Thursday, May 29, 2008

Training for Higher Performance (Guy Oden)

This was a seminar organised by a few of the SgRunners gang (thanks PS!), for the evening of the 28th of May. The speaker was Guy Oden, an accomplished runner in his own right, and now a running coach to a number of high level local runners. Overall, I thought it was an excellent presentation which put together in a logical and easily digestible format, training priorities to gain a runner precious minutes in a long distance race. As such, there was not much that was particularly novel, but having it laid out logically and having some main points reinforced was, to me at least, well worth the 90 minutes of time and $7.50 fee. With due respect to the speaker, I won't pliagiarise his material here, so I'll hit some of the highlights, and if want to know more, I guess you are free to sign up with him!

His opening slides basically spoke two 2 key elements for improved performance: 1) Running Economy and 2) Lactate Threshold

1) Running Economy

The key to improved running economy, in his opinion, is core stability, shorter contact time, and longer stride length (not overstriding!).

He proceeded to show a video clip of a Kenyan 1500m race. What was evident was the ramrod straight running posture of the upper bodies with very little side-to-side and up-and-down excursion, and mind you, these guys were running fast! So, no stray movements to detract from the primary aim of running, which is the propulsion of the body in the forward direction with the minimal expenditure of energy.

He proceeded to show clips on how to build core stability, including planks, plyometrics, weight work etc. Check with Guy or his trainees if you'd like more details!

Going into shorter contact time (meaning footstrike, I believe), and longer stride length, he spoke about the need for improved elastic recoil (bounce). Some of the techniques he then demonstrated and showed via video were the use of dynamic stretching, skipping and hill reps.

Next, he went into the second key element, 2) Lactate Threshold.

Training the right energy systems was the key. He started off by saying that in his opinion, VO2 max training was not the right energy system for long distance perfromance, and training for fast 400s is irrelevant for long distance runner. He also said that the occasions whereby a photo-finish occurred for a long race like a marathon were extremely rare. Given the recent furore in the forum about 'finishing fast', to me it just banged the nail on the head! More on that later.

The best bang for the buck, for Guy, was to train to improve one's 5K and 10K times. And with some additional long distance specific 'bridging' training, it would translate to a meaningful improvement in marathon race times. He went into specifics about interval training, different types of long runs, race pace conditioning etc.

In summary, 4 elements to be applied in training;

1) Long run (changing from easy aerobic type early in training cycle to race pace conditioning later on)
2) Race specific track sessions
3) Lactate Threshold training (5k/10k type)
4) Strength, Plyometrics

He ended by saying that marathoners are like cats, with a limited number of lives (or races, as the case may be). He advised that if we desired to have meaningfully fast runs, that we be selective about the races we partake. The bodies can only absorb so many marathon distance races run hard.

So, a very nice session overall, and good to see some familiar faces.



I have managed to ruffle a few feathers recently with my posts on the forum, so if you think you might be likely to disagree with what I write and are the easily-ruffled type, read no further!

I had a few takeaways from this session. Number 1) I am a really lousy runner! Number 2) I really need a coach (see No.1). Guy was basically using 4min/k as his reference point. I think the last time I did 4min/k was for a 2.4k run, not 42.2k.

Seriously, core training is something most of us ignore. I used to do some of it when I was practising a little more seriously for badminton, but having gone into running a lot more, have given up my gym ball and doing things like planks, lunges. That is something I will pen down to do in my next training cycle.

3 Other little Nuggets:

'Finishing fast': Hah! As Guy puts it, if you come into the end of the race and the guy is 200m ahead of you with 400m to go, even a world record 400m run won't save you. As it were, close finishes even at the highest elite level of marathoning are rare. That being the case, if you were interested in improving your marathon times, you were far better off investing your energy in LT type training than fast 400s. If I may add my personal note, if you had enough energy for a fast finish at the end of the long race, you probably haven't been very smart in pacing in the first place. Personally I am convinced that training for a fast finish has little relevance for any level of marathoner if the only consideration is a fast marathon time, and of limited relevance even if placement were the priority. It is but one tool in the kit, and not a very useful one at that for that distance.

