TRAINING FOR SUCCESS
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research carried an article detailing a study that aimed to determine which training methods were most helpful in getting runners into an elite status. This was a retrospective study, since the 28 males (mean age 28) were already elite and world-class runners. The analysis used their detailed training logs, and the coaches’ records, to determine training methods and race performances during their first seven years of training. This time frame was chosen, since it is generally accepted that eight to ten years of hard training is usually required to reach peak performance.
The study looked at several training elements. These included: total weekly mileage; easy runs; short intervals (200-1000 m at 95-100% HRmax); long intervals (1000-2000 m at 92-95 % HRmax); and tempo running (45-70 minutes 1000-5000 m at 82-92% HRmax). Information was collected for three different time periods (three years after training first began, five years after training began and seven years after training began). All race performances in 5K to marathon, during the periods, were recorded.
Now that all the data were collected, it was time to do some high-tech statistical analysis. Some of the findings are not surprising but two are quite unexpected. The first and most important finding was that the total volume of distance run in training was a very strong predictor of performance. In fact, it explained 59% of performance score. The second most useful training modality, that made improvements in performance, were the short intervals. Next in line, and almost as beneficial, were tempo runs.
One surprise for me was that the long-interval workouts were not correlated to race performance. Many marathon training plans call for long intervals such as hard mile-easy mile. In this study, long intervals didn’t help improve performance. The other surprise was how important easy runs were in the development of these distance runners. Since the most important determinate of success is total mileage, it is logical that many of these miles must be done at an easy pace. The whole week cannot be high-intensity workouts. I have known many competitive runners who scoff at easy running, believing it is a waste of time. This study indicates they are incorrect. One training modality runners often use is hill repeats. These were not part of the study, so it is hard to know how they fit in.
The bottom line from this excellent study: no matter what level you are at now, if you want to improve your long-distance running, you should focus on high mileage with some of it being easy running; and include a lot of short intervals, and tempo workouts, but avoid long intervals.