultimately would reduce a record breaking pace to a painful crawl. Call it rigamortis. Call it a death crawl. But no one escapes this bear attack if the early race pace they set was too fast for their fitness. No one.
Sometimes a bit humorous, other times all too real and painful to watch. We all have scars from this bear’s claw marks.I knew it about 1.5 miles into the race. I went out too hard, and at an elevation of 5000’ plus was beginning to pay for my error in calculating early race pace. Pushed beyond the red line too early in a race and paid for it later. The bear claims yet another victim. So, is it a matter of working harder during training, or racing smarter earlier in the race? The answer; it depends.
That anaerobic threshold, a magical line of sorts that is typically referenced as 75 to 85% of maximum heart rate or 70 to 75% of maximum oxygen intake. It is that point where waste products are being produced faster than we can get rid of them. They start piling up like garbage spilling from a trash can. Yet how do we push ourselves, and stay ahead of our competition without passing the red line too early in a race?
Logic tells us (lab data supports this) that if we can push the AT higher, the potential for more (read faster) performance is near certainty. Push your AT by using a combination of training runs designed to create manageable amounts of the very by-products when accumulated in large amounts derails our pace and thus negatively impacts our finish. While there is no perfect formula for pushing your AT, using a combination of easy / hard days is the foundation to work from. Add in short bouts above (faster) your most recent 5k pace, recover, then go again will be a strong predictor in moving the needle. Most runners use 400/800/mile repeats to get there. Recovery time between sets is important. You want your HR and respiration rate to return to a level of “comfort” (almost) before beginning your next interval. Depending on the runner, I use individual metrics and HR Zones to determine when it is ok for them to go again. Yes speed is good in this sense and is used as the primary driver to push your AT.
Run faster than your typical race pace in short amounts, recover, go again. How many? Depends. Most runners (myself included) trend towards too many vs too few. So stop your workout short vs going too long. Also – find a relatively flat route or head to the track. I typically like to see 2 – 3x per year where we are focusing on using speed to increase AT, depending on the age, fitness and race objective of the runner I am working with.
So, get out there and use speed to improve your performance. Just make sure your early pace capitalizes on your training vs derailing your race and inviting an attack from the bear.
Until next time, enjoy the run!