Saturday, February 03, 2007

Activating and Conditioning

"The adaptation of any given muscle to endurance activity is likely to be proportional to how much that muscle is used. To ensure that as many fibers as possible within a muscle are used, there must be an adequate combination of intensity and duration."

Peter Snell PhD

So exactly what is the adequate combination of intensity and duration?

Let's look at the two ways almost all the fibers in a muscle can be activated. One way is to do a very high load activity such as sprinting all out up a very short steep hill. To generate the force to get up the hill all the fibers have to activated. A second method would be running a 50 mile run that recruits a few fibers and keep going until they fatigue and the next set of fibers take over until they fatigue and continuing until all the fibers have been used. These are the two extremes of getting to all the fibers. Between those two points are a number of paces and distances that will get to all the fibers. Let's look at a representative profile of an average 2:47 marathoner (From Peter Janssen M.D.'s Lactate Tables):

7:00 mile pace 1.5mM lactate 91% Marathon Pace
6:36 2.0mM lactate 97% Marathon Pace
6:22 2.5mM lactate 100% Marathon Pace
6:10 3.0mM lactate 103% Marathon Pace
6:00 4.0mM lactate 106% Marathon Pace

The exact paces and lactate levels are not the important point here, the rate of change is the critical point. Note that decreasing your pace by 24 seconds (from 7:00 to 6:36) raises your lactate by .5mM yet dropping it 10 seconds (from 6:10 to 6:00) raises it 1.0mM. The very next step (6:00 to 5:50) might find it raised by 2.0mM. At some point between 7:00 - 6:36 pace is what Arthur called the maximum steady state. When Arthur referred to "Marathon" training it had as much to do with this pace of running (91%-97% marathon pace) as it did with the length of the runs (20 plus miles). His greatest pupil Peter Snell ran his 10 - 22 mile runs in this pace range (91%-97% marathon pace). This pace in this range is where the mitochondria can process lactate at a high rate with out diffusing it into the blood.

Why is this pace and duration important? As pointed out in the two ways to activate fibers you could do it by running 50 miles slowly (a method that the Japanese marathoners employ) but it is going to take you 6-7 hours of running which is fine if you are a professional runner. A 2 hour run in this pace rage (91%-97) will get to almost all the fibers like the 50 mile run will.

A quick look at the model at this point:


Let's say you want to run that 2:47 marathon where do you start? Pace or distance first. This is where the model will help you visualize on how to balance between pace and distance. If you have been running a work out like 6-7 miles at 6:22 pace (marathon pace)it will get the early fibers (1-5) in great condition (with big mitochondria which process lactate efficiently for fuel) but is not long enough to get to fibers 6-12. Adding an easy longer and longer run is one way to activate the later fibers but the only way to maximize their condition (so they develop big mitochondria and process lactate) is to gradually bring down that pace of the long run toward marathon pace. It is not enough to run repeat miles at marathon pace and just add a 3 hour easy run. What you have done there is conditioned fibers 1-5 (good processing rate) and activated fibers 6-12 but not improved their processing rate and efficiency.

As you activate fibers either through speed or distance they are conditioned in the method that you activate them. Run intervals hard to activate all the fibers they become very good at high energy output but not efficient with fuel. Activate them by running very long (and slow) they become very efficient with fuel but not good at high energy output and lactate processing. Arthur figured out by trial and error that running around marathon pace for long periods is the most effective in activating and conditioning.

In real world training how do you evaluate what is going on? A single day evaluation falls into the old saying "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." A single workout or test can give misleading results. The runner gets psyched up for one day and gives an inflated result. This is where the back to back evaluations come in. First a steady 7 mile run at about marathon pace ( the present condition not the goal, starting about 60 second slower than 5K pace) then the next day a progressive run of 10 miles at 91% marathon pace then 3 or more miles at marathon pace. If you can not run under control with the back to backs it indicates your pace is too fast. The next week must be slower (add 15 seconds per mile). As fibers become more efficient the load becomes easier the second day and you will be able to run further and faster with less stress.


Andrew said...

A very good explanation, thank you. This post put a few things together for me.

Mike said...

