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Endurance running training - aerobic threshold

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 elliot.baker 21 Oct 2021

Following helpful advice on here I bought Training for the Uphill Athlete and read the first 100 pages last night (it's great reading and nice pictures).

My main take away from these first 100 pages is that I should be doing 80-85% of my training/exercise time with my heartrate below my aerobic threshold (which for me is probably around 132bpm, just guessing)

Looking back at my runs... I generally run between 8-14km in 50m-1h30m and my HR is always way up in zone 3/4 (say about 154+ i.e. between the aerobic threshold and lactate threshold). This is my go-to "natural" pace, not quite as fast as I can possibly go, but as fast as I can reasonably comfortably go and feel well worked out afterwards, i.e. pouring in sweat.

This habit seems fundamentally wrong compared to the guidance in the book, and is just a natural habit I've fallen into over the last few years of getting into unstructured running for the pleasure of it, essentially 100% of my exercise is above my aerobic threshold.

Basically I think I need to go out and try running slow enough that I can breathe just through my nose (perhaps) and keep my HR around 130bpm, no matter how slow and unnatural that feels. I think I've been doing all my training (it's not been training it's just been running for the fun of it) above this level, so haven't seen major improvements in 2-3 years of running (which is fine because I've just been enjoying myself).

Am I getting it? Does this make sense to experienced runners? Have I got the gist of the book?

In reply to elliot.baker:

Just trying to understand this... apologies if this is nonsense

I thought "Pace" was the threshold, and varies between people but is something like 30 below Max HR and that's why there are various schemes to go above and below the pace for periods to increase the threshold (shorter and higher above/below=intervals and >40 mins only going a bit above/below =fartlek).

I think the theory is that people often lack foundations and have been fed some popular nonsense that you only need to exercise 4 minutes a day (or whatever) at crazy intensity and that is "better", rather than asking what the specific goals are and designing a program towards achieving those goals using a variety of tools

The dumbed down explanation is that the longer gentler training increases the heart volume of pump (and many other endurance adaptions) and the higher intensity works more on the heart muscle thickness (strength of each contraction, and many other speed adaptions).

Since you haven't defined your goals, or given you MHR, and absolute resting rate, age etc I don't think anyone can throw numbers at you here (yet) on what to do.

I would say that is you haven't improved in a long time, you need to be doing something different somewhere!

Happy to be corrected on any/all of this

 yorkshireman 21 Oct 2021
In reply to elliot.baker:

It's a while since I read it but I thought it said to forget HR and work on RPE (rate of perceived exertion)?

I might have read it somewhere else but your HR isn't a clear indicator of effort - it's your hear's response to the level of effort you're putting on your body but your heart can react in different ways depending on ambient temperature, how well trained you are, whether you're sick etc. RPE works better because like I always say, running doesn't get easier, you just go faster.

Anyway I rarely wear my HRM (mostly an ultra runner but do some short, fun, trail races too) and I generally treat my HR readings as a fun novelty rather than anything serious.

I think the general consensus though among coaches is that most runners do too much of their training too fast.

Post edited at 15:56
 Andy Reeve 21 Oct 2021
In reply to elliot.baker:

Hi Elliot,

My earlier experiences of running are quite similar to yours in terms of intensity, although I did l never actually measured my heart rate then. I found that I never really progressed beyond running about 10 miles. In retrospect this is likely because I had depleted my anaerobic capacity by this time and I was relatively weak aerobically.

A few years ago I also read TftNA (I agree, and enjoyable read!). My understanding of exactly as you say - so I set out doing probably 95% nose breathing. At this time I hadn't done any running for several years, although we generally quite fit from cragging etc. That summer I did the Glen Coe Skyline which was by far the furthest and most altitude gain is ever done in a day.

So yes, I think you're on exactly the right lines, based on what I read and my own experience subsequently. The only caveat I'd add is that higher intensity running would also make sense, but after a large aerobic base, and even then probably around 25-50% volume, not all of the time.

Caveat: I wouldn't describe myself as an experienced runner - I haven't had my running shoes on once this year!

 petemeads 21 Oct 2021
In reply to elliot.baker:

The Phil Maffetone method would have you training at 180 - age heartrate for several months, so you might have a bit of leeway with your 130+, but if you are panting you are going too fast whatever your HR. At my age I get 115 HR which is more like a brisk walk than a run. I did a season of training on my Wattbike using 115 average over 30km and think I saw some benefit but my Garmin has a very low opinion of such low efforts!

