Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Different Strokes

Evan recently asked me what I thought about this article in Running Times. It was written by Greg McMillan, who is on the board of the Lydiard Foundation.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I try to train within the framework of Arthur Lydiard's method. My training log is divided into the different phases of training, starting with endurance and conditioning, followed by hill training/strength work, then anaerobic conditioning and race pace awareness. An outline of how I'm approaching is phase is available here.

McMillan writes about the "classic" periodization plan as a pyramid starting with aerobic base building (endurance), followed by strength (hills/stamina), then speed and compares it to a new model that places a "speed" phase directly after base building, then follows that with a strength phase. Several coaches have used this "new" method with success, though Lydiard training is certainly more similar to the "classic" method.

The author writes that by placing the anaerobic work earlier in the training "...the goal is to raise your speed so that in the marathon workouts you are never limited by your speed, but instead you are fatigued simply by the duration of the workouts." I guess my problem with this is that I don't believe that anaerobic workouts actually make you faster, so I can't follow his trail of logic. Yes, I realize it sounds crazy so I'll repeat it another way. I don't believe that running fast intervals makes you a faster runner; Rather, I believe they serve the purpose of teaching you to run more relaxed at your existing faster paces. I think "speed" is determined by a laundry list of different factors: endurance, stamina, strength, lactate tolerance, running economy, V02 max and biomechanics to name a few. Oh, I almost forgot genetics and an athlete's natural allocation of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers. Since I disagree with his premise, I don't feel this "new" method is for me.

Another argument for keeping anaerobic training towards the end of a training cycle comes from Arthur Lydiard's books. Lydiard believed that endurance took the longest to build during a training cycle and lasted the longest, which is why it's placed first in the training. He also believed that anaerobic conditioning could be maximized in a period of 3-6 weeks, but its benefits would be short-lived when compared with endurance. I worry that doing speedwork too soon will lead to staleness, and that too much speed training too soon would actually take a toll on overall endurance and stamina by dragging down the quality of the longer runs of the week. Andrew made an insightful comment not long ago about this.

The last reason I have to offer is simply my own experience. I suffered from early burnout and a serious plateau after a season of dedicated club-type training, which usually included one tempo run that inevitably went down too fast and one day of intervals, all starting too early in the season.

What I've noticed through this training cycle is that I've gotten a huge boost from the small amount of anaerobic training I've done over the past two and a half weeks, and suddenly the paces I've struggled with are coming to me with greater ease. By saving this faster training to the end, I think I'm getting that feeling that Lydiard mentions about "putting the icing on the cake." There is certainly a psychological element at work here as well, and waiting until near the end to get on the track has worked as a great motivator when I finally got to lace up the "fast" shoes.

I'll close by echoing Greg McMillan's words from the article as far as different approaches working for different people. The coaches and athletes mentioned in the article are obviously getting good results their way, but I've found that Lydiard's traditional pyramid seems to fit me. Let's hope I can prove it come December.

Oops, I almost forgot to mention the run today, which was up to the end of hilly Sabino Canyon Road. I was able to check out the flood damage first-hand while putting in 6x1 minutes of "hill charges", which are pretty much exactly what they sound like. "Look, the road is getting steep. Ready?? Charge!!!" The legs were actually a little sore today, which I attribute to the intervals on Tuesday and the somewhat faster run on Wednesday. In retrospect I should have run slower yesterday, even though I felt good. I also got out for 5 slow miles last evening, as Angie was kind enought to drop by and watch the kids. Kiera left me some cookies to bake up, which hopefully made her trip up to our neighborhood worth it.

Training: Today, 10.25 miles, 1:11:19, 6:58 pace, w/6x1 minute hill charges at a strong effort
Yesterday pm., 5 miles, 37:28, 7:29 pace


tb1 said...

You have got to be kidding me. Without knowing it, I am following this speed first program for my own marathon training. My thought process is much more crude: The reason I can't break 4 hours is because I'm not running fast. So I better learn how to run fast. Thanks for the post Mike. Very interesting.

