Sunday, April 28, 2013

Grey is Okay

Does anaerobic running erode aerobic fitness?

Back in 2007 I wrote 'Guilty of being grey' — I confessed to being a 'grey runner' who didn't run black and white workouts (either very hard or very easy). Maffetone training is grey running, so how can it be superior to black and white training? I think, for 80% of the population, Maffetone training is the best method to improve (run faster) and stay healthy.

Many elite runners swear by black and white training, so why wouldn't a 'cut-down' version of this work for the average weekend warrior? I think the answer lies in the theory that regular lactic acid production (over time) somehow erodes aerobic fitness. There's a lot of anecdotal evidence of this — one famous 13-page thread on had many examples of runners who were successful because they didn't do anaerobic interval training. Bob Hodge (2:12 marathoner) said "Most folk's never approach the pinnacle of consistent running that they can handle, therefore the intervals become 'premature withdrawals' from the bank of mileage base they try to build." Other runners reported early season PBs after a winter of steady base-building, then becoming excited and introducing interval training (to further improve their speed), only to have performances paradoxically tail off over the racing season.

I think we hobby joggers need to remember that elite distance runners are typically doing a LOT of aerobic running. Those on mixed running programmes of the type popularised by Pat Clohessy and Chris Wardlaw are running upwards of 160 kilometres per week. Less than 5% of this mileage would be lactic acid producing anaerobic running. I have a theory that the large amount of aerobic running they do is sufficient support to ward off any erosion of aerobic fitness. A 'cut down' version of this mixed training would have me doing less than 3k of interval-type training each week. Even so, would the other 57k of aerobic running be sufficient support for this breathless pain? More to the point, if all my weekly running was aerobic, as it is now (with some very short sprints and drills), would my improved fitness produce faster racing? Distance races of 5k or more, after all, are mostly reliant on aerobic energy. I found another page that takes the view that traditional 'hard/easy' training is not the best method — Re-Thinking The Hard-Easy Myth, which promotes the idea that regular repeatable daily running is the best way to develop an athlete's oxygen uptake. Pretty much Maffetone heart-rate training, but running by feel. Heart-rate monitors would come in handy to stop these kids from turning some workouts into races! In the Letsrun thread I mentioned earlier, 'dwayne pipe' recalled seeing the Lasse Viren documentary 'Running is Your Life' (on Youtube in Finnish!), in which Viren ran much of his 200 miles per week "with a heart rate in the 120's, very very slow, and he would run progressively slower if his rate continued to rise." A predecessor of Maffetone?

 10k trail ends at the grass track for short sprints on grass


Blogger Janene said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:55 pm  
Blogger Jog Blog said...

Interesting post Ewen. I think it comes down to what your running goal is. Lots of aerobic work will increase your speed but not as much as speed/anaerobic work. The other thing is that I don't think as runners we can have it all at once in that if you are doing lots of aerobic kms as you would be if you were training for a marathon or an ultra then doing anaerobic training may increase your marathon/ultra speed but it is more than likely to (almost always) be off a fatigued base and so won't be a patch on the speed increase or quality you'd get if you're doing short aerobic training a la 10km goal race training combined with anaerobic training.So .... my basic point is: choose your running goal and tailor both your aerobic and anaerobic training to suit. Make sense?

6:42 pm  
Blogger Ewen said...

Thanks Liz. My running goal is to race a fast 5k (fast for me). This page says that the aerobic contribution in a 3000m race is [approx] 86% for male runners and 94% for females. My 5k race time is over twice as long as for the runners in the study, so I'd presume my aerobic requirement in a 5k race is 95% or more.

So I see maximising my aerobic ability as the most important requirement for me to race a fast 5k. I don't want to be running with the ongoing fatigue of a marathon/ultra runnner, hence my liking of Jack Farrell's article about the hard/easy myth. I plan to run (more or less) the same distance each day, starting with 11k (1 hour+ for me) and perhaps increasing that (if I'm recovering day to day and staying healthy) to around 14k.

2:30 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very interesting, though I think a lot of the examples quoted in the Lets Run thread probably involved steady paced running at a pace faster than Maff pace.

I think there is very little doubt that maximizing the pace at which you can remove lactate as fast as you produce it is the key to success over distances from 5K to marathon (though for marathon you also need to maximise fat utilization). It is also clear that at least over a time scale of 6-8 weeks, aerobic capacity can be increased by either sub-lactate threshold running, or by high intensity intervals. For the recreational athlete, the sub-lactate approach is probably the surest path to success but might not be the most time-efficient.

