Training is like baking – Marc Laithwaite

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In recent posts, we’ve been talking about enhancing fat burning to boost endurance. This week’s post was due to focus upon pacing strategy for training and competing and specifically how pacing interacts with the types of fuel you use when exercising. However, as we’ve been discussing Maffetone in recent weeks, I’ve had a few messages stating that I’ve contradicted myself. The reason for this is that I am a believer in the importance of short and high intensity workouts for endurance performance. In the past I have outlined the danger of too much low intensity riding and running, specifically how it makes you slower. I understand why this may be seen as contradictory, so let me explain…

If you are competing in Ironman, one of the things you need to consider is your estimated time and pacing strategy on the bike section. To calculate your ‘race pace’ a simple and popular test is the cp20. During this test, the rider is required to sustain the highest power output for a 20 minute period and from the results, you can calculate your ‘functional threshold’. Some of you may have heard these strange terms before but in simple terms your ‘functional threshold’ is the output you should feasibly be able to manage for an hour. The calculation is simple, look at the average power for the 20 minute test and 95% of that figure is your functional threshold

Using functional threshold you can guess the amount of power that in theory you can sustain for all distances up to the Ironman 112. For example, 70% of your functional threshold is a reasonable target for Ironman. The critical thing here is that the power you can hold for only 20 minutes (a very short period of time) predicts Ironman pace. So, if you cannot ride quickly for 20 minutes, you will undoubtedly be riding slowly in Ironman over a distance of 112 miles, as 70% of ‘slowly’ is ‘even slower’. A common mistake people make when training for long distances is that they focus on endurance only and ride lots of slow miles. They ‘get it in their heads’ that Ironman is all about ‘the distance’ so ride long and slow. As a result of doing so much slow riding, their 20 minute power output is reduced to a score potentially even lower than when they started! Subsequently, their Ironman pace (70% FTP) is therefore also reduced.

So the solution is simple, just train to produce the highest power output for 20 minutes by doing short and high intensity riding and you’ll PB in Ironman? Unfortunately not… The test dictates your Ironman pace from the amount of power you can produce within the 20 minutes. However, the critical part is that the test also presumes that you have done the mileage, so therefore have the endurance to support your performance.

The same applies to running and training for a marathon. Let’s say as a ‘guess’ that if you double your 10k time and add 4-5 minutes, you’ll be close to your half marathon time. Now double your half marathon time and add 10 and you’ll get your predicted marathon time. You’ve probably heard that formula before, it’s been around for many years. The key thing to point out is that when using that formula, your 10k time is therefore dictating your marathon time. As with our cycling example, if you can’t run quickly for 10k, you can’t run a fast marathon.

However, the formula of double 10k and add 4-5 minutes or double half marathon and add 10 presumes that you have ‘done the mileage’. You can’t just train for 10k racing and expect to run a great marathon. Your 10k time will ‘predict’ your running speed in the marathon, but without the mileage in your legs, you won’t be able to hold that pace for the entirety of the race.

So let’s look at it this way:

  1. The 20 minute test in cycling or the 10k time in running tells you how quickly you are capable of riding or running Ironman or marathon.
  2. Whether you have done the long distances in training will determine whether you are actually capable of maintaining that speed and reaching the finish line in your target time.
  3. As a quick summary, ‘how fast can you go and can you keep it going?’

The simple lesson to learn here is that both long-term endurance and maximal output over shorter distances are equally important for performance. If you choose one but not the other, you’ll either manage the distance ‘comfortably but slowly’ or you’ll go quickly at the start and die a painful death at the end. Don’t dismiss either of these key factors if you want to hit your target time.

To finish, I’ll go back to something, which I mentioned 3 weeks ago, when writing about the Maffetone formula. Each training intensity, level or zone has it’s own benefits and purpose. Too frequently athletes do their easy stuff too hard and their hard stuff too easy, as a consequence the sessions merge into one grey area of moderate intensity. When riding or running in zone 1, there are specific benefits, which are lost when you push too hard. When attempting a high intensity interval workout you will not gain the specific benefits of that session if you do not push hard enough.

Training is like baking, you need to put lots of different, but high quality ingredients together or you’ll find that on race day the whole thing will just taste a bit bland.

Go forwards endurance students, train well and practice burning the fat

– Marc Laithwaite

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

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3 thoughts on “Training is like baking – Marc Laithwaite

  1. Makes me think of what Mark Twight said:
    “1) If you are a well-trained endurance athlete and increasing training volume has stopped producing results you should increase intensity, i.e. sharpen the great base you have built.

    2) When the added intensity stops producing results, and eventually it will (because you focused on it too much and sacrificed volume, or got hurt, or couldn’t recover, etc) then take a short break and return to base level training.”

    And “Everything works – for a while.”

  2. Pingback: MARATHON PACE CALCULATOR 2015

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