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July 27, 2014

A quick review of training techniques

I was looking over Allan Besselink’s book - “RunSmart: A Comprehensive Approach To Injury Free Running” - again, just to review and refresh some training techniques. It always helps to review training techniques to make sure the training you are doing is in the right direction.

Looking back at my history of running local 5K races and marathons, I have heard a wide variety of advice on what is the best way to accomplish your goals. Besselink has a little different approach to the old standard that was used for so many years.

The method most used by athletes was that, after the race season, the athlete would rest. Then they would train at long slow distance to build an aerobic base, followed by increasing some speed work and then training fast, so that they would be ready for the next year’s race season.

Besselink’s approach follows a program where it is possible to train for the entire year. It combines the rest periods within each segment of training, and keeps the fast training period in the program as well. His premise is that, when you train for improving performance and you push your training, it is important to listen to your body and train where you “hurt not harm.”

The balance between rest and training is a key to his program. Rest days are slow recovery runs, weightlifting or doing some stretching. Taking a day off now and then is okay.

In the past, most programs emphasized the aerobic capacity of the body. Besselink wants to emphasize the nerves’ and muscles’ capacity to do work to produce endurance. If you want to generate more energy, you need to make more nerve and muscle fibers active; and that is accomplished by increasing the workload or velocity.

He relates that we have known all along how to do this since we were kids. Watching kids play, it is almost always at top speed and running fast from one spot to another. They are increasing the load on their muscles, and over time can run fast over a greater distance.

It reminded me of when I took my grandkids to see the movie “Planes: Fire and Rescue,” where the key point of the plane flying fast was to “go over the red line.”

Training advice from a few athletes includes the premise that “long slow running makes for long slow runners.” Most fast marathoners today are those who were fast 10K runners first. By logging longer miles, the runner will a) increase his risk of injury, and b) allow other mechanisms of performance to “de-train” due to lack of training stimulus. The old saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it” seems to apply.

Having endurance is about having the ability to prevent power losses over time, or to prevent the onset of fatigue. Besselink mentions that power loss can occur over a week’s time; but aerobic function takes more than 4 to 6 weeks. That is why he recommends training the power output sessions every 2 to 3 days. This goes back to knowing your goal pace and being able to maintain it.

A statement Besselink makes in his book seems to dispel some of the fears that many runners have about training hard; it states, “Intensity, my dear endurance athlete, is your friend.” This can be accomplished by doing more work in a shorter time, or the same workload over a longer time.

The point he makes applies to runners who think that doing more repetitions of a lower level of power is the same as a workload over a longer time. This type of training won’t affect the tissue integrity and loading capacity favorably at the cellular level.

One point that is necessary to remember when training this way is to know the proper “dosage” or amount of training. Try to remember Besselink’s statement “hurt not harm” when training, and include rest as well.

Besselink likes to use the “perceived exertion or effort” formula as one guideline. That formula has a ranking of #6 as “no exertion at all,” up to #20 as “maximal exertion.” In between you have numbers such as #11 as “light” and #15 as “hard.”

With a little training (and honesty), this method seems to work well.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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