For running, zone 3 starts at 136 for me so I have done a fair bit of mileage between 120 - 130 and this has definitely helped get some endurance back. Also, last winter I started trying to run a fast mile. This definitely combined well with the endurance work to allow decent runs up to 30km. You don't have to do much fast running but it does need to be properly fast...

 mountainbagger 21 Oct 2021
In reply to elliot.baker:

Hi Elliot, another poster referred to Maff training. I started this as a way back from injury. I was 44 when I started, so calculated my Maff HR (the rate I must not exceed) as 136 (it's 180-age). If you're an experienced runner it does say you can add some BPM to that (can't remember how much), but I took some off and went with a round 130 as I was returning from injury. At first I was having to walk up a lot of hills, which was irritating, but after just a couple of months I went from 10 min/mile (roughly) to 9:30. Two years later I can do 8:30 min/mile at 130bpm... that's 90s per mile quicker in 2 years! Big gains I think (from an admittedly low base). I started adding back a bit of speedwork, threshold/tempo runs, some racing etc, but generally keep all non-specific training, recovery and long runs under 130 still. Intervals aren't as bad as you think, as you have a low HR warm up and cool down plus jogging in between, so only exceeding the low HR for bursts. It's just tempo and steady runs that can make up more than 15% quite easily (but they are fun!). However, I can argue my steady pace is still Maff pace (just upper limit for an experienced runner, 134+5bpm ish). Anyway, after a while, the Maff or Z2 (whichever method you're following) pace is not as slow as when you first start, and it feels like a pace you can sustain forever.

If it's very hilly where you are, then it will be difficult, so I just try to keep it sensible uphill (not lung-bursting), and cruise downhill so my average HR hits the right spot.

Before I injured myself, I was similar to what you said: I was running too hard everywhere, all the time, I had plateau'd, but I had no idea until I got a HR monitor and read up a bit more and realised I was redlining (not literally running everywhere at max HR, but quite high) a lot but had just got used to it! Oh, and did I mention I was injured? All that pushing got me an overuse injury. Now I can run higher mileage than ever before.

Just my experience, everyone is different and I think you have got to enjoy your running, so need to balance being sensible/obsessive with fun 🙂

In reply to elliot.baker:

I find a lot of people assume you are running 6 x per week, so can mostly do easy running and maybe two session (eg intervals) and a long run at easy (aerobic) pace. Fine if you run 80k + pw. If you’re running 4 or 5 times pw then I can only imagine doing 85% super easy as a ‘base’ phase for however many wks as part of a proper training programme leading into something. Steve House is massively into super low intensity aerobic work but most of the good runners in my club do 2 x sessions a wk of speed/intervals. I do mix it up doing easy/steasey runs, but I’m so slow that Z2 is very tedious. Equally if you neglect doing some really hard efforts you might not get faster/fitter. Depends how much you want to run for enjoyment and how much to optimise your potential.

“Make the easy days easy, hard days hard”.

 tlouth7 21 Oct 2021
In reply to CantClimbTom:

> I thought "Pace" was the threshold

Pace is just the inverse of speed. So a speed of 5 mph is a pace of 12 minutes per mile. Most runners think about pace rather than speed, typically because we run fixed distances and pace makes it easy to find the time it will take to cover that distance.

On any given day you will have a "threshold pace". The higher it is the faster you will be able to run at any given level of effort.

 Mattyk 21 Oct 2021
In reply to elliot.baker:

I don't claim to be any sort of expert but here is my experience:  I recently (about last year and a half due to pandemic) trained for a 50 mile (lakes in a day). I finished in 13 and a half hours and came from basically not running but reasonably fit to this. My training was based on a 6 month 50 mile training plan I randomly found on the internet which i did last year had a break and then repeated sort of this year between having to go to work- i trained at between 8-10km an hour pace. At the end of the 50 miles race i still had plenty to give. When i am out for a leisure or training run i always adopt the ability to hold a conversation rule and use that as my threshold (except maybe on some uphills or if i'm in a hurry) . I never bothered with HR monitoring just gut feeling about exertion and an appreciation of the speed seemed to work for me. Ditch the HR data and go out for longer and more back to back runs is my advice.

 elliot.baker 22 Oct 2021
In reply to elliot.baker:

This is really helpful thanks all. Will definitely be trying to bring down the intensity of my day to day runs now, and try to throw in some strength work. 
 

