Endurance training – it’s not all about the long hours
As winter rolls in, it’s often harder to get the motivation to get up on those cold and dark early mornings to hit the training field. Lucky for me I have a set goal in mind and a well planned 20 week training program stored on my computer to be updated ona weekly basis. With 12 weeks until I depart for Canada, the training load is starting to heat up and this weekend brings me to my first overload weekend – a strategically planned spike in training coming after 8 weeks of progressive training.
Since I last wrote in May I have been working hard on base aerobic fitness consisting of a solid weekly program incorporating three swim sessions, four bike sessions, three run sessions and one strength and conditioning session. I have built up slowly to avoid overloading my body and to allow my muscles to cope with the increase in demand I am putting on them. So coming to the end of week 8 we see the dreaded spike weekend consisting of three 110km hilly bike rides, three run sessions including one off the bike, and three swim sessions ranging from 2.0km to 3.5km. I dare say I will be sleeping very well next week!
When I tell people I am training for a half ironman they assume I am spending hours on end training at a comfortable level. This is not the case and, as with any endurance sport, it is not possible to make the gains in strength and fitness required for performance without incorporating interval and speed work. Seems silly doesn’t it? – why would I need to practice running 400m sprints at maximal effort when I will be racing a half marathon with heavy legs after a 90km bike ride? This is where the novice training routine becomes undone, and is exactly why endurance athletes need a well structured program prepared by a trained coach in order to cover all bases for fitness and progression.
The type of speed work an endurance athlete needs to complete is referred to as speed endurance training. Let me clarify the difference: A sprinter will complete pure speed training on short sharp intervals with an extended recovery time. An endurance athlete will complete longer speed intervals with less recovery time. The purpose of the reduced recovery time for endurance athletes is to prevent full recovery between sets, and ultimately work towards increasing the amount of time that can be spent at maximal capacity.
Speed work involves training at or above race pace for the specific purpose to improve efficiency, flexibility, coordination, muscle power, and speed. This type of training should form the later part of your training season as it is important to develop a solid level of base fitness beforehand, which includes strength and endurance conditioning. The main reason for this is that aerobic fitness underpins the development of most other types of fitness. The more efficient an athlete’s body is at processing oxygen, the quicker it will be able to recover between efforts when performing speed work.
There are a number of physiological benefits to speed endurance training including an increase in cardiovascular efficiency (the ability to deliver oxygen to working muscles) and an increased tolerance to the build up of lactic acid. These changes will result in improved performance, better recovery time, greater speed and endurance, and a decrease in the risk of repetitive strain injuries. It also makes for a more varied training program and these sessions are often utilised by the time poor athlete. Remember that the specifics of a speed program differ from athlete to athlete so it is important to seek professional advice prior to commencing a speed based program.
So while I am not planning to race as a sprinter anytime soon it is still important for me to include speed sessions into my weekly schedule. But for this coming weekend the emphasis on speed goes out the window and the focus becomes fuelling my body to an appropriate capacity to complete the training load ahead. I look forward to a few sleep ins next week, a long radox bath, and a solid recovery massage early in the week. Enjoy the long weekend.