The Long Run – How long should it be?

The Long Run

Recently I have produced several articles (links below) on planning your training, walking for ultra running, base training, speed work and now I ask the question, how long should the long run be?

Short distance runners often run over distance in training. Think about it, a 10km runner may run a long slow half marathon to build endurance. A half marathon runner may run a long and slow steady 16-miles in preparation for a fast race.

This all falls apart when we go to the marathon and beyond. How often have you heard in marathon training that the long run should be 21/22 miles or 3 hours and 30 minutes in preparation for a race.

Long runs and adapting for an endurance run such as an ultra comes from not one run but a combination of all runs. It’s about your accumulative run history. They all add up to make you an endurance machine.

First and foremost, consistency is key and long runs should be progressive and based on ability and experience. A long run should test you but not break you.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON RUNULTRA HERE

Make sure you catch up on other resources that will help you plan your 2016 season:

Planning a Running and Racing Year HERE

To Base Train or not To Base Train? HERE

Base Training HERE

We also have a series of articles on walking and climbing:

Training to Walk for Ultra, Trail and mountain Races HERE

Walking, Running and Climbing with Trekking Poles HERE

Running and Walking Efficiency when Climbing HERE

Pacing Strategy – Marc Laithwaite

Pace

Over the last 4 weeks, we’ve discussed how you can manipulate your diet to enhance fat burning and your endurance performances. This week, we look at the missing piece of the jigsaw, which is training intensity and more importantly, pacing strategy.

The basics of fat metabolism for endurance athletes are simple and based on 2 key factors. First, you can change your diet in some way to enhance fat usage (e.g. riding / running fasted). Next, you can adopt a ride / run strategy (intensity and pacing), which encourages fat usage during training and racing. You can opt to do only one or the other of these things. But in reality, if you couple them both together you’ll have the biggest impact.

We’ve discussed diet, so today we are going to talk about ride and run strategy in terms of pacing and intensity, for running and cycling. So let’s outline some of the basic things, which you may already know and if not, you need to know:

  1. I stressed last week that every session should have a key objective and therefore a key intensity to obtain that objective. The biggest error is people doing ‘hard stuff too easy’ and ‘easy stuff too hard’. Generally they are linked by the fact that if you do the ‘easy stuff too hard’ you’re too knackered the following day to do the ‘hard stuff hard’. As a result, everything tends to fall into a grey, middle area.
  2. The 2 key objectives of the long easy session for ironman competitors or marathon and ultra runners are generally to utilise fat for better fuel economy and to ‘complete the distance’ (time in the saddle or time on feet). If you don’t ride at the correct intensity, you will hit neither of those objectives, due to the following problems:
  3. At lower intensities, total energy expenditure (kcal per hour) is lower and fat usage is higher. This means that only a small amount of energy comes from carbohydrates and your body has the opportunity to practice using fat, which is necessary for the process to become more efficient. OBJECTIVE 1: If you do not run / ride at the correct intensity, you will not develop effective fat burning.
  4. Because riding and running at a higher intensity uses more energy and generates more muscular fatigue, it’s not rocket science that you will have to stop earlier. This is NOT just based on fat / fuel usage, there are other factors at play related to muscle damage and fatigue. As a result, many ironman triathletes or marathon and ultra runners are not reaching target distances and stopping short on long rides or runs. OBJECTIVE 2: If you do not run / ride at the correct intensity, you will not be able to reach your target distances for your training rides and runs.

As outlined above, the 2 key objectives are enhancing fuel use and maximising distance and to achieve both, the intensity must be correct. If you’re using Maffetone as discussed 4 weeks ago, then you’re all set. If you’re not then for most people, the intensity we are discussing is zone 1, which is comfortable conversation pace.

You can use heart rate to monitor your training intensity and cyclists can also use power devices to do the same job. Let’s take heart rate as an example and consider the following scenario as an example:

Tom has a zone 1 cycling heart rate of 118-128 and uses his heart rate monitor when completing all his ironman cycle training. We know that Tom will maximise both his fat usage and can maximise his training distance by holding his heart rate steady within Zone 1.