For info I probably only run about 25km per week on average but I’m hoping that having gentler runs will make me feel like I can run more. Struggle is more fitting it in around family and work. 

 compost 22 Oct 2021
In reply to elliot.baker:

There's so much conflicting information out there in the wilds of the internet that I find it's really easy to overthink it.

My main principles - most runs should be easier than you think is sensible, a few runs should be harder than you think is sensible but really, at our level, the main thing is just run more!

 wbo2 22 Oct 2021
In reply to elliot.baker: some comments, as you're only running 25kms per week.  Given that you're doing 15 of those in one run you're doing one or two others to make up the 10km. ? 

 Time allowing,  it would seem wise to drop the pace of thd longer run so you can do a bit more. Given the limited milage,  frequency,  not improving much in a couple of years isn't really a surprise,  and I think one of your other runs need to be some pretty intense intervals around threshold if you wantto improve.. I repeatedly bang on about building to 6 times 3 minutes at desired 5km pace with 1 minute rest for a reason.

Trying to replace the 180-age with a proper max measurement would seem a good idea to me. 

In reply to elliot.baker:

If you are only running 25km a week, just run. 

 cousin nick 25 Oct 2021
In reply to elliot.baker:

Essentially, it sounds similar to that described in 80/20 running by Matt Fitzgerald.  80% of your running 'slow', the other 20% 'not slow'.  Whether you measure effort by pace, HR or perceived effort doesn't really make a huge difference. At the end of the day, for me, it means running more volume, but at a slower pace, which feels unnatural to begin with and takes discipline to control, but remember to do hard sessions too.  The book describes the theory and references it with published articles, before going on to describe how to do it practically.

N

In reply to:

I can see the idea behind the slow pace if you’ve got a lot of time but does the same apply if you can only manage 3 hours a week? Also, is there a minimum length of session that you should do your slow runs, is the benefit of doing 3x 30 min runs the same as doing 1x 90 minute?

 mountainbagger 25 Oct 2021
In reply to Tyler:

> I can see the idea behind the slow pace if you’ve got a lot of time but does the same apply if you can only manage 3 hours a week? Also, is there a minimum length of session that you should do your slow runs, is the benefit of doing 3x 30 min runs the same as doing 1x 90 minute?

If I only had 3 hours, I'd do a steady (as in not slow but not hard either) 90 min (roughly!) at the weekend enjoying local trails. Basically fun, relaxed running...I would "just run" as another poster put it.

With the rest of the time I'd do two other runs of 45 mins roughly, one of them I'd throw in some intervals or fartlek in the middle, the other, probably run hard/threshold for 15-30 mins in the middle.

But, that's because I enjoy a bit of speedwork and getting (very) out of breath! I also think it helps overall.

What I wouldn't do now, which is what I used to do, is run all those 3 hours maxed out without much warm up/cool down, i.e. 45 min threshold, 45 mins lots of intervals bent double catching my breath between each one, and 90 mins long run as fast as I can handle!

In terms of length of runs (i.e. lots of short sessions Vs fewer long sessions), I don't know. Perhaps someone with more experience can answer that one.

 SouthernSteve 25 Oct 2021
In reply to Tyler:

The 80-20 method  keeps you in the low aerobic zone and this increases aerobic (endurance) fitness and will also help stop you getting injured which is the danger of going all out every time you run. For most people the maximum benefit for endurance building are runs of around 90-120 minutes, with diminishing returns thereafter. Running 3 x 30 minutes will likely be run faster, risk more injury and will not prepare you for longer distances. There is a zone between the slow pace and a fast pace which has less benefits (neither building speed nor endurance building) and a common fault apparently. For me a quick run before tea is likely in that 'bad' zone – however I still enjoy it! If you are trying to lose weight 3 x 30 mins might be better. 
Hope this helps. 

 SouthernSteve 25 Oct 2021
In reply to mountainbagger:

I agree with your comments

> But, that's because I enjoy a bit of speedwork and getting (very) out of breath! I also think it helps overall.

