Improving running economy at short distances (part II)

In yesterday’s post I began answering a question from a high-school student about increasing his VO2 Max. Yesterday’s discussion came to the conculsion that it isn’t VO2 Max, but rather running economy that’s really the issue. Below is part II of my answer in which I give some suggestions on the types of workouts that will help build running economy.

Part II: how can you best improve at the distances listed (800, mile)?
So, given my first answer you can see the issue isn’t VO2max – it’s running economy, lactate threshold and vVO2max that should be your interest.

Running economy is simply a runner’s oxygen cost associated with running at a particular pace. In the case of running economy, lower oxygen costs are desirable.

Lactate-threshold speed is a key predictor of performance in events ranging from 800 meters all the way up to 100K.

vVO2max is simply the minimal running speed which allows a runner to reach his/her maximal rate of oxygen consumption (i. e., it is the minimal speed which pushes the oxygen-delivery and utilization system to the limit), and it is a function of several things, including the ability to run very fast, oxygen-processing capacity, and efficiency of movement.

There is a nice crossover of training for 800M, mile and even up through 5000M. 800M & the mile are considered middle distance track running. The 5000M is the “long” track event (as is 10,000M in college). You will improve at all distances as you get stronger, fitter, faster and more mature. At this time our reader’s forte is in the 400M and 800M – his times in these events are proportionately better than his mile and 5000 times. (This could be from his natural ability or just because of the training he’s done to date and his base speed will serve him very well in the 800M and mile.)

The 800M & the mile both require a lot of lactate threshold and vVO2max training.
Running experts often preach that aerobic development is critical for achieving one’s best 800-meter performances, arguing that about half of the energy required to race 800 meters is generated aerobically — but research has found that VO2max is totally unrelated to 800-meter times. In other words, runners with high VO2max values didn’t run 800 meters any faster than the those with low VO2max figures. (source: Owen Anderson Ph.D.)

Here are several workouts which affect all the above measures. These three workouts focus more on the 800 and mile, but will also greatly affect your 5000M performance:
“Lactate Stacker” – Run one minute at a pace which is faster than your vVO2max – almost as fast as your maximal running speed for one minute. This is best described as relaxed fast. Don’t strain but still produce close to maximal power in your leg muscles. After the one minute has elapsed, jog easily for two minutes to recover (your recovery jogging pace doesn’t matter), and then repeat. You might only do 4-6 in your first workout. You want to gradually build to about 12 to 14. (Lactate stackers get there name because the lactate stacks up in your blood with each sequential rep and forces your body to improve using it as a fuel source.)

1000-meter intervals in which the first 800 meters are covered at mile pace and the last 200 meters are eclipsed at goal 800 speed. In your case, you would go through 800 in 2:15 (your mile pace) then blast 200 in 29. These require longer recoveries so don’t rush them – take 4:00-5:00 rest between each. Start with two reps and build to four.

600-meter intervals in which the first 400 are run at mile pace then blast 200 at near top speed. Start with 3-4 reps and build to six. Take 5:00 rest between each rep. Early season reps may start with 500 meters instead of 600.
These type workouts should be carried out 2-3 times per week. A race day during the season would replace one of those workout days.

There is also very good data showing that weight lifting & plyometrics are very beneficial to short to middle distance runners. When done correctly, the explosive nature of these have been shown to enhance leg power which translates to shorter foot contact time – that yields improved speed!

Important closing note: all training recommendations will vary from person to person. All workouts must be considered within the context of all of your workouts, the time of season and your personal exhibited weaknesses and strengths. No workout exists in a vacuum. No single workout does it all. All workouts will effect multiple energy/physiology systems. For more specific workout recommendations for you, please contact us for coaching.

Good luck as you get faster and develop as a runner!

Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona, USA


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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