Two Kinds of Runners – A Depth Analysis

In order to answer the question thought I would discuss specific aspects of the training methods of both Antonio and Hadd.  I begin with Antonio’s first post in that thread.

“Adhering to simplicity, I divide all middle and long distance training into three main categories:
1. Aerobic runs: covering everything from recovery runs to more dynamic paces.
2. Moderate/medium/submaximal runs. The effort that has become known as modern LT training. Whatever the terminology used, these are all intense, but submaximal paces. There has been great debate (perhaps too much) on these paces in recent years.
3. Fast/Maximal Training Runs: Includes all paces from close to maximal all the way up to supra-maximal but always respective to the target event distance. Intermittent training is commonly used at these running intensities.”

Antonio’s division of training into three main categories is standard run training methodology and physiology.  Generally speaking all complete training programs include the 3 types of runs that Antonio recommends.  Slow paced training, often called aerobic runs, generally include easy intensity /long distance runs and easy intensity /short distance runs (also known as recovery runs).  Moderate intensity / medium distance runs are most often called tempo, threshold or LT (lactate threshold) runs.  And, finally, short distance/fast paced runs often composed of sprints or repeats but can include distances of up to about 2 miles.  The point being that Antonio’s 3 main categories may be called by different names but are the 3 main training runs that pretty much every training method includes.

This brings up an interesting question – why do all distance running programs include these 3 types of workouts?  I suggest that the answer is because decades of running experience has shown that when distance runners regularly include these 3 types of workouts that their performance is better than when they don’t include all 3 types of workouts.

If you agree with that then it naturally leads to the question of why are these 3 main workouts critical to performance?  I can think of 3 possible answers to this question.

  1. each specific workout produces a unique fitness benefit
  2. there is a unique fitness synergy created by including the 3 types of workouts in the training program
  3. Both 1 and 2 – each workout produces a unique fitness benefit and the combination of all 3 workouts blend together to create a higher level of fitness

Antonio appears to agree with traditional physiological wisdom as evidenced by his use of the terms “aerobic runs” and “LT training”.  Traditional physiological theory is that limitations within your aerobic system – your heart, lungs, blood, and cell oxygen processing machinery – ultimately limit your ability to run long distances at fast paces.  Based on this theory, training programs are designed to extend the limits of your body’s ability to process oxygen (aerobic and tempo runs, for example) and workouts are defined and described in terms of their supposed effect on the body’s oxygen processing capacity (aerobic run, lactate threshold runs, anaerobic runs are all examples).

However, a large and growing body of modern physiological research has demonstrated that the theory is flawed.  Not only has a limited oxygen supply not been proven, evidence shows that oxygen supply in clearly not limited during distance running.  Similarly, the presence of lactate has been shown to improve performance, not limit it.

Which leads us to this point:

  • there is little dispute that combining the 3 categories of workouts into the training program results in a better performance than if the 3 types are not included
  • the standard physiological explanation for the benefits from each individual category of workout is flawed – the adaptations from each workout are not accurately described by the traditional “oxygen limits performance” physiological theory

Ultimately, we end at this point – what is really happening within the body, what unique physiological changes are occurring as a result of each of the 3 types of workouts, that produce a better performance than if those 3 workouts aren’t included in the complete training program?

I suggest that the answer to that question is found mostly within the individual muscle fibers themselves and not the body’s aerobic system.  Conversely, Prof Tim Noakes suggests the answer is found within the brain, as expressed in his Central Governor Model.

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