Most of us have heard the acronym "LSD" and we know that it stands for "Long Slow Distance". I decided to write this article about LSD to debunk a few myths. I don't think of "Long Slow Distance" as being as slow as most people think. Years ago we were taught that running slow would make us faster and I admit that I harped on this when I first started running. What I have learned over the years is that LSD or "running slow" is relative to each person.
Having started running at the back of the pack, it took me some time to improve, but to be honest it caused me to use more brain power than aerobic power. I was walk-on at my college for the cross country team because they needed a seventh man. Most of my teammates ran at 5:15-5:35 per mile pace for a 10k. I started out at 7:00 per mile pace and one of my goals was to break 40:00 someday ? a blazing 6:25 pace! That is pretty slow especially in the world of cross country running. I had a lot of work to do to reach my goals.
I didn't start out with a heart rate monitor, knowing my max heart rate, VO2 max or anything else. I knew that my five mile time was 34:50 which makes my pace just about 7:00 per mile. From here I worked backwards and decided to run about 1:00-2:00 slower per mile for my training pace or somewhere between 8:00 to 9:00 pace. I typically ran 10 mile runs in 85-90 minutes and for shorter runs I ran 3 mile runs in 25 minutes. My running wasn?t anything blazing fast; it was just simply ?running?. I ran hard enough to stress my system, and easy enough that I could repeat it day after day and week after week. Those two facts were the keys to my improvement: Frequency and Repeatability.
Frequency is something we tend to dismiss as multi-sport athletes. Some of us "get through" our weaker sports and maintain our fitness while continually spending the majority of our time on our strengths. If you want to be a better swimmer, and you don?t come from a swim background, you need to swim more than three times per week. Simply put, the more you do an exercise, the easier it becomes. Being able to run and bike more frequently is beneficial as well. Spending more time on your feet or in the saddle and teaching yourself that 4 runs or rides per week is an easy week pays dividends in the long haul. The key to being able to train frequently is having what we call "repeatability".
Repeatability is the notion that no matter how hard you go today, you can repeat the workout tomorrow. It's stressing your system out enough to get an aerobic benefit, but not so easy that you didn't tax yourself a bit. If you want to find your aerobic heart rate (HR) for your LSD runs or bikes, go out there and ride or run at the same heart rate for five to six days in a row. If can you recover from day to day and you aren?t losing pace and you haven?t smoked yourself, chances are you are pretty close to running at the right aerobic effort. Training at an effort that allows you to stay injury free and train consistently will lead to the greatest chance of improvement. Keep in mind that eventually you will want to run at the top of your aerobic zone, but until you can run at your current pace day after day, keep the HR well below the top of you aerobic zone.
If you want to be a little more technical with how hard you should train, take twenty to twenty five beats off your lactate threshold (LT) and start from there. Using my own LT as an example, I run at a HR of 140-144 and my LT is 163. If I want to challenge myself then I would throw in a twenty minute pick up (or two) in my longer run where I sustain a HR closer to 148-150 ? which is still aerobic and will still allow me to get back out there the next day and train again.
I use the same philosophy with my bike training and even my swim training. I allow myself to go very hard one day a week in the pool and that's usually the day before a recovery day. Most of the time however, I try to maintain good form and keep the HR steady and think about being able to repeat the workout again the next day. Don?t get me wrong; when it's time to go fast I go fast.
The misconception of LSD is that it's easy. Yes, my long runs are at an easy pace and yes I can hold a conversation while I am out running. Holding the correct aerobic effort four to six days a week, month after month, is not easy. Eventually you will see that your pace for the same effort or HR will be faster. It's when you go out there and plod along or run too hard that you won?t see as much improvement. Remember, doing it frequently and being able to repeat the workout day after day are the keys.
"Easy" of course, is relative to each one of us. When I improved my running to a 5:40 pace, my easy runs became 7:00 pace, which was my RACE pace not too long before that. Still I was training about 1:20 per mile slower than I was racing. That 7:00 pace was what I could maintain day after day. And when I couldn't I would back off to 7:30 or 8:00 pace. You need to find your own "easy" repeatable pace. Frequency and repeatability are the two words I want you to think about when you train in the next few weeks. Continually ask yourself during the workout: Can I repeat this same workout tomorrow? If the answer is no, then back off immediately. Being able to consistently train week after week, month after month, and year after year will bring about the best chances for your continued improvement in triathlon. Taking a quote from father of distance running; the late Arthur Lydiard: "There is no easy way".
Michael Ricci is a USAT Level III certified coach. He can be reached for personal coaching at firstname.lastname@example.org.