As you might have guessed from our recent discussions, I am at present intrigued by the possibility that during Hadd’s 25 x 200/200 sessions (and perhaps also in Zatopek’s legendary 50x400 interval sessions) the recovery period might be enough to allow the dissipation of the excess lactate generated during the fairly brief effort epoch. Thus, you get transient surges of oxygen deprivation that would be expected to create a strong stimulus to development of capillaries and mitochondrial enzymes while avoiding a potentially harmful accumulation of acidity. I am currently doing my own modification of Hadd’s 25x200/200 twice a week with a recovery interval that is easy enough to allow a good level of recovery before each effort epoch. I find that this session is actually less stressful than a 50 minute sub LT session, but I suspect it might be providing at least as much aerobic development as a sub-LT session. I also find that it is an enjoyable session. However it will be another month or two before I have the real proof of the pudding.

8:32 am  
Blogger Scott Brown said...

Great points! You've convinced me. I don't think anyone who hasn't burnt out on too much anaerobic training, stopped and come back to faster times with Maffetone type training, would argue with you!

9:30 am  
Blogger Jason Montfort said...

Think you got it in one: "I have a theory that the large amount of aerobic running they do is sufficient support to ward off any erosion of aerobic fitness"

12:25 pm  
Blogger Ewen said...

Canute, yes, quite a few of them quoted steady running at a minute per mile or so slower than race pace. I'll be interested to see how you go with the 'Hadd' 200/200s as a method to improve aerobic capacity.

Thanks Scott. It was also my own experience when doing distinct winter cross country / summer track seasons back in the '80s. I'd run about 10:25 for my first 3000 of the track season (after steady winter running), pile on the intervals and finish the season struggling to run 10:50.

Thanks Jason.

8:18 pm  
Blogger Janene said...

Interesting post ET. One can do plenty of speed work that isn't 'anaerobic' (that word is such a misnomer with exercise!). Intervals are great for boosting aerobic capacity as long as they are paced appropriately. Those race percentages you quote would represent any surges in the race and the sprint finish, when more fibres need to be recruited for speed. The bulk of the run is all about a BIG aerobic engine. It needs building if it's going to have the capacity you need to decrease your 5km times. Go for dark grey ;-).

8:34 pm  
Blogger Grellan said...

Another interesting post Ewen. While my running has been primarily sub MAFF, now that I am doing specific marathon training I do steady runs that exceed MAFF and I don't think I would get my best result without training above MAFF - my speedwork is predominantly long intervals at Marathon and HM Pace, which can take my Hr well above MAFF.

8:16 am  
Blogger Ewen said...

Thanks Janene. Agree with you re the divide between aerobic and anaerobic. 'Fully aerobic' is probably 6-hour ultra pace. The lactate curve is very gradual, so I guess for simplicity's sake I'd describe anaerobic as the point where the lactate curve begins to steepen markedly. What I'm curious about is whether lactate production at that effort (say, hard tempo pace) has a negative effect on aerobic base. Hence my inclination to experiment with the arbitrary MAF upper HR limit. However, I guess some training races will drift into dark grey, black if I'm racing you ;-)

Interesting re your current training Grellan. You have a big aerobic base so I doubt if you'd lose much (if any) of that by running marathon and HM paced intervals. The only possible negative is the theory that a lot of running at higher HRs trains the body to burn sugar rather than fat.

4:27 pm  
Blogger Grellan said...

Funny you should say that Ewen as I am curently on a low Carb imtermittent fasting diet (buring fat all day), which is not (negatively) affecting my training - then again I have concluded that the body doesn't need that much sugar to replenish the glycogen stores.

8:23 am  
Blogger Black Knight said...

200 miles per week: unbelievable and at that time they didn't have all the modern items of today (shoes, shirts, garmin, drinks, ecc.).
Interesting post. About myself, I have always found difficult to stick to a program because of the possible injures after tough workouts/races or too high mileage.

6:41 pm  
Blogger Ewen said...

Grellan, I saw a doco on that last week - the 5:2 diet (5 days normal eating, 2 at 600 cals/day). In the 'old days' people ran marathons on stored glycogen (and fat) so no reason why it wouldn't work now.

Stefano, in the film about Viren it was amazing to watch him running along easily in 'poor' shoes, but most of his runs were on dirt roads through the forest (or on snow!).

9:28 am  

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