Wednesday, January 31, 2007

From A to B

I spent the last four miles of my run this morning thinking about this post by Mystery Coach. The post shows a model illustrating how the various muscle fibers are recruited over the course of a run, and how both the length of the run and the intensity affects the number of fibers that are activated and conditioned. Here's a refresher on the model, as posted by the coach:

"Below is the model which represents one dozen muscle fibers in your leg, they are stacked in five levels. The five levels represent the effort required to recruit the fibers to do work (run), "A level" being the easiest to recruit and "E level" the most difficult. The individual fibers have different endurance levels which vary depending on how well your training program is designed. After the model are some assigned values which represent an average runner.
The model:


Fibers 10 - 12 Low endurance worth 2 miles
Fibers 7 - 9 Medium endurance worth 4 miles
Fibers 1 - 6 High endurance worth 10 miles

Note that even though two fibers have the same endurance (example: fiber #1 and #6), it will require much greater effort to use the fiber on the next level up (#6 on level B)."

The coach mentioned once that he believed American runners probably had the best conditioned slower twitch fibers (this is not a compliment as the over-conditioning of these lower fibers comes at the expense of not doing enough for the higher number fibers), and a look at many of my 8-10 milers over the past month without any real emphasis on pace shows me spending quite a bit of time running over the same roads while working the same lower muscle fibers. Today I tried to jump up to that second row of fibers (B), and while I was still on the same roads I found myself circling for more laps than usual.

For some reason the Garmin went haywire during my first two three mile loops, but a check of the elapsed time showed that I had averaged somewhere between 6:40 and 6:45 pace. This was encouraging after noticing how slowly I was crawling during the first mile. The watch finally synched up for the last 8 miles, and while I had no problems getting to 10 I definitely could feel the effort of the last four miles. I could still move at the same speed, but I definitely needed to focus more to keep up the momentum. It seems that fibers 6-8 are still a bit sleepy, though it was nice to wake them up. Heck, number 9 might have even joined the party at the end.

By the time I reached the garage I'd averaged 6:37 pace for the last 8 and 6:41 pace overall. I'd like to think that in a few weeks I'll feel the same or better, but with paces closer to 6:30 per mile. Tomorrow will be an easier effort in order to be ready for my triumphant (ha!) return to the back to back workouts I enjoyed so much during my marathon build. The coach and I feel these workouts were the key to me building stamina, which is something my last two mile splits during the 10K Sunday indicate I'm in need of.

Training: 14.6 miles, 1:37:05, 6:41 pace


Thomas said...

That's funny. I was just looking at that very same post you've linked to.

Don't get me wrong on the next sentence. 8 miles at 6:37 pace does not sound too impressive compared to some workouts you have done in the recent past. Heck, even I'm coming close to those paces on my fastest runs these days (albeit without running 6 miles beforehand). Why is this such a special stamina workout?

Mike said...

Hey Thomas, sorry to hear about the head injury (I'm with Canada Mike, that game will kill you). Today wasn't a workout day or a stamina day, it was just a 14 miler at a moderate pace after the exchange workout yesterday. The point I was trying to make is that by staying out for 14 miles at 6:40 pace I was hopefully going beyond conditioning the lower-numbered fibers (1-4) that already have quite a bit of endurance and hitting 5-8, which tend to get ignored with a lot of runs of 8-10 miles around 6:50 pace.

When I mentioned building stamina I was talking about my back to back workouts on Friday and Saturday, not my measly run of 1:37 today. Friday is 10-12 miles with 7 miles at 6:20 pace and Saturday is 10 miles at 6:45 pace followed by 3 at 6:20 pace (plus whatever I can manage before and after for warm up and cool down. Some of these back to back days might be something to think about for an aspiring ultra runner like yourself.

I know the workouts for the weekend don't seem that back-breaking, but the purpose is more to maintain my endurance and improve my stamina aerobically rather than really flog myself. More anaerobic will take care of the flogging soon enough.

Abadabajev said...

This model has been out in public for a very long time and is exciting to interpret but I do not trust the contents of it. If this model was accurate and reliable, the Japanese runners would have won every marathon everywhere on the globe.

This would imply that there would be no dominant country in the sport of long distance running because this model would have been publicly available to every country.