Mike said...

Tony, I'm sure it's different for everyone, but Lydiard was the first to admit that when Peter Snell won the gold medal in the 800 in Rome under his coaching, he was probably only the fifth "fastest" in the field that day. However, he admitted that Snell had the most endurance (which helped him get through all the preliminary races), and the most stamina (which helped him get to and hold his peak speed longer on the last lap of the final). Just food for thought. Sometimes a little speedwork, especially in the form of turnover drills and such, can help get someone out of a rut, as long as you can recover from it without compromising your longer training.

Eric said...

I've been thinking about this approach since Evan mentioned it in his comment. It purports to resolve a couple of issues I had in my first build-up. One, it reduces the length of hard, marathon specific training. I'm thinking if it were 4-6 weeks shorter, maybe I make it to the starting line in one piece. Or alternatively, I get hurt 10-14 weeks out and still have a chance to heal up and run the goal race. Two, it gets me 'up to speed' right away, so I don't have the cramping shins and poor mechanics at six minute mile pace right at the start of the marathon prep work.

It would be a challenge to do this kind of work in ND in January, anyway, so that may put me of trying it until fall 2007, following my Summer of 10k. We'll see...

Nice write up. Thanks, Mike.

tb1 said...

I agree with you Mike, but since I didn't know all that much about how to train for endurance events and then tried to do a marathon at a "faster than training" pace, I bonked hard. Since I have been doing the speed work early in my training right now, I actually have an improved running economy to sustain a faster pace when I do a longer run. I realize that I now have to sustain the faster pace at longer distances. But I can feel improvement each time I increase the distance of my longer runs. And my runs are becoming higher quality runs i.e., longer, faster, not as much time spent on the road. Keep in mind that I've gone from 25 mpw to 33 to 41 over the last 2.5 years. I've got so much to learn not just about training, but about my ability. Your blog, and others, give me hope to improve my times.

Mark said...

Thanks for posting the article link along with your analysis.

Your post is true to the heart of a running blog-awesome-everyone shares and learns exponentially from real people experiences without having to wait for a book or magazine.

Important note on the Kenyans is they train hard and have a different mentality and philosophy. So, it's interesting to see this work for Americans.

I recall a training run I did shoulder to shoulder with Kelly Liljeblad Keane from Hopkinton to Cleveland Circle with the BAA. We were hammerin 6:00s in a build up to Boston and all cylinders were firing. I PRd that year and will definately take a closer look at this article.

angie's pink fuzzy said...

who can resist Kiera's cookies, cute kids to keep Ash company and computer access??? Oh yeah, and letting a fellow runner get some run time in :)

Anonymous said...

I am following your blog from Austria (so sorry, for my bad English). I have to correct McMillan in one point: This kind of training is very well known in America. Every runner, who follows the "marathon training plan A" ("Running Formula") from Jack Daniels does this kind of training. I have a good experience whith this plan on a different level than you (1:20:30 HM). I developed speed first (after an endurance phase) and now I am at the end of the phase, that trains to endure that speed. There is no increase in my speed while training in the second endurance phase. The longer runs just became easier. The only difference to McMillan is, that this second phase lasts up to 12 weeks (including 2 weeks of tapering).
The speedwork is limited to short repetitions, so that lactate is not accumulated in an extended way.
Just 2 cents from an Austrian runner

Anonymous said...

Mike, I thought your analysis of the two different training methods was excellent. I also read the article when it came out and my concern is that by putting the anaerobic work at the front end, it may provide for being able to run the endurance work at a faster pace, but I would fear that by running that endurance work at a faster pace you would have a greater risk of an injury. I would also worry that by doing the speed work early, that some of the speed edge would be lost over the course of the subsiquent endurance training and you would actually come out the other end with less speed. It's an interesting variation though.

evan said...

Mike et al, just a quick comment to say thanks for the post on the question I left. Will comment at more length later ... busy times, busy day.