The metabolics of running are complex and precisely defined for each individual. No two people are exactly the same. In layman’s terms, metabolics is fitness, or the types of workouts you perform. There are three main reasons why this is so important:
- If you run too hard you risk getting injured, burned out and/or overtrained.
- If you run too easy you won’t see a good return on investment. In other words, you won’t get much faster for the time you spend running.
- If you run all your workouts “kinda hard” or in the “Gray Area,” you won’t be adequately recovered for the next hard workout and you’d be going too hard for the workout that’s supposed to be easy.
Clear as mud?
I won’t go into the in-depth physiology underneath these metabolics but the most important thing is to have a specific goal for each run you’re doing. Simply stated, these goals break down into three primary categories:
- Aerobic Fitness
- Anaerobic Capacity
- Neuromuscular Speed
This is your body’s ability to run for a long period of time. The pace is very conservative and the most important thing is to run for a prescribed amount of miles (or time) at an easy effort. The other benefit of this category is to teach your body to more efficiently use oxygen as a fuel source. The better your body can use oxygen as fuel, the more fat you’ll be burning at a given pace (a good thing) and the longer you’ll be able to perform.
**Note – most people run too fast to maximally target aerobic endurance. They feel like, by run very easily, they’re not getting a good enough workout. Thus they creep into the dreaded Gray Area.
This could also be referred to as Lactate Tolerance. Lactic Acid is the junk (or “poison”) your body produces when you’re running hard. It’s what makes your legs feel heavy and achy, and makes your lungs burn. By running at intensities that target anaerobic capacity you will be teaching your body to “buffer” lactic acid and continue to run strongly while resisting fatigue. It will also give you the mental confidence that when the going gets tough, you will keep going.
**Note – most people do not run fast and/or for long enough to get the most benefit in anaerobic capacity. These are tough workouts and they require dedication, discipline and a strong mental attitude.
This is your body’s ability to move fast. Of the three categories, this seems to be the one that declines most with age and the one that people target the least. But it’s an extremely important component of running well as running at a faster pace will make any pace slower than this feel comparatively easier.
**Note – most people confuse speed training with anaerobic capacity training. Lactic acid directly counteracts speed. Thus, your intervals here should be very short and very fast, but with very long recoveries. The most important thing is to move your body faster than it’s used to moving.
Below are your customized zones for speed, anaerobic capacity and aerobic endurance. Having exact pacing guidelines in these three categories will ensure you are hitting your goal for each workout. No more guessing on pace – it’ll be laid out in front of you. You’ll be a metabolic machine!
Running Training Intensity Calculator
To use this training intensity calculator, run an all-out 800 meter time trial as fast as you can. Be sure to have at least a 1-2 mile warmup and do 4-6 strides to get your legs loosened up as well. When you have this number simply plug it into the spreadsheet above and it will automatically calculate your correct paces.
Foundation Runs are very useful in developing your aerobic system and strengthening your body’s connective tissue. Think of it like building a house–the stronger you can build the foundation, the more stable and sturdy the house will be in the long term, and the higher you will eventually be able to raise the ceiling. Any serious endurance athlete pays attention to and knows the importance of Foundation Runs.
Foundation Runs can be as challenging psychologically as physically. If you have the itch to want to go faster you’re probably running at the right intensity. You should easily be able to hold a conversation while doing this type of run. It should feel easy–that’s the whole point. And, especially for those of us Type-A endurance athletes, this is not always an easy thing to do. But it is EXTREMELY important to maintain a low enough intensity to ascertain the aerobic physiological benefits from the run. If you decide to pick up the intensity because you “don’t feel that you’re working hard enough,” you risk trying to raise the ceiling of your house before you’ve established a strong foundation.
It is common for an Foundation Run to feel like you’re just “plodding along.” For this reason, keep a close eye on your Stride Rate during different parts of the run. Don’t let your leg turnover slow to a shuffle. Make a conscious effort to keep your stride rate at least 85+ strides/minute, preferably 88+ strides/minute. Even if it feels like you’re taking baby steps, that’s OK. It is a more efficient and economical way to run, as well as a way to lessen the impact forces on your joints. All good things.
A Progression Run is the next step up, or progression, from a Foundation Run. The basis of the run is that it is still part of your aerobic development, but you are progressing the intensity over time. You’ll still be able to exercise for an extended period of time (up to many hours depending on fitness level), while building up your stamina and muscular endurance. These workouts are very useful in improving long-distance race performance because they teach you to run faster as the body gets tired.
A type of active recovery–a run done in between difficult runs to keep the body fresh and sharp. These are short, aerobic efforts that will prime the body for the key workouts of the week.