The coach had me do the back to back workouts mentioned here today and yesterday. What was probably the most beneficial was also the most humbling: I started the marathon pace workouts at 6:20 pace instead of 6:00 pace (which is the pace I raced the marathon in December). While I was worried the workouts would feel too easy, I think it illustrates the coach's point that it's important to train forward from where you are fitness-wise currently rather than working backwards from an arbitrary goal. By erring on the conservative side and getting a good result (two good workouts), we know we can safely either repeat the workout for another week or increase the speed slightly. By trying to jam these two workouts at 6 minute pace I'm sure I would have overcooked things (activating 6-12 but not improving their processing rate and efficiency as the coach mentioned), and I'd rather progressively move up the ladder rather than have to deal with figuring out how many rungs to step down before slowly stepping up again.

Thanks for the post coach.

Abadabajev said...

I know this has nothing to do with recruiting and activating fibres but I thought I’d give you a recap leading up to your 10k race with some personal comments.

Jan 9,5K time trial in 17:00, 5:29 pace
Jan 13,77, 77, 77, 77, 79, 78, 78, 79, 78, 77, 77, 78, 77, 76, 77

Jan 15, blog complaining achilles.
Jan 16, flu sick like dog you couldn't drive to work
Jan 17 flu sick
Jan 18 flu but attempted 4 miles
Jan 19 sick
Jan 20 lost 5 pounds from dehydration
Jan 23 you suffered trying to follow a prescribed pace(you went anaerobic at 6 min. pace)
Jan 26 you wanted between 33:30 and 34:00 and your coach guessed your fitness at 34:30
Jan 27 your stated goal 34
Jan 28 34:48

-Jan 13, those were magnificent intervals.
-Jan 15, First complaint with your tendon.

-January 18, you attempted to run 4 miles. While your immune system was pounded left and right in a major battle and burning about 1000 calories per second, you decided to throw in a 4 miler in the mix. I’d give my right arm to hear what your immune system was thinking during your run. You got balls.

-Jan 23, something was seriously wrong just 5 days leading up to your race. But I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised when you uncorked a 34:48 after your flu session. Your coach was off by 18 seconds on his/her very precise assessment.

I personally had you at 36 or even 37 minutes but you surprised me by jumping on the bus and fighting for a seat. However I still can’t figure out why you get frightened when left behind a group that you believe you can jockey for. You said you might lose motivation and halt the pursuit. May I remind you of your January 18 blog.

I believe that 10k race was your greatest gutsiest race after your 4 miler flu run.

Who goes out there and runs 4 miles with the flu?

Mike said...

Abadabajev, thanks for the comments, now I know at least one person reads my log! The achilles turned out to be a problem with a metatarsal pad under the ball of my foot slipping and taking root under my toes. I think this raised my toes, which put undo strain on the achilles by essentially making me "step up" to toe off for a 17 mile run. When I found the mis-placed pad and corrected it the achilles quickly went back to normal (I'm thankful for this).

The 4 miler was stupid in retrospect, but it was something I felt I had to do during the 4 hour spell when I mistakedly believed I could just will myself out of being sick by pretending it wasn't happening (the body won out).

I think part of my racing mentality comes from a few years spent bicycle racing, where staying "in the mix" or in the group was paramount to winning because of the benefit of drafting and saving energy. Once the peloton eased away or a break of a small group of cyclists got up the road from you, your race was pretty much over.

I believe in putting yourself in the best position for a good performance, but perhaps I believe this to a fault when it means trying to maintain a pace that leaves me anaerobic and gasping for breath in the first mile of a 10K. Live and (hopefully) learn I guess.

Eric said...

Is this 91-97 percent MP, or steady-state also a pace that you should be able to do day after day with only an occasional 'recovery' run (at maybe 75-80% MP)?

I ask because I've noticed that in my first cycle of about eight months, I could handle maybe one long day or two shorter days at that intensity, and recovery would take two, maybe three days. For example, a 22 mile run at 6:25 pace took me three days to recover from. Now, in my second cycle, I can do this same run, at the same heart rates, and same pace, but I can recover by the next morning and be comfortable running 10 miles in 1:01.

I can sustain these efforts for about 4-5 days, and then be in need of a recovery type run. Is this desirable? That sounds like a stupid question, but I ask because it could be a false economy--getting really good at recovering, but not getting any faster. Am I turning into the guy running two minutes slower than his potential with the lowest heart rate two minutes after the race?

I like the idea of back-to-back evaluations that are evaluations unto themselves, although they can still be compared over time.

I've been reading and re-reading the Kristiansen website you linked to a while back. It seems that this post closely follows the concept, as she did, of training as much as possible near race pace, especially in the case of the marathon where the effort is entirely aerobic.