Avoiding the spikes

One key thing to take into account when riding in Zone 1 is avoiding spikes. If Tom completed his long Sunday ride and reported an average heart rate of 124, it first appears that he has ridden to plan. Unfortunately upon closer inspection, he spent half his time at a heart rate of 148 climbing hills and the other half of his time at 100 rolling down the other side, thereby generating an average of 124. Whilst the AVERAGE looks correct, the TIME IN ZONE was very poor.

Every time you push hard on hills and allow your heart rate to rise out of Zone 1, your metabolism switches from high fat usage to high carbohydrate usage. Not only is there a switch to carbohydrate, you guzzle the fuel as if there’s no marathon to come. I would liken this to driving your car and every time you reach a hill, changing into first gear and flooring the accelerator, for those old enough to remember you can also pull the choke out for good measure.

OBJECTIVE 1: Tom is not practicing fat burning during his ride. Every time he pushes on the hills, fat usage ‘drops out’ and only returns when the body has stabilised a few miles later.

OBJECTIVE 2: Tom is guzzling fuel at such a high rate, he completes 60 miles of his planned 100 mile ride and is pretty knackered so calls it a day. Tom feels that despite the event being 112 miles (plus the marathon to follow), 60 will suffice. Good luck with that one Tom.

Q: Surely if I’m riding harder that’s more beneficial as my fitness will improve?

A: Not really, you’ve failed on both key objectives. If your training is planned correctly, you should be doing other sessions which will include ‘harder riding or running’ to cover that aspect of fitness.

Where does this all this go wrong?

  1. Riding very hilly courses makes it difficult to keep heart rate in zone 1 and it also makes it difficult to ‘flat line’ heart rate, keeping it constant and avoiding spikes. You need to really focus on ‘backing off’ on the climbs and using a heart rate or power meter as a guide.
  2. Riding in a group makes this problem 10 times worse as most cyclists will naturally want to show their counterparts (tends to be relevant for blokes, not women) that they are stronger than anyone else in the group. As a result, Sunday rides can tend to be a short hard interval up each hill, followed by long periods of recovering and spinning at low intensity.

Key points to take away:

  1. Ride to zone and most important, you need to take out the spikes on the hills, to maximise metabolic benefits.
  2. Start easy on your ride. There is a real tendency amongst amateur athletes to ride way too hard in the first hour or two, which results in a huge drop off later in the ride (again, this is more likely in groups). Hold back and soft pedal for the first couple of hours to allow a long aerobic warm up and better energy levels later in the ride.
  3. If you ride with others, your options are to explain the benefits to them and change their mentality, let them go on the hills, change your group or ride alone.
  4. If you are riding more consistently in zone 1, you should make every effort to maximise distance. If you are currently riding 60 miles or running 13 miles in training, by dropping and controlling the heart rate, you should be capable of increasing the distance and progressing closer to 100 for cycling or 20 for running.

– 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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Maffetone Formula for better endurance performance by Marc Laithwaite

Marc Laithwaite at Lakeland 100/ 50 2014

Marc Laithwaite at Lakeland 100/ 50 2014

In a new series of articles, Marc Laithwaite (The Endurance Store), endurance coach and regular contributor to Talk Ultra podcast will provide insight in how you can become a better endurance athlete by training smart and eating for performance.

In the first article, we look at the Maffetone Formula also known as ‘MAFF.’

 

The term ‘aerobic base’ is used widely in endurance sports but what exactly does it mean? To build aerobic base athletes will generally do long and slow distance to gain specific benefits, we consider those 2 key benefits to be as follows:

  1. Conditioning – Your legs deal with a great amount of impact every time they hit the ground, which causes muscle damage. In turn, this muscle damage will slow you down. The only way to prevent this muscle damage is to become accustomed to ‘time on your feet’. Hence, by slowing down and running long distances at a slower pace, you will ‘harden your legs’ and prevent damage. If you run too hard during your ‘base training runs’ you will not be able to run far enough to get the required ‘time on feet’ so slowing to the correct intensity is critical. It’s important to note that this applies to cycling also, whilst the impact isn’t the same, the repeated action of pedalling means that your muscles will break down, your hips will become tight and your back will ache!
  2. Metabolic Adaptation – Your muscle fibres will adapt and more closely resemble the ‘slow twitch variety’. One of the key changes is the ability to use fat as a fuel source and also to use less energy overall. These combined changes mean that you are less likely to run out of fuel during longer distance exercise. If you can change your muscle fibres so running out of fuel is unlikely, combined with your ‘hardened legs’ which don’t become damaged easily, you are ready for some serious endurance action.

So how slow should I run?

It’s very common for endurance athletes to get the ‘training zone’ thing very wrong. The key thing to remember is that variation is critical, so easy sessions to develop base should be easy and high intensity sessions to develop power should be extremely hard. Many athletes tend to drift into the middle ground where no training is really easy, no training is really hard, but pretty much everything is ‘moderately hard’.

What is the Maffetone Formula?

Made famous by Mark Allen who won the famous Iron War with Dave Scott in 1989. Allen had repeatedly failed to beat Dave Scott, always running out of fuel in the marathon stage. He turned to Maffetone who revolutionised his training, with the principal aim of enhancing fat burning to make him a more effective runner. Maffetone employs a maximum aerobic heart rate above, which you cannot exercise. Initially, athletes find it very frustrating as they will be running very slowly, but over time there are large benefits to be had as the base aerobic system improves.

What’s the Formula?

Subtract your age from 180.

Modify this number by selecting among the following categories the one that best matches your fitness and health profile:

If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.

If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.

If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems just mentioned, keep the number (180–age) the same.

If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.

For example, if you are thirty years old and fit into category (b), you get the following:

180–30=150. Then 150–5=145 beats per minute (bpm).

If it is difficult to decide which of two groups best fits you, choose the group or outcome that results in the lower heart rate. In athletes who are taking medication that may affect their heart rate, those who wear a pacemaker, or those who have special circumstances not discussed here, further individualization with the help of a healthcare practitioner or other specialist familiar with your circumstance and knowledgeable in endurance sports may be necessary.

Two situations may be exceptions to the above calculations:

  • The 180 Formula may need to be further individualized for people over the age of sixty-five. For some of these athletes, up to 10 beats may have to be added for those in category (d) in the 180 Formula, and depending on individual levels of fitness and health. This does not mean 10 should automatically be added, but that an honest self-assessment is important.
  • For athletes sixteen years of age and under, the formula is not applicable; rather, a heart rate of 165 may be best.

Once a maximum aerobic heart rate is found, a training range from this heart rate to 10 beats below could be used as a training range. For example, if an athlete’s maximum aerobic heart rate were determined to be 155, that person’s aerobic training zone would be 145 to 155 bpm. However, the more training at 155, the quicker an optimal aerobic base will be developed.

Completing the Test:

Completing the test is simple, for running find a flat 3 miles course or complete 20 minutes. The simplest way is to find a running track as this makes distance measuring easier. Warm up for 15 minutes within the Maffetone Training Zone and then run 3 miles within the Maffetone Training Zone and record your time. You could use a flat circuit on road and use a GPS but variations in GPS accuracy mean that a running track is more accurate. Record your time for the 3 miles and preferably record your time for each of the mile splits. For the bike, it’s best done on a calibrated turbo training or riding to power. Warm up for 15 minutes in Maffetone Training Zone, then ride 30 minutes within the Maffetone Training Zone and measure average power or distance completed. Remember that the turbo and power meter needs to be calibrated or the accuracy is poor.

Practicalities:

You may find the run pace very slow and frustrating, if so, then you should take this as a positive, your base is very poor and you therefore have plenty of improvement to make for the 2015 season!! All of your easy mileage running should be done in the Maff Training Zone and the test can be repeated every 4-8 weeks. You should see an increase in speed and distance for the same heart rate as your base fitness improves. If you keep getting quicker, then don’t worry about speed work until the Maffetone training reaches a plateau. Develop your base as much as possible at the start of the year for maximum gains later.

On the bike, heart rate is generally lower than it is during running, so you’ll find the test a little less frustrating. In reality, the Maffetone Training Zone for cycling should be adjusted by reducing it between 5-10 beats (my opinion – you might want to incorporate it). This test is based on 180 minus age and we all know that maximum heart rate varies from person to person (220 minus age to calculate maximum has been widely criticised), but just go with it and try the formula, nothing is perfect!

We’d be keen to hear your feedback, go and give the test a try and let us know your progress. If you found this article useful, please share with your friends and re-post on Facebook or Twitter!

– 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

Endurance Store Logo