"Three Ways to Become a Faster Runner".
The article was written by Christer Wernhult and previously published in Runners World.
In the initial phase of running training, we usually notice clear progress, if we patiently and controlled increase the training load. If we regularly go out for the planned runs a few times a week, we don't have to think too much about how the training sessions look in detail. Continuity in the training load more or less automatically results in an improvement in capacity.
After a certain period of approximately equal distance training, the progress becomes less and less noticeable. Sometimes we almost seem to stagnate at one level in our development. The reason is that the body has adapted to a certain amount and type of training load. The training stimulation has simply become too even and uniform for the body to be stimulated to improve its shape. To progress, the training must be changed in one way or another and have a more well-thought-out plan.
When physiologists have mapped what controls our running capacity over longer distances, they have defined three clear factors. By far the most important thing for performance in all endurance disciplines is our maximum oxygen uptake, referred to as VO2-max. The other two variables are lactic acid threshold and running economy. All three factors must receive sufficient training stimulation if we want to develop optimally as a runner. Since they are by no means trained completely separately from each other, it is rather about designing the training in a varied way to stimulate all three parts in the best way.
Since VO2-max is the basis of all types of endurance activities, it is logical to first concentrate your training on improving it. We do this by gradually increasing the amount of training. The improvement that we can then notice is mainly due to the heart's pumping capacity increasing. Through a gradually stronger heart muscle, an increasing volume of blood can be transported around the body with each heartbeat. It is said that the stroke volume of the heart increases. It can be doubled with regular endurance training, where the heart is stressed during long training sessions.
The heart does not notice any difference in which endurance activity we engage in. The important thing about getting exercise stimulation the heart's stroke volume is that large muscle groups are activated. If you master good technique, cross-country skiing provides the most effective training for this central part of the body's oxygen transport. Therefore, the elite in cross-country skiing often have extremely high values for maximum oxygen uptake.
If we want to develop as a runner, however, it is also important that the running muscles get the best possible conditions to take care of all the oxygen that the heart distributes to the body. Therefore, we should train branch-specifically, so that the finely meshed capillary network around the muscle cells develops and facilitates oxygenation in the muscles. At the same time increases the number and size of the so-called mitochondria (the muscle cells' own "combustion furnaces" inside the muscle cells). Particularly long sessions (1.5 - 3 hours) provide a good local training effect on the running muscles.
For a runner to improve his maximum oxygen uptake, the amount of training is of great importance. If you have been training for a long time, however, not only medium-intensity distance training provides optimal training stimulation, but certain higher-intensity training sessions are necessary for us to further increase oxygen uptake.
In summary, it can be stated that all types of endurance training provide effective training of oxygen transport centrally (the pumping capacity of the heart). However, most of the training should take place in the form of running, to get important training stimulation in the running muscles. If you are prone to injuries or feel that you have reached the ceiling of how much running you can benefit from, alternative exercises such as cycling, cross-country skiing and swimming can still be interesting to add to your training.
We can only utilize our maximum oxygen intake for a few minutes because at such a high intensity the body also automatically connects to the auxiliary engine in the form of lactic acid production. If we want to run for a long time, we have to find a level where the body can break down the lactic acid that is formed. This balance point occurs when the lactic acid concentration is generally 4 mmol (individual variations between 2.5 - 6 mmol may occur, but 4 is an accepted average value) and is called the lactic acid threshold. What percentage of our maximum oxygen intake we can use without the lactic acid concentration rising above the critical level is called the utilization rate. Just a small increase in speed, which means we end up over the threshold, means that the lactic acid concentration increases markedly and the muscles stiffen quite immediately.
By training at a pace that corresponds to our lactic acid threshold, we can improve our utilization rate. Well-trained runners can stay at over 90% of VO2 max for a long time, while untrained beginners can only stay at about 60%.
The positive effect of threshold training has meant that this type of training has come into focus in recent years. Either it can take place in some form of interval form (for example 8 x 3 min with a 1-2 min break) or a continuous threshold run (e.g. 15 minutes at a steady threshold pace, which can be successively extended by 5 min segments until you run for 30 minutes).
The challenge is basically to find the right threshold tempo. It should be significantly higher than your normal running pace, but 10 - 20 sec. per kilometre slower than your average competition speed per kilometre of 10K. The pace should be strenuous without you becoming stiff from lactic acid. Start slowly the first few times you try threshold training, then gradually increase until you find your optimal threshold speed. Threshold training has been shown to affect our performance very effectively, especially after a period of low and medium-intensity distance training.
The third factor that is interesting for increasing running capacity is running economy, i.e. how much energy it costs to run at a certain pace. Two runners can have the same maximum oxygen uptake, but when running at the same speed, one uses less energy and has a lower oxygen consumption than the other. That the first runner is more efficient can have three different reasons. Either it is due to better running technique, stronger running muscles or that the biochemical process in the running muscles is more efficient.
If you want to improve your running economy, you should review your running technique and try to weed out inaccuracies, such as poor posture or the wrong ratio between stride length and frequency.
To improve the strength component, it may be relevant to add more specific running strength, to make better use of the elastic "rubber band effect" in the muscles.
The biochemical part of the running economy can be mainly influenced by training entered sequences at the planned competition pace before an upcoming race. In this way, the body can get used to working as energy-efficiently as possible at the current speed, movement pattern and load.