How to develop better aerobic capacity

Capacity to run/bike faster at lower h/rates -this is very trainable but needs patience – it’s worth it. What we are after is to develop things like your long runs so that you can run quite solid at low h/rate-here’s an example – when I started training with this method in about 94′ I couldn’t run much faster than 5.5min+ klms at 135bpm, I got it down by breaking my long runs into 30 min segments and concentrating on being as efficient as possible, over time I got that down to 4.5 min km’s at 125bpm. What this means is my whole aerobic system improved even at higher rates. I personally used to test MAF (max aerobic function) every 4 weeks and that was 5km’s on the track at aerobic max h/rate=mid E2B for me that was 153bpm I got that down to 18mins and it was all because of the long runs at low h/rate and working purely on the efficiency of that run.

The year I did this I went onto set pb’s all over the place 75mins for half ironman run, Olympic distance pb’s, Ironman pb, Ironman run pb -I felt like I had found a secret weapon. I went on to get tested at the academy of sport because I wanted to see what the work had done for my top end. I was worried about losing the top end (short course form) from all the aerobic training, It was the full v02 and I was very surprised to find that threshold was at 95% of my max h/rate and I hadn’t done one single threshold session all season. -my lactates were super low at high workloads and that convinced me I was on the right track.

This method of training can be hard to do but and you need to be able to focus and work on the efficiency side and know it’s doing you good. If you break it down that way you will see the results.

In my case the bike was always a limiting factor for me. I have a very short trochanter for someone my height and biking was always a problem for me. During 1994 I was lucky enough to meet two national cycling champs who lived in my area Jonathon Hall and Tony Gaudry, Jono agreed to help me out bike wise and took me from my hammering ways and made me do all my bike miles at <115bpm -it drove me crazy and I nearly lost it and spat the dummy. I ran into Tony Gaudry who was the national road champ at the time and I couldn’t believe how slow he did his miles like 25kph and Tony was in my ear like nothing else about how important the aerobic component and specific strength bike training was for big results. That was the first year I rode well enough to race Ironman and went from 5:09 to 4:53 in one hit nothing flash but good for me . The same year I went from 3:20 marathons down to 3:05s and less, straight from 9:15 to 8:50. I can’t tell you how slow I was running on my long runs because it was a deadset joke at that stage. But the proof was in the pudding and I had my first top 10 at Ironman and it was due to the increased aerobic component of my training programme and the shear quality of the strength training I was doing. Not so much a change of training mileage as a change of focus. It shaped me as an athlete and has had a profound effect on my coaching.

It is, in my view, aerobic capacity, strength and efficiency that are the precursors to long course speed. Many people will go to track twice a week in the search of speed trying to belt out fast 1km repeats in 3:15 etc, now if you look at even the sharp end of an Long course the best runners will run around the 4min km mark even a fast 3:03 marathon is still only 4:20 per km and most people are not going to do that so I can’t see how running a 3:15 on track reps is going to help you run a fast marathon.It makes more sense to me to work on increasing aerobic fitness by doing low intensity running and then working on increasing your race pace while running @ predicted Ironman pace via a heart rate monitor and perceived effort and working on hills to increase pure strength.

On the bike this is exactly the same scenario – A lot of people I see doing 2 speed sessions a week on the bike @ threshold even at relatively early stages of the training programme. This, in my opinion, is the best way to teach your body how to blow up at the 80km stage of the race. After you have burnt through all the sugar your body has to burn, the fat burning rate is going to be pretty ordinary. Most of the people who hammer threshold sets during the week also do their long rides and SE sessions at an intensity that it too high to stimulate aerobic adaption / fitness and too low to force threshold. If you have begun to climb a hill for instance, but are maintaining a constant cadence, you have begun to increase your power output. You are now pushing harder on the pedals and will feel this increased pressure on the soles of your feet. Therefore, pay attention to your feet and shift down through the gears as you feel this pressure (power spike) increase. Your goal is keep a constant pressure on the soles of your feet as you transition from the flat to the entrance of the hill and as it get steeper. Settle in and expect your heart rate to rise to your target heart rate that is set. If you have avoided the spike at the entrance, you should stay at or below your target heart rate, too many people attack hill reps and don’t get the right benefit – riding at a power and h/rate that is too unrealastic for what you would race.

