Endurance athletes and high intensity training (HIT)

Do you usually run in the same 15-30 second pace range every time you head out the door? Do you find each run to be a new challenge and take pride in continuing to push yourself to get better every day? Have you been recording steady race times and feel like your stuck in a rut despite your training efforts? You may be stuck in what some coaches and athletes refer to as “no man’s land.”

“NML (no man’s land) workouts provide a kinesthetic sense of working hard but expose the rider to too much stress per unit gain. Instead, most base training should be guilt-producingly easy, and the top end, high-intensity-training should be very mentally hard, not sort of hard.” – Fred Matheny, Bicycling Magazine

It is easy to understand how one can end up in no man’s land. We are creatures of habit and thrive on predictable routines. A 6 mile run, a 3 mile run, a 30 mile week. We know what these feel like and we push ourselves to get better by running fast enough to feel it, but not count it as a high intensity workout. This approach teaches our bodies to adapt to our routine and as a result or performances plateau.

“A standardized training intensity “language” may be particularly important in improving the match between the intensity prescription from a coach and an athlete’s interpretation of that prescription. For example, Foster and colleagues quantified the tendency for midlevel athletes to train harder than planned on easy days and at lower intensity than planned on hard days, relative to coach prescriptions.” –Carl Foster

pareto-principleEnter the Pareto principal. Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who came up with a mathematical formula describing the distribution of wealth in his country during the 1900s. Pareto observed that roughly twenty percent of the people controlled or owned eighty percent of the wealth. This formula has since been applied to all kinds of things, including athletic training for endurance runners.

“Numerous descriptive studies of the training characteristics of nationally or internationally competitive endurance athletes training 10 to 13 times per week seem to converge on a typical intensity distribution in which about 80% of training sessions are performed at low intensity (2 mM blood lactate), with about 20% dominated by periods of high-intensity work, such as interval training at approx. 90% VO2max.” -Stephen Seiler

So what does this information tell us about our training efforts? Mostly, it tells us to slow down and make 80% of our training efforts more enjoyable. “Guilt-producingly easy” is the phrase used by Mr. Matheny. We are working too hard in many cases. However, when we hit a crucial speed or hill workout, we need to push ourselves both physically and mentally to the point where we achieve high intensity, arm tingling, gut wrenching, lung burning, heavy legged exhaustion.

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