Thanks for the posts.

Mark said...

Im with you Mike saying MP is 6:20 and being upset when you plan to run 6:00 in a marathon. Coach and your discourse is starting to make sense to me.

My problem is I've ran my program before targeting 6:00 throughout and was fine. But, too get faster I am learning and your's sounds like a good lesson.

I like the line of "improving their processing rate and efficiency". Lydiard's method sounds like you get to utmost potential after many disciplined months.

Mystery Coach said...

Eric, What you are experiencing is the greater efficiency of the fibers in recovering which is one of the goals of the base phase. If you think of the model the first time that you move up the levels those fibers are weak in their ability to recover, but year after year of training those fibers on the upper levels begin to preform like the lower level fibers in stamina and recovery.

When you do a long run (22 miler or so) the upper fibers get activated and conditioned but initially they need a longer time to recover ( hence the long run only once a week) but the lower fibers (1-5) which have the strongest recovery could be ready the next day with a shorter faster run ( like your 10 in 61).

Generally 4 or five days should be thought of as days to hit different ranges of fibers and 2-3 days act as stress relief for most of the fibers.

The real effort of speeding up ( going above the steady state with peaking training) and doing specific marathon training should take place during the last 3 months before the goal marathon.

Ben said...


I have followed you Blog and really is very interesting, but How can determinate my correct paces in base pahes ? Specialy when you are talking about 1/2", 1/4" and 3/4" efffort ? Is a few conffuse for me,

Yhank you,

El Presidente said...

Well, I'm a bit late in posting to this original thread. My good friend Mike made a point of sending this to me a few weeks ago when we were talking about training, in part because he disagrees with my suggestion to two local runners who want to take a shot at a 2:20 marathon (one a former 2:27 marathoner who recently ran a 1:14 half-marathon, the other a 4:03 miler who just ran 1:10 for a half). My point is that because they have a specific goal (2:20 for the marathon) and thus a specific goal pace (5:20), they need to spend a lot of time at 2:20 pace -- training at around 5:20 pace in their repetition workouts and in their tempo runs. Even though Runner A isn't in as good shape as Runner B, they both have the same goal and thus they both need to do similar work: a ton of running at 5:20 pace. Mike is worried that this is too fast for Runner A and Runner B, and that we should be more concerned about building to that pace organically, rather than thrusting them into the fire of 2:20, when that is clearly a demanding pace for them.

Now, ordinarily there is nothing wrong with working at date pace and trying to move forward. And if Runner A and Runner B had years and years to progress through various phases, then we could consider starting training at pure Date Pace. However, sometimes in life you have to go for Goal Pace -- and both A and B want Goal Pace. When you want something, then you train for it – so A and B need to train at Goal Pace in their effort sessions so that they get damn comfortable running Goal Pace no matter what: in wind, in rain, in sun, in the midst of a long run.

In such training, you don't spend your time worried about what fiber A and fiber B might be doing on Tuesday morning.

Which brings me to my main problem with the science portion of Mystery Coach's explanation: it’s too scientific and I'm not smart enough to figure it out. Again, I don’t really care what fiber A is doing on Tuesday morning during my recovery jog or what fiber B is doing on Thursday afternoon in the midst of my goal pace repetitions. Sure, you want to optimize effort, rest, and recovery, but you don’t need a model to figure that out.

Remember boys and girls, there is a tremendous amount of self-esteem, joy, and happiness from deciding on an outside goal and then shooting for it -- hit it or not, at least you take a shot at something worthwhile, rather than spend all your time calculating which muscle fibers are being fired at which point of a given run. Set a goal that you want to achieve (a PR; a round number; an externally-imposed standard such as Boston, Oly Trials, or your brother's PR) and train with passion towards that goal. Don't be so afraid that you're outside your scientifically-recommended optimal rate that you don't show any heart.

Now, lest you think I am a curmudgeon who doesn't agree with anything mystery coach writes, he and I are in accord with Lydiard's basic claim: if you want to run a given pace for a given distance, then you better damn well spend a lot of time running that pace, and slower to recover and build, and faster to bump up your VO2 levels, etc.

Now to, in fact, play the curmudgeon, o' dear readers of Mike's blog, don't be afraid to step away from lactate tables and run until you get tired, then run some more. Running isn't rocket science, nor is it exercise phys science: it is creation, it is art, beauty, passion.

--Randy Accetta, Tucson, Arizona