That's what Tuesdays are for here!

In reply to elliot.baker:

https://uphillathlete.com/heart-rate-drift/

Do this test to figure out your aerobic base, and then base all your training off of that result. Unfortunately you will probably be like me and have to do a load of easy running at a very moderate pace for a while to build up that aerobic base before you leap in to any sort of speed/hill work otherwise you will find it hard to progress from your current situation. Lots of easy flat miles works wonders in the long run, you just have to stick with it and you will reap the rewards  

 JimR 25 Oct 2021
In reply to Garethza:

The 220 - age is a load of bollox for max hr. try and get a handle on real max hr ( I estimated mine by getting max hr on final sprint on a 5k where I was really going for it and then adding 5) I’m 65 and my max is 189. Then do 80% of runs at 70-75% of mhr , do other 20% at c 88% of  mhr. But spread it around about with intervals, Fartlek etc and retest mhr periodically 

Post edited at 19:23
In reply to SouthernSteve:

> There is a zone between the slow pace and a fast pace which has less benefits (neither building speed nor endurance building) and a common fault apparently.

Me, me, me, I'm sure that must be me 😁

 Domdeb 25 Oct 2021
In reply to elliot.baker:

Just to re-iterate the science that is described in the book. More than just splitting your training between 80% easy and 20% hard. You're trying to train two completely opposed metabolic systems to optimise your muscles for a specific target exercise.

With your easy runs, you are getting your body comfortable operating at a "low" intensity burning mostly fat and generating little to no lactic acid. Some lactic acid is being built up, however, it is quickly being metabolised in the mitochondria. Because there is no lactic build-up, the primary limiting factor for endurance will be the strength of your muscles, and there is limited lasting fatigue after exercise. The more of this exercise we do, the better our muscles become at burning fat and the less lactic acid we accumulate for a given intensity of work (i.e. we can work harder for longer)

Periodically you will introduce workouts that build up slightly more lactic acid (in Steve House's marathon training plan these occur in the form of intervals and pickup runs). With the hard runs, you are trying to generate lots of lactic acid. At these intensities, the lactic build-up is what will limit the length of your workout. These runs are useful for training the metabolic pathways that let the mitochondria metabolise lactic acid (he uses the analogy of a hoover, a big hoover can suck up more lactic acid, so you don't fatigue).

The result of these methods is that a trained athlete can operate at 80% of their max heart rate for a huge length of time because they're burning fat and not accumulating any lactic acid. Then after short bursts of high intensity (e.g. steep climbs) their muscles are adapted to metabolise the built-up lactic acid before it can hamper their performance.

If you train in the middle intensity, you're not teaching your muscles to burn fat (because the intensity is too high) and your not teaching them to metabolise lactic acid (because the intensity is not high enough)

 Ridge 25 Oct 2021
In reply to Domdeb:

Thanks for that, never really understood the 'lots of low intensity' theory, but that seems a good explanation.

 elliot.baker 02 Nov 2021
In reply to elliot.baker:

So to re-open this, I've read about 90% of the book now (just got to read the chapters on pulling together your training plan).

I've estimated my aerobic threshold HR to be about 143bpm, based on that being the highest HR I can maintain running for 10-15mins + by just breathing through my nose.

I've estimated my lactate threshold at 170bpm, using the Lactate threshold test on my garmin watch.

So, according to the book I have "aerobic deficiency syndrome", because my AeT is more than 10% less than my LT (which would be 153bpm). So I think the book is suggesting looks of low intensity aerobic base work to raise my AeT, so I can run faster for longer whilst just fueling myself aerobically... I think?

So last night went on my first "proper" low intensity Zone 1/2 run, keeping my HR below 143bpm the whole way. I did about 7.5km in about 45mins. I'm used to doing about 10-12km in about 50min-1h:10 depending on how hilly the route is, which I love, but my HR would be at about 154-165 average on a run like that. That's in the "no mans' land" between the two thresholds, where I gather I'm not being that productive for either system (aerobic or anaerobic). 

I did have to walk a few paces on the very steepest hill, my concern is, my normal trail routes - I don't think I'll be able to run up the big hills at all whilst keeping my HR below 143bpm! But the book says to swallow your pride and stick at it.