I can remember an article I read on the Germans in the early 90’s. At the time they were copping a fair amount of flack off the Americans for riding their long rides so slow (i.e.) 24 -25kph but they consistently had the fastest bike splits at all the major Ironmans around the world. One of the factors people fail to realize is that when they put the intensity into their training they can ride at high speed for low heart rates, making them very efficient performers. The faster you can ride or run at aerobic levels the faster you will race a long course or Ironman. The bike is about aerobic capacity and FORCE – force is best trained by working at low cadence 55-65rpm -this is the reason we set the mix we do – aerobic strength followed by E3 strength followed by race pace, people can blab on about how important speed work is until the cows come home but the fact is we have the data through the lab to support the theory – In nearly all cases our best Ironman results have come from those with the greater strength phase behind them – the longer it is the better the results. Speed and race pace work bring things to head very quickly (ie) in around 5 weeks -any further than that and the returns begin to diminish.

In my opionion the biggest single factor that destroys IM preps is that they either make them too long or they train too fast to create good aerobic force and do their miles too fast to create an effective aerobic capacity. The miles that are done around the Strength or Force work must be easy enough for the athlete to develop power through those sessions – if it’s too fast the strength / force work will suffer and not be efficient. The same applies in the speed and race pace phase – the aerobic sessions must be easy enough for you to be able to move to another level during efforts and have the quality of those sessions at a high level (ie)-


What I am trying to say is that If you train solid during your easy miles then you quality intervals won’t have any quality -what then happens is that you reach what we call the grey zone – nothing is improving -training too fast to improve aerobic capacity – training too slow during quality to improve speed, you in effect have no other gear to go to during a race, in other words you will race the same speed you train at. This was a philolosphy that I always took into my personal races -and to be honest sometimes I don’t know where the results I got came from (ie) couldn’t swim 46-48 mins for 3.8km’s to save myself in training but it materialised on race day and certainly the same could be said for the bike – I could at times race way above what I was capable of in training. I couldn’t run track to save my own life but I managed to spit out 32min 10km fun runs on a regular basis and no I wasn’t a great athlete but I did find that to go to another level in racing I had to make sure that I had another level to go to during quality sessions and those sessions had to have ultimate efficiency in them – if it got sloppy I it slowed down. I know of people that I trained with maintaining higher h/rates on easy sessions that they could doing intervals -they’d put all sorts on me during training but were nowhere when it counted.

I know there are people out there who can belt themselves stupid and get results – they are what I call the bomb proofs, but they are a minority and they are the people that all sporting organisations look for, in my opinion to the determent of too many athletes along the way. I’ve never been a fan of the 12 egg theories that a lot of coaches and organisations use (ie) If you throw 12 eggs against a wall 11 will break one will not -there is your champion – that’s not good coaching, to me that’s pure dumb luck but there are other options in my opinion that give better all round results and allow people to stay in sport longer. “Woops” sorry soap box!
The question of run mileage is another bone of contention and some will argue that if you are going to run 4hrs you should train to run 4hrs. In my opinion all this does is teach people how to run 4hrs with very bad form, in my experience I have found that most peoples run form starts to suffer at about 2hrs and goes rapidly downhill from 2:30 on. I think it’s better to build your runs up slowly maintaining good form -this way you are more likely to hold good form for longer in the race and this also avoids some of the pitfalls connected with running too many miles with not enough background, splitting runs is also a very good way of increasing your mileage without the pounding.

Long course training is not rocket science and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you get to the line in good shape you have much better chance of racing well than if you’ve been flogging yourself for 3 months. These days I keep all our Ironman run preps to 2hrs max-this also allows for better recovery and a better ability to absorb and adapt to the training that you are doing, instead of just surviving it. The old adage is true -better to be 10% under trained than 1% over trained.

One other point that I think I need to cover is the hurt locker – don’t think that because you’ve done all the training that it won’t hurt – no matter how fit and how fast even if you are world champ! – “oh god it’s going to hurt” please don’t be silly enough to think it won’t. Too many people I’ve seen over the last few years have been either too scared or unpreparded to hurt. If you have done the training you should lay it all on the line and be prepared to hurt – no result regardless of how good your prep has been will come if you don’t hurt for it.

Here are a few pieces of advice that I believe are the most important in closing-
*Do your thing not someone elses.
*Train to maximise aerobic speed and strength / force first and foremost.
*Don’t train in the grey zone during long sessions – not hard / not easy =grey zone
*If you’re looking to improve Long Course speed you won’t do it by training above threshold.
*Don’t overdo mileage and leave your best on the training routes.
*Taper effectively and trust / be confident in what you are doing / following.
*Prepare yourself mentally to hurt in the race.
*The last 6 weeks is too late to make up training losses so If it’s less than perfect just stay consisent, don’t try to cram as it won’t work.

If you are underdone on the day -it’s better to be underdone and fresh than underdone and tired from trying to make up mileage at the back of the preparation.