'Cramps': A participant asked about cramps in his calves. Guy's response was that if it were localised muscle cramps, it was likely due to a biomechanical issue leading to fatigue. No mention of electrolyte issues. As per my previous posts on the issue, by and large muscular cramps of this nature are due to fatigue of the muscles and nothing to do with electrolyte imbalance. As such, my personal opinion is that for distances of marathon and below, salt supplementation in the form of tablets is pretty useless.

'Races': Guy says we should 'pace' ourselves as far as race participation. Well, there was a stampede to sign up for the 84k when it opened wasn't it? I think some of the less experienced and less strong runners are setting themselves up for serious injury, perhaps to the extent that they will disavow from running in the future. I mean, proposing to be on your feet overnight for 9-12 hours is not kids stuff and the risk of significant physiological/musculoskeletal insult is not trivial. No regrets bailing on the longer distance.


Edit 30th May;

I am adding additional info from Philip posted from the SgRunners forum, presenting a different point of view on VO2 max and LT. I guess the last word on this has yet to be written.

Not being at the talk, it is very difficult to comment on the points Guy Oden brought across unless I hear it personally but base on your summary, there are quite a fair bit of points which I do not agree on base on what papers had more or less laid down and a common point that I wish to draw out is: how would an individual know that he has reached his highest limit in improving VO2max? Let us dissect it part by part and understand what literature has shown us:1) It is well accepted in mine field that several years of consistent endurance training at sub-maximal intensity is needed before an active endurance athlete (vo2max of 45 - 55) can attain values of about 60 or more (Ekblom, 1969). Such is achieved through high mileage work of low intensity. We are looking at about 100 to 130km per week.2) After reaching about 60ml/kg/min, endurance performance is no longer improved by further increase in submaximal training volume (Londeree, 1997). From here, it is pretty clear that a) the cap to Vo2max in an ordinary individual is not reached fairly rapidly, a reasonably well value (60ml/kg/min) can be attain through CONSISTENT submax yet high volume training. Important point athlete should ask yourself now "Do I have a mileage base of 100km a week? Otherwise, how can I be sure I have reached the max potential of mine aerobic capacity?"3) After which from this stage, to further improve, high intensity work in the form of high intensity interval training (HIIT) can start coming. Even among well-trained endurance athletes (Vo2max >65), HIIT has been shown to be able to continue improve their VO2max by an average of 5%. Those interested can go read up works by Dr Paul Laursen; pple in this field and seasoned-cyclist would know this legend of HIIT research. 4) Even (though I have yet to seen) if you are an athlete who has fulfiled point 2 and 3, the next question coming in would be "how often do you conduct your HIIT?". If you merely did 12 weeks of 10x800m once a week and you declare that you have hit your highest limit of your Vo2max improvement, well its time for you to go back to the drawing table. Even for elites to elicit improvements through HIIT after attaining a good VO2max values, they have to attempt on the average 3 times per week of HIIT training. Point to note till this point: If once a week dont work, then do it twice a week, its fine.5) Till now we are still trying to understand what is the optimal intensity, duration, recovery to work ratio that HIIT should be performed for HIIT program optimisation. Billat, Plechet and Petit (1999) reckons 50% of Tmax (time to exhaustion at the minimum velocity to elicit a stage of VO2max) is optimal while Laursen (2001) felt it should be 60% Tmax. And playing around with these different components of HIIT does result in different level of adaptations in VO2max. Point to note: Are you even manipulating your intervals variables before declaring your Vo2max is plateaued? Hence VO2max training through HIIT is still one of the or if not the most valuable component an endurance athlete can invest his/her mileage in. It is true that training your lactate threshold improves your fractional utilization or the ability to use a greater proportion of your VO2max before the accumulation of blood lactate. But I believe the question to be asked here is "If I dont have a good VO2max, no matter how much lactate threshold training I do, there's only to so much % of Vo2max I can utilize". Let's understand that from the analogy of the Car engine and the Driver. VO2max is likened to the engