We’ve often heard that the ideal running pace is one that allows you to hold a simple conversation without gasping for breath. It simply means running at a speed where there’s enough oxygen in your lungs and muscles for them to be utilized efficiently. As a beginner or while training at really high levels, you’re likely to find this difficult, but being able to perform efficiently in the presence of oxygen is one of the keys to successful distance running. Known as aerobic or base training, it refers to training at an intensity at which one can maintain an adequate supply of oxygen to the body’s muscles to fuel necessary contractions.
As and when your oxygen supply becomes insufficient, the body falls back upon it anaerobic system for energy, a temporary solution that creates lactic acid as a byproduct. Anaerobic running can grow increasingly uncomfortable – it’s the kind of effort that leaves you gasping after a spell. You can only run a race on anaerobic effort for a limited period of time; the bulk of your run is sustained through your base training. The more you train yourself to perform aerobically, the more efficient your running becomes. In the long run, aerobic training helps develop certain adaptations that improve oxygen supply to your muscles and joints, reduces lactic acid formation, and aerobic training also increases your overall energy production.
While building aerobic capacity, the focus is on time and distance rather than speed. Instead of short intervals and speed bursts, your training will include long, slow runs complemented by core workouts that also serve to increase your body’s aerobic threshold. A common recommendation is to run at 60-75% of your maximum heart rate over a familiar or easy route, for at least 60-90 minutes in the week. Long runs are integral to maintaining and increasing your aerobic base; a continuous 90 minute run will benefit your form in ways shorter, more intense runs cannot.
Drop that pace
While it may seem challenging to actually drop the speed you’ve worked so hard to gain, running at a lower volume for longer comes with several paybacks, including stronger heart and lungs and muscular adaptations to long distances. Over a period of time, running slow for longer helps enlist more muscle tissues and increases the number of mitochondria in your muscles that create energy for your run. Fat is utilized more efficiently as well, while the oxygen carrying capacity of your capillaries increases. Besides, running at a controlled speed means there are lesser chances of injuries and burning out, and is therefore a good strategy to follow when training for a race.
Run slow, run long
Eventually, by running slow for longer, you’ll be building up the energy and resources that lead to faster times on the track, in addition to a better running form and higher stamina. Serious and pro-runners incorporate up to two days of aerobic training into their schedules, with runs ranging between 90-120 minutes. Beginners can start with 60 minute continuous runs once a week, and gradually bring it up to 90 once they get used to the effort. Because the routine demands a fairly uncomplicated and flat route, many runners also prefer getting their aerobic workout in an enclosed track or treadmill to minimize interruptions.
Main image: Ed Yourdon / CC BY-SA 2.0