Monday, August 27, 2007

Ask the Mystery Coach

Whats your thoughts on Tempo runs? Coach Jack Daniels terms a tempo run, the pace you could hold for 1 hour. Ever since they have became a cornerstone of training plans throughout.

Arthur Lydiard never used that term but some have interpreted those 5-10k time trials at 3/4 effort during the base phase as tempo runs. According to theory tempo runs are supposed to be the king of the stamina builder. That makes me think that Lydiard's base phase would be the ideal place to have these workouts. Looking over Mikes schedules I see he rarely runs over marathon pace during the base phase. Than in later phases you have him go directly to a faster pace interval(somewhere near his 5k pace).

So is there any value to the ever so popular tempo runs or is it just eye wash(as Lydiard would say)? If there is, in which phase would you include this "one hour race pace" runs?


Jesse, As Arthur said there are many pieces to the jig-saw puzzle of training. Tempo runs are not the secret any more than 20X400, half mile hill circuits or 100 miles weeks are. I view tempo runs as developing a little bit of everything but not very good at developing any one aspect of racing to it's fullest. A 2 hour run over a very hilly course will condition more muscle fibers to a higher level than a 20-40 minute tempo run. Intervals will develop speed better than the slower paced tempo run will. In fact the following study by Peter Snell shows how much better:

Dr Peter Snell, University of Texas, asked 10 runners with 10k times between 34-42 minutes to log up 50 miles of steady running weekly for six weeks. Then they were divided into two groups for 10 weeks. One group ran two lactate threshold runs weekly for 29 minutes (12 secs per mile slower than 10k pace). The other group did two repetition sessions weekly at either 200 or 400 meters which ranged from 10k speed to 3km speed. The repetitions totalled three miles per session. Both groups continued to log a total of 50 miles steady running.

At the end of the 16 weeks both groups were tested at distances from 800 meters to 10k. The repetition training group improved 800m times by an average of 11.2 secs. Threshold trainers improved on average 6.6 seconds. In the 10k test, the threshold trainers improved by 1.1 minutes, the repetition trainers improved by 2.1 minutes.

The value of tempo runs lie in the fact that they speed up the rate of energy production without a heavy oxygen debt. For marathoner and ultra marathoner this can be used to develop speed or for distance runners to help maintain energy pathways with out the heavy oxygen debt of intervals. So as you can see there are two different places that you can use tempo runs depending on your goals. I tend not to use anything faster than marathon pace during the conditioning phase because I want to activate and condition fibers by duration (volume) and not by intensity. This also gives the runner's system a chance to recover from the stresses of oxygen debt.

Hello Mystery Coach,

thank you for answering my question last week, it was very enlightening. I have another one today.

I've read Lydiard's book "Running With Lydiard" and on more than one occasion he mentions the importance of running 100 miles a week. I think he says it a dozen times, all over the book. In fact, those are only the "strong" miles, and any supplemental running isn't even included in that figure.

Your training regime for Mike is quite different. You have on more than one occasion used the phrase "optimum rather than maximum". While that may sound logical, my problem with that is how to find out where the optimum lies. Lydiard, at least in that one book, never mentions the words "optimum mileage", instead he repeatedly claims 100 miles to be the sweet spot. Are you in disagreement with him over the mileage, or do you think that 100 miles are for elites, and the mere mortals amongst us should run fewer miles? And how does one figure out where the optimum mileage rests with a runner?

Thanks again

Thomas, A few years back Edward Coyle Ph.D. did a study where they examined the volume of swimming which improved a swimmer's performances the most. When they got to about 10 hours of swimming improvement greatly leveled off (so much so that 14 hours of swimming per week showed no additional gains). Let's look at these results from a runners point of view. How far can a runner go in 10 hours of running? If you average the speed that Arthur's runners ran at (5:20-6:20 per mile) you're at or over 100 miles per week (a sweet spot as you say for his athletes), even at 9 minutes a mile you'll almost reach 70 miles per week. In Arthur's later books he recommended running by time and if you totaled his week it comes out to 9.5 hours of running. So somewhere between 9.5 and 10.5 hours of running is going to give you most of your conditioning gains. Runners face an additional problem that swimmers do not, runners must be able to handle the impact stress to their muscles where swimmers have little of that stress because water supports their body weight. Some of what you gain with greater miles is the strengthening of your connective tissue so that it can handle greater stresses of speed or distance but it has been shown that over 12 hours of running per week running injuries go way up. When I talk about optimum miles I look at the things you can do with those 10 hours. You could run 85.71 minutes a day on a flat course at 90% your marathon pace and get your 10 hours in but it's not going to do much in conditioning all the fibers in all parts of your legs. Anyone who has trained on the flats for 2-3 months and then comes back to hills will tell you how much conditioning they have lost. The same goes if you don't go longer than those 85.71 minutes, a two hour plus run is going to feel hard, or if you don't go faster than 90% marathon pace, 100% is going to feel very hard. Look at the variation in Arthur's schedules, 10 miles at about marathon pace on a flat course, 12 miles easy, 2 hours over a hilly course easy, 10 miles half effort, 15 miles steady. The 100 miles per week are a challenge but your optimum mix may come before that number. Get a good mix in those first 10 hours and if you have the time and energy add the time or miles as you feel.

Hi Mystery Coach,

Have been following mike's progress for some time now. I have bought both Run to the Top and Running with Lydiard and have used Mike's blog and indeed, your comments as a sounding board. I have come from a similar background to Mike. Cycling, triathlon, etc. my questions are:

I am looking at doing a Marathon in July next year. I have been triathlon training / cycle training for the past 4 months and on and off for the past 6 or so years. Given my lack of focussed running for any length of time:

When is the best time to start my marathon buildup?

In terms of using your stamina build up method would I be advised to use the 3 or 7 mile test?

Thanks for your help.

Adam Marks
Horsham, Australia

Adam, The first step would be to get use to a longer run on the weekend regardless of whatever other training you are doing now. If you started with a 35 minute run and added 5 minutes a week by January you'll be covering 2 hours. From January until about 10 weeks before your marathon try to add miles to two other days per week while keeping the long run on one day. The days in between can be more miles but you have to see how you recover and respond to the additional running. The 3 mile or 7 mile test is just to measure progress (run at a steady HR) and keep track of the results. If you are training correctly the times should get faster and with less effort. With 10 weeks to go take 4 weeks to add some small amounts of speed or hill work to develop a more efficient stride (try to get your highest miles in these 4 weeks). Then 4-5 weeks of fast running or controlled races (3-10 miles) once or twice per week with the last week or two before the race low mileage and just strides (up to a mile long) with long rest.


Thomas said...

Thank you, Mystery Coach.
As ever, very enlightening.

Amanda said...

I am not quite to this level of training yet, but this is all very helpful so thanks for taking the time to do it!

Jesse said...

Once again thanks. This explains it very well.