Like every boy in Germany I loved to play soccer. I was fascinated by the game. Some would say I was obsessed but we all were playing it every day before, at and after school on streets. 7 days a week. I became really good at it and advanced to the elite level. Practically I was running all my life. Running too school, running after girls or being chased by them, taking part of all sorts of games (yes we played on the streets or in the woods all the time back then in the 80s), getting chased by dogs or by my big brother or mom (ouch) etc.
I had an extremely active childhood. But, somehow I decided to take up Triathlon. That was in 1990. It was a tough decision to make for me because my childhood dream was to become a soccer star and play for Bayern Munich which is still my all-time favorite football team, today. All this running around, playing tennis and whatnot made me a natural gifted athlete (runner). I also loved to work hard on myself and enjoyed to be tougher than everybody else around me. I loved to suffer and run at darkness (often before or after work or school from 10.30pm to 12 midnight) in the cold and icy winter months in the Bavarian Alps. There was nothing that stopped me from getting the training done. NOTHING!! 3 years later I received a nomination to join the German National Triathlon Team (incl. Andreas Ralert, Norman Stadler…) after I was first nominated for the Bavaria Squat (boy was I proud). Well, the rest is history as they say.
Anyways, I learned, studied and observed very carefully books, coaches, athletes since 1990. Then in 1999 I raced my first international ITU race (Madeira) where I finished 10th or something and met my future wife, Leanda Cave (now ex-wife). I left Germany in 1999 and moved abroad (Australia, UK) to live a dream and to become the best athlete possible. Leanda and I trained, lived and raced together for over 12 years. I saw her grow to the world-class athlete she has become to be. She wasn’t the fastest in the beginning but hard training, her incredible tough mind and utter determination yield positive results fairly quickly. It was fascinating to me and inspiring to watch Leanda take on the world.
So how could someone like her, a slow twitch athlete, become a short distance world champion and run a fast 10k? Very good question, isn’t it? It was a slow progress. It took a few years actually. Relentless training and a reasonable amount of volume. Slowly but surely more quality running miles were added to the program and always with a strong focus on staying healthy and free of injury. She definitely had to work harder on her running than most athletes around her at the time, I think.
In order to run a faster 10k she needed to develop aerobic power, base of speed, speed endurance, and economy. Her training needed to remain of highest quality for most of the year to ensure that the key qualities in running faster were maintained. The problem is that once you stop you loss the edge if you like.
So, what kind of training do you describe to a slow twitch athlete (or non-experienced runner) and what qualities require significant improvement in order to run i.e.35min 10k?
Vo2peak: Vo2 peak must be well developed (range 64-73ml/kg). Vo2 peak is the ceiling you cannot sustain exercise above this value for very long. Consequently, the amount of oxygen you require for any speed is important in determining how quickly you will be able to run. For instance, if you are quite un-economical then you will have a poor economy; which means you require a lot of oxygen to run at relatively low speed. On the other hand if you are economical you will require little oxygen to run at relatively quick speeds. IF Vo2peak is low then to achieve good times athlete must have a good economy otherwise the cost of running is too close to V02peak to be sustainable. To improve Vo2peak the athlete must reach this level in training and maintain it. This means efforts that will be maximal in nature. Such session can be continuous or an interval session that requires speeds greater than vV02max for short periods followed by short recovery periods. I learned that shorter is better because the athlete spend more time at V02peak than doing continuous blocks. The key however is to ensure that as much time as possible is spent at V02peak. This would need to be included in your training plan for at least 10 weeks to see significant improvements.
Economy: Range for an elite female triathlete is 195 -230ml/kg/km. If you aren’t a fast runner in Olympic distance triathlons then this most likely due to either a low Vo2peak or running economy. Running economy can be improved with specific and unspecific strength workouts.
FU: The 3rd factor that requires attention is fractional utilization (FU) -oooppss what is that? FU is the percentage of maximum capacity an athlete can sustain for the duration of an event. The highest anyone an average for the duration of a race in Elite female racing is about 93% of V02max. For example: Velocity at V02max is 18.12kph (that’s 33:07min 10k) and FU at 92% (equates to 16.67kph or just under 36mins). On race day FU is obviously dependent upon the bike and the run course but this sets the upper limit to an athlete’s current performance.
IF therefore the athlete want to run faster he/she need to move one or more of the three variables mentioned (Vo2peak, Economy, FU) to higher levels.