Hope I'm getting it right. 

Last Sunday I ran 50km in the peak district and it took about 8 hours, over Alport moor, bleaklow, North ridge of Kinder. Furthest I've ever ran, was uber-proud of myself. I want to do more runs like that and be more effective at them.

My goal is to run the Welsh 3000s next year in the summer, I could probably walk/run it now but would be nice for it to be enjoyable.

 Nic Barber 02 Nov 2021
In reply to elliot.baker:

Don't get too scared if a few runs creep into the 'no-mans land'. This is after all likely long-race effort so good to know what it feels like a bit. But make sure it doesn't happen too often.

I also think my easy runs are maybe a bit too fast. I've started walking more on steeper climbs (though this is more because I'm in recovery mode), and should do more nose breathing. 

But as someone said earlier 'if you're running 25km a week, just run' - I'd reiterate this. If you can increase 25km to 27-30km that extra 10-20% will likely have more impact than overthinking training methodology. Of course maintaining consistency is where the big gains come in.

 alibrightman 25 Nov 2021
In reply to elliot.baker:

> I've estimated my aerobic threshold HR to be about 143bpm, based on that being the highest HR I can maintain running for 10-15mins + by just breathing through my nose.

My understanding is that we can exercise "forever" below aerobic threshold. The wheels may fall off, but we won't run out of gas.

If you could only sustain nose-breathing for 10-15 minutes, I suspect you were well above your aerobic threshold. I think you need to measure heart rate at a level you can sustain for an hour or two while nose-breathing / conversing. 

I find it takes at least half an hour to fully warm up. I don't pay much attention to HR or nose breathing during that time, as they both take a while to settle down.

Cheers

Al

 Yanis Nayu 25 Nov 2021
In reply to Nic Barber:

For cycling my understanding was that you knock about 30 bpm off your anaerobic threshold heart rate to get your aerobic threshold HR. The anaerobic threshold is more straightforward to test.  

In reply to elliot.baker:

> Last Sunday I ran 50km in the peak district and it took about 8 hours, over Alport moor, bleaklow, North ridge of Kinder. Furthest I've ever ran, was uber-proud of myself. I want to do more runs like that and be more effective at them.

Out of interest, what was your average heart rate for this?

 elliot.baker 25 Nov 2021
In reply to Garethza:

142bpm it says - that was just off my watch (fenix 6), wasn't wearing the chest strap. 7h06m moving time, 4696cals burned! Average pace 08:31min/km. Was very proud of myself!

Just realised that interestingly that's 1bpm below what I estimated my aerobic threshold at (143bpm). That makes total sense really doesn't it! Which is reassuring.

I've just had an awful cough / cold thing (not COVID!) that resulted in a sinus infection so I've not been running for about 17 days now, the longest break I've had for probably 2 years (barring sprained ankles).

Hoping to get back on it in the next couple of days.

 Doghouse 25 Nov 2021
In reply to elliot.baker:

Average heart rate over 8 hours is pretty meaningless to be honest, I think time spent in each zone is important.  You could spend 4 hours at 200 bpm and the next 4 hours at 100 bpm and come up at pretty much the same average. 

In reply to elliot.baker:

What you are describing is called Polarised Training.   Look up Stephen Seiler if you want to read up more on it.

Here is A TED talk he did on it a few years back.   He now also has a you tube channel on the subject.   Plus lots of stuff on the fast talk podcasts.
 

https://www.ted.com/talks/stephen_seiler_how_normal_people_can_train_like_the_worlds_best_edurance_athletes/up-next

In reply to elliot.baker:

Your aerobic threshold is something you can only sustain for a max of around 40-50 minutes, so to have held that for 7 hours would not make sense. 

The fact that the data is from the wrist HR and not from a chest strap means it’s pretty worthless though IMO, as doghouse said the zones are more important but you need to have set them up with the right thresholds in the first place.

 elliot.baker 25 Nov 2021
In reply to Garethza:

So I think I’ve set the zones up right based on what was in the book and having done one aerobic threshold test run, and one lactate threshold test run to find those two thresholds. 
 
the zones for my run were 

22% easy zone 2 - less than 130bpm

47% aerobic zone 3 -131 to 149bpm

26% threshold zone 4 - 150 to 166bpm

2% max above 167


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