Winter aerobic training

New Year means some new opportunity to reshape our running and become healthier, smarter runners
The remainder of the winter period provides us some good opportunities training-wise to make sure we can perform our best come the summer season of races. For those looking to race Spring marathons and half marathons in particular, the remainder of the winter period is a good time to think about developing our aerobic base of fitness to carry us through those Spring/Summer races and ensure we have a good base level of fitness to tackle what comes your way.
As endurance-based athletes, perfecting our aerobic strength (the ability for our bodies to utilise oxygen within running) is the bedrock of our fitness. We should not be looking to sharpen other aspects of training (even speed work) until this well developed. How we develop this generally manifests itself in the following list:
• Gradual increase in overall running mileage: Gradually building our mileage over the course of a month or two will help our bodies run more efficiently and build up strength. Mileage increases generally correspond to longer long runs, steady running and aerobic speed work (see below) However it is important to note although there's a generally-accepted link between higher running mileage and fitness improvement, we all respond differently to different levels of mileage, so it's important to not jump into mileage increase suddenly but build gradually to allow your time body to adapt and see what works. What may work for others may be different to you.
Many of us also respond better to less mileage and a concentration on quality of sessions so again, it's all about finding out what works for you. How do you know if any increase in mileage is sustainable and right? If you're not experiencing any symptoms of overtraining (see my article on this on the Coaching tab on the Striders website) then that's key. Equally as important is if you're able to perform your best during quality workouts- intervals, tempo, LSR etc, and maintain a level of effort which you could do before any mileage increases. This shows that your body is adapting and the steady running around sessions is not fast enough it hampers your performance on key workouts.
Bottom line: mileage increases should be undertaken gradually and as long as you are recovering adequately, and can hit the quality on key workouts then you know you are on the right track. If not, ease off the distance/time and make sure to slow down on your steady runs, which will naturally be slower with a higher training load. Above all, prioritise recovery and play by feel on a weekly basis.
• Aerobic workouts- just because we're building an aerobic base doesn't mean we neglect speed work. Aerobic workouts helps to improve our overall running economy, strength and fitness. One of the main examples here is tempo (Threshold) work, which all endurance runners should look to maintain throughout the year. By running at a comfortable-quick pace in which lactate sets in but not enough to cause fatigue, these sessions improve our ability to buffer lactate acumination so you can look to hold a faster pace for a longer time.
(I post a weekly tempo session along with an interval on Monday and to those regular to my Thursdays will know, I emphasis more tempo work over winter).
Tempo work can also be enhanced by including sessions within a longer run for greater training stimulus or changing terrain, i.e. hilly trail for an added strength component. However these sessions are significantly more demanding than a flat road tempo on itself, so invest in these type of workouts roughly once a month or every 3 weeks. Again, playing by feel or what works best for recovery is key here.
Non-threshold aerobic intervals - As above with tempo work, this also includes shorter 3k to 10k pace work which I include on my Monday morning posts and is the main focus for my Thursday sessions. So make it to them if you can.
Other quality aerobic workouts include:
• Progression runs- where you speed up to in and around tempo or 10k pace from a easy/steady start. Distance and time is very much individual here depending on what you're looking for but half marathon to marathon runners may want to invest in longer progressives (1hr plus) with a longer, drawn-out increase in speed as the session goes on. These sessions are key for enabling us to perfect our race pacing and to tolerate faster paces with a increase in fatigue.
• Long runs - As most of us are 10k and longer runners, the long run is of prime importance. It's a crucial way to improve endurance but for half and marathon runners it can be used as a separate workout too. By working on recruiting additional muscle fibres not used during a normal short steady run, your body becomes more adapted to training more efficiently and this also enables your muscles to work more aerobically. The long run also helps to develop general strength and structural strength for running, (especially over trails which utilise much more muscles and require more balance). The long run length also helps to develop your mental resilience for endurance running.
What to do with long runs? This depends on what you are training for and what works best for you but generally I would advice to mix up the distance on a monthly pattern, i.e. 10, 14, 11, 13 for added variety. I would also mix terrain occasionally for added stimulus. I.e. occasional trails for road runners for strengh building. For trail-only runners, getting a road long run in once a month is a great way to maintain leg turnover and run at a more concentrated steady-state.
Adding sessions occasionally within long runs is also a great way to develop yourself better aerobically (as mentioned briefly with tempo above). Marathon runners of the group will be well aware of what these can constitute. Marthon-specific long runs can include sessions like: 13 miles with 5 at marathon pace, or progressive runs working to marathon pace from a steady-state. Half marathon runners will benefit from tempos thrown into long runs now and then, and half-marathon pace work too, i.e. 10 miles with 20 minutes at HM pace.
Recovery and adaption emphasis is key here. Don't be afraid to substitute an interval workout during the week to concentrate on a long-quality run if it means you have more energy for it, and time to recover after. Variety is key with progressive training after all.
In summary long run work is key for endurance runners as it develops our endurance in numerous ways. The addition of aerobic speed work within a long run force muscle fibre recruitment when fatigued and put the body in a kind of 'crisis' so that glycogen-related adaptations occur. This forces or body to make adaptations to ensure our fatigue resistance is built up over longer endurance work.
• Steady runs - Steady runs form the basis of general fitness for endurance runners. As I have mentioned previously the whole point of steady runs is to help maximise your fitness and maintain training volume without the acclamation of training stress or fatigue. Such runs should be 2-2:30 min slower than 5k pace (roughly). There's no right or wrong with how much steady running you do as such. But generally if the steady running you do is impacting your recovery or session performance, than you are doing too much or it is too fast.
As we come into a new year what's important is ensuring we tick off those training fundamentals: We sure we can recover well, reduce any mental stresses, get our nutrition right, run steady runs steady, undertake progressive interval and tempo work, listen to our bodies in everything we do and do what's best for yourself and yourself only. Cameron Harris -Head Coach