Easy vs Hard

I was reminded of the importance of speed workouts in Sunday’s race, the 8km Steveston Icebreaker. It may have been a PB had the wind not been so violently strong between kilometres 2 and 4, but alas, the wind really was unrelenting, so no PB for me. I ran the same course 6 seconds faster last year.

Not that I stopped for a minute to be disappointed. How could I be? I’ve been logging tons of mileage, but at a nice easy pace (which is about a 6:00 minute km for me). Sure I’ve thrown in a speed session here and there over the past 4 weeks, but that snowy week meant no speed workouts, and then…

So my 3 or 4 hard runs in the midst of my high mileage weeks didn’t get me a PB. Time to make sure I commit to running the required quality sessions I need to improve my pace. Jack Daniels, in his book Daniels’ Running Formula: Proven programs 800m to the marathon, points out that for the marathoner, 80 to 85% of total mileage should be easy running (with marathon pace training occasionally stuck in there). I do remember a time where I felt the need to race myself every time I stepped out the door, but I can say I have learned the great importance of easy running. And I really enjoy my easy runs.

According to Dr. Philip Maffetone, author of The Maffetone Method: The Holistic, Low-Stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness, it is during easy runs that we boost our immune systems; that we train our muscles to store more glycogen and water (a good thing for marathoners as it allows us to run farther before needing to fuel and hydrate); that our bodies become more efficient at burning fatty acids (our fat stores) as fuel (another very good thing for marathoners because our glycogen stores are limited while are fat stores are virtually unlimited); and that we improve our circulation and strengthen our cardiovascular systems. The muscle fibres built from easy aerobic mileage resist injury and even have an antioxidant function.

In contrast, the harder and intense training, the anaerobic training – intervals and tempo runs and races – will actually depress the immune system by limiting immune cell production. This is why it is common to come down with a cold after a big race. These workouts are nearly entirely fuelled by glycogen (carbohydrates). Intense training causes increases levels of cortisol to be released into your system which can wreak havoc with your blood sugar levels. And too much anaerobic training for extended periods can lead to plateaus and overtraining injuries.

But it is this anaerobic and lactate threshold training that is undeniably important to the competitive athlete. This is where you will build speed. And I know qualifying for Boston means ensuring I can run all those many kilometres with a speed that my body considers to be fast. So incorporating intervals and tempo or threshold pace workouts in to my weekly schedule are non-negotiable.

I didn’t get a PB on Sunday. And although it would have been nice, that’s not the one I was after. I’ve got 3 months ahead of me of many easy miles and quality speed workouts. Here I come, marathon PB of 3:35 to qualify for Boston, here I come…

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