50 Mile Ultra Run Training – Part 2 – Building an aerobic base, running slow

1409834390880As I was reading more and more articles to write this post I came to the conclusion… I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.
Ahhhhhh! I remember the feeling after my first Olympic Tri, that there were phases that I missed, and I wasn’t doing enough to facilitate my metabolism change.  I still have four months to go and am at the very beginning of my training for the 50, and  I don’t want to make the same mistakes.

(See my first post when I was first developing my training plan)

Probably like a lot of people who come into ultra training from other sports, I was having a hard time going slow.  Not necessarily on my long runs, as I don’t think there would be any way I could have finished them if I was going very fast, but all of my other runs, and even at the end of some of my longer runs – if I could run faster, I would.  My plan, as of last week, was to try to run the same 18 and 20 mile runs I recently did, but to do them faster. My 7-10 mile runs are also run at a moderately fast pace (for me).  Apparently this is not a good strategy.  Why?  Because Science. Why did I not come across Science sooner? I hadn’t read any articles on the physiological changes in your body that happens during aerobic training, and the best methods to facilitate this.  I decided to get a coach for consultation every 3-4 weeks, (or maybe full-time?) and to invest in a heart rate monitor, even though there seems to be conflicting advice as to whether you should use this, or run by feel / effort.  My new coach is advising me to get it, and will teach me about the heart rate zones and what my aerobic zones are.. so why not.

This article “How do Easy Runs Help You Race Faster”  was a great article that helps me conceptualize my training and physiological changes.  Essentially, your aerobic system is optimally developed at a slow pace, when running between 90mins – 2 hours.  The pace should be roughly 55%-75% of your 5K Pace. With a caveat that there can be a slight difference between a slow run and a recovery run, the latter which would be even slower, the intent is for recover, and may be too slow to be in the aerobic range. Physiological changes taking place during aerobic system development:
1) Increase Capillary development
2)  Increase myoglobin content of muscle fibers
3) Increase Mitochondria Development
The precise data for each of these three (and also measured against V02 max) is in the article, as well as lots of fun information as to why each of these things are important for distance running. It’s been awhile since my last 5K.  I imagine I would run somewhere between 7:30-8:00min mile pace.  If I’m running at 65% of an 8:00min mile pace.. my slow run would be about 10:45 / mile.  (Did I do my math correctly??)

Optimal time of a run for aerobic development –  from the article Are You Sabotaging Your Long Run by Running the Wrong Pace?

Two researchers, Holloszy (1967) and Dudley (1982) published some of the defining research on optimal distance and pace for mitochondrial development. In short, Holloszy found that maximum mitochondrial development occurred at about 2 hours of running at 50-75 percent of V02max. Likewise, Dudley found that the best strategy for slow-twitch, mitochondria enhancement was running for 90 minutes per outing at 70 to 75 per cent V02 max.

From my previous post about my beginner questions, one of the things I was having trouble understanding was the time vs. distance debate. This was my conclusion for myself:
Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 10.26.16 AM
What all these articles were missing was that the long run for time is not only to get ‘time on your feet’, or to test your nutrition, or to simply ‘build your endurance for running longer’.  There is a physiological reason behind what is happening, and a specific way that the body is changing in which you are building your endurance as referenced above.  There are various types of long runs and they have different effects on the body.  If the purpose of your run is to develop your aerobic system, it does not need to be longer than 90 mins – 2 hours, and there is little benefit to running over 3 hours (for this purpose). Question still to be answered: What is the optimal time of a run to develop hip strength, bone / ligaments and other structural adaptations? From what I gather so far,  the intent of running longer than 3 hours would be for leg strength, to get used to running on fatigued legs, overcoming mental hurdles, and getting used to time on your feet.

This article self admittedly says it is controversial, as it is knocking the long run –The Problems With Traditional Marathon Training Plans and The Magic Long Run Formula

  “For example, you should focus on stringing out your workouts and mileage over the course of the week, rather than having 40 to 50 percent of your weekly mileage come from the long run, which increases the total amount of quality running you can do and decreases the potential for injury.”

This one was especially interesting for me, because lately about I have about 60-70% of my weekly mileage during the long run, or the weekend of the long run.  And it has been true, so far, that it has taken me so long to recover that my subsequent workouts suffered.  What I gained from them was that my legs were tired, mentally and physically it was a challenge, and it also made me excited to go run for hours at a time because I began to enjoy it – especially exploring new places and to have time to go out and run.  Running before work is a time crunch or in the dark is not as fun.  But for optimal efficiency.. maybe I should be getting in a few 90 minute runs mid week and a shorter long run,  rather than multiple shorter runs and just one long run on the weekend.   At this point, I likely don’t need to be running more than 3 hours.  Maybe in December?  I very much enjoy going out for 5+ hours in the mountains. I suppose this is when I can incorporate hiking? I don’t know anymore!

Articles on aerobic fitness, long run and pace I found helpful
How Do Easy Runs Help You Race Faster (and what exactly your easy pace should be)

THE MARATHON LONG RUN – McMillan Running – his site has sooo much good stuff!

How to Train for an Ultra

What is the Optimal Strategy for Increasing Mileage to Avoid Injury: Research on the 10-Percent Rule and Down Weeks

Does anaerobic training damage aerobic fitness?

In addition to building an aerobic base, you are simultaneously building your structural base – your muscles, ligaments, fascia, and bones.  Strength and core training is necessary to avoid injury.  To be continued.. I haven’t found any great articles on the science of this yet in reference to training volume except that your structural base is even slower than your aerobic system to develop, and at least 4-6 weeks after you first start training to see results.  Supposedly.  Need more sources.


About Musings over Coffee

Fitness enthusiast. Love to travel, mess up recipes, ponder random things, get riled up about the news, all of which nearly always coinciding with one of my favorite things in the world: Coffee.
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