This would also imply that desire, motivation, talent, environment, good coaches are simply irrelevant.

Don’t get me wrong here. The Japanese are excellent long distance runners but it requires more than activating 1-12 via 5 stages.

The Bulgarian weightlifters have dominated the sport since the early 80's. Population 10 million. Why? All my work is based on their model.

Anonymous said...


I don't know that it's fair to judge a system of training solely by the performance of a particular group of runners who use it. Any training system is going to be individualized to the athlete anyway, and in my opinion, there is more than one effective approach to training. It ain't the training alone that makes the East Africans faster runners. (Although Lydiard and a lot of other people will probably disagree with me on that.)

I'm also very skeptical about the whole fiber recruitment explanation... (as I'm a very skeptical person in general and like to see articles and research when it comes to claims about the workings of human physiology)

However, I'm willing to accept it as a framework to help me understand how to make myself a better athlete. If you were interested in physiology, for example, then you'd be much better served picking up a book by Tim Noakes than you would by reading a book by Lydiard... But if you're interested in what training to do to produce results, then you put the physiology book down and perhaps read the Lydiard book.

-Interested observer

Mike said...

All I really know about the Japanese school of marathoning comes from discussions with Nobby Hashizume. From what I've heard, they advocate a great deal of slow running, including over-distance runs of 30 miles or more and even walking. While a long enough run would eventually work all the muscle fibers, it seems the coach's view focuses more on training all the fibers as expediently as possible (again with the optimum, not maximum).

Abadabajev, I wish it were as easy as you make the model sound. In my case the faster twitch muscles were fairly unpredictable, and figuring out the proper way to activate and condition them while still recovering adequately and not overtraining took constant adjustments and tweaking (like the coach mentioned, my program changed at least 8 times).

I think the model presented (and any model in that case) is in essence only a rough blueprint or a tool, and its success or failure is determined by how it is implemented. I like the model because I feel it exemplifies what Lydiard was trying to get across- that training all of the systems is important in order to maximize performance, and it creates a template to evaluate just what system is being worked during each run.

All this being said, I wouldn't go so far as to say a biopsy of a section of my quadricep muscle would present 12 individual muscle fibers conveniently labeled 1-12 in different colors (though that would be quite cool), but thinking of things this way does help me visualize the effects of my training.

Michael said...

Either way, good run today Mike. I think it is important to mix up the paces, not every run (excluding workouts) should be at an easy pace... well done.

Mystery Coach said...

Abadabajev, If you go back to the original post on the model ( Maybe Mike can link to it), you are correct that the model has been around a long time. The Italians use it (I quoted Renato Canova explanation of it). The model is not a training system it is a "model" to help coaches and runners under stand how the different types of training fit together.

If you understood the model totally you would see why the Japanese do not totally dominate. Arthur understood the model as shown by this quote:

In Japan, you’ve done very well in conditioning of the athletes with the marathon type training, but in many ways this is overcentuated. It doesn’t matter what exercise we get involved in; whether it’s cycling or lifting weights or swimming or running; we can do too much or too little of any exercise, we can do it too fast or not fast enough, we can do it on the right time or the wrong time. This is basically what training is about."

So with the "model" coaching is more important, discipline is more important ( you must build each level with the proper intensity at the proper time), talent is important ( runners respond to workouts in different ways ).

One thing I'm not going to do is argue about the model ( If I wanted to do that I would post at

I'll write another post soon to clarify on how the model works in evaluating workouts which in turn clarifies what tool (type of training) is needed to improve.

I'll end this post with a quote by Renato Canova on how I feel on one "exact" system:

"And my impression is that normally American coaches have no flexibility. It's like in Italy — this is the system, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."

Bob said...

Hi Mike

I just wanted to say I learn more from reading your blog then any other pure running blog out there. Thanks for taking the time to publish it.

Mike said...

Good comments here. Bob, I'm glad you enjoy the blog. I can take credit for some of the entertainment it provides, but I give credit to Mystery Coach and Arthur Lydiard when someone actually learns something here.

Here is a link to the original post by the coach (as requested).

Michael, I feel running more varied paces during this last build was a big reason I was able to improve my time at C.I.M.. I'm glad to hear your achilles is improving, and I really enjoyed the prose in this recent post by you.