In the previous two posts in this series, I've elaborated on running fast and slow, how developing your high and low gears will make you an all-around more efficient runner. This final post will resolve the two strategies and hopefully give you something to apply to your training.
As a caveat, I'd like to point out that if you're running ultra marathons or compete exclusively in the 100m dash, then maybe these principles won't serve you too well. Otherwise, understanding your physiology and energy systems is critical to endurance and movement.
To recap: running fast improves your economy and efficiencies are gained when you are at sub-maximal speeds. Running slow develops the massive clean-burning engine that is the aerobic energy system; its potential is immense and has kept us alive for a few millenniums.
In order to incorporate speed and low-intensity volume into your training, you must first understand how your training background has led you to your current state.
Has your physical activity in the last 10 years revolved around huge volume, or fast bursts? Do you identify with aerobic sports such as Nordic skiing, rowing, long-distance swimming or more with anaerobic activities like football, volleyball, or downhill mountain biking?
What percentage of your running has been above aerobic threshold? For many people, this will be surprising as it is most definitely above 20% and even closer to 50%.
Would you say “I can run fast, but I just can’t sustain it” or “I can run forever, but just not that fast”? These two statements are repeated time and again, yet we don’t seem to do anything to develop the obvious gaps in our fitness.
Where are you deficient? Be honest here. It is very easy to keep pushing towards your strengths, and continue running tonnes of miles at slower paces instead of addressing your lack of speed. Subsequently, sprints are a blast when that’s all you can do and enduring more than a minute at a time of running is excruciating.
Start playing around with your effort levels and distances. If you’ve established steady volume over the years, it’s time to throw in some speed. Tempo runs and interval repeats are calling for you. If you’ve developed a love affair for 400m repeats on the track, then maybe you need to put on some tunes and go for a long easy 90 minute run.
Repeating the same effort and intensity levels will inevitably lead you to a plateau. This is where you have to get experimenting and adjust your methods.
If you’re feeling pretty balanced or really don’t know where you to place yourself as a runner, I suggest modelling your training (in relative speeds and volumes) after what I believe are the most versatile and well-rounded runners – 800m runners.
Training volumes are surprisingly high (anywhere from 50km-100km per week) for such a short race (under two minutes). This high volume range is less than what these athletes would do in the winter base training phase. Physiologists have used formulas and debated on what the ratio of anaerobic/aerobic speed is for the 800m distance and there is consensus that it sits at 60:40.
Thus, there is much more balance in programming for an 800m athlete than for any other distance. Here’s an example of how to set up your training week.
After all of this rambling, you may be even more confused than before. Here's one take away that is simple: do some slow runs and keep them slow, and do some fast runs and keep them fast.
Here's David Rudisha setting the 800m world record.