A beginner's guide to endurance training Pt 2
So you went out there and you got stuck into some base endurance training, but now it's time to take things to the next level...
This is where things can get potentially confusing and complicated, but it need not be.
Seldom races or events feature so very little variation in course elevation or technicality that they require no more of you than a base level of aerobic cardiovascular fitness or variation in training stimulus. If you wish to be at all prepared or competitive (even if that’s just with yourself) then you're going to need to mix things up a bit once you've established a decent level of base endurance fitness.
One of the most important training principles that cannot be ignored when gearing up for an endurance event is 'Specificity', bit of a mouth full I know but it's so important it's not even funny!
Specificity is the training principle that states that training should be relevant and appropriate for the sport in which the participant is partaking, in order to elicit a training effect.
This probably seems fairly obvious to most I assume... You want to enter a bike race, you need to ride your bike, right? That's correct, however the principle of specificity is a bit more, well, specific than that, if you'll excuse the pun?
Like I mentioned at the start, very seldom does an event of any kind require of you little more than a base level of fitness; with the exception of say, a 5km charity walk. For example, a cross country run is almost certainly going to involve some hill running of tricky terrain of some description. Anyone who has ever ran or cycled up a hill will know full well that at some point we start to lose power and things get pretty hard, pretty quickly. This, as some of you may know is due to the onset of Lactic Acid in the bloodstream (a by-product of ATP generated via the Anaerobic energy pathway); as the intensity of the exercise goes up we, sooner or later, hit what's called the Anaerobic Threshold. More on this later...
So how do we get more specific with Specificity?
This is where a bit of research into the event you have chosen will go a very long way. These days with the near limitless possibilities online it has never been easier to find out exactly what to expect once you have chosen your event; And, if you're close enough, you can always use the old fashioned method of a recce to run/ cycle/ swim the proposed route before the day of the event to find out exactly what's in store. Once you have this information you can start taking your training from fairly general to specific.
What is Anaerobic Threshold?
Understanding the Anaerobic (meaning without oxygen) Threshold is quite important when it comes to taking your cardiovascular fitness to the next level. In part one of this series we looked at Aerobic (with oxygen) fitness and the energy pathway involved in creating ATP (Cellular energy), there are three energy pathways the body utilises to create ATP, this being one of them, the Anaerobic/ Lactate system and the Creatine Phosphate system being the other two. These pathways are all used simultaneously to lesser or greater degrees depending on exercise intensity. For example, running up that hill, we eventually start to feel our legs flood with lactic acid (Anaerobic Threshold) and our speed and power output diminish, here the Anaerobic pathway would be the main contributor to the production of ATP (energy) and we have crossed the Anaerobic Threshold. This intensity level cannot be sustained to anywhere near the extent of Aerobic intensities, however it is important to know that an individual's Anaerobic Threshold can be trained to enable the athlete to run/ swim/ cycle at greater intensities before the onset of lactic acid and entering into Anaerobic metabolism.
Training your Anaerobic Threshold...
Now that you have done some research and you know what lies in wait for you on race day, and you have an understanding of how your anaerobic threshold will affect your performance, it's time to put together a plan in order to prepare for these eventualities.
Let's look at an example of a typical cycling event, it's course and how you might go about preparing for it. Let's say it's 40KM, has two large climbs a handful of shorter, punchy climbs and the rest is relatively flat. Now, during your 'base' phase you will have built up to be able to cycle near to or beyond the total distance but now we have to address those hills. Let's assume it takes roughly 15-20 mins to cycle up each of the two larger hills, with that information we can simulate those conditions in our training by adding in some interval sessions, cycling at your anaerobic threshold intensity.
(note: Maintain an intensity ((Speed/ Gear)) that is uncomfortable without going fully into the red, for the prescribed time. As your anaerobic fitness increases you will be able to ride/ run at a higher intensity/ pace). Over the course of your speed phase you should be looking to progress these sessions towards completing as near to race conditions as possible; here's how a 4 week block might look...
(AT= Anaerobic Threshold)
Make a note of the intensity that you're able to maintain to track progression.
Now, for those shorter hills you may wish to incorporate some shorter, high intensity intervals into your training to train yourself to move faster over those punchy accents.
As you come to the end of the base phase and into your speed phase the volume of your base training should decrease, this is your long, slow efforts. It should not halt altogether, you need to maintain the level of aerobic fitness you have built up; however as you start to increase speed work into your routine the frequency at which you can train long and slow will decrease.
Putting it all together...
Below is an example of how you might put together all the pieces of the training puzzle during the second phase of your training.
As I stated at the beginning of this series, this is by no means a definitive guide, however it'll serve you a lot better than blind faith will.
In the final part of this series I'm going to take a look at some final considerations for the endurance athlete to round off all your hard work and keep you racking up the miles.
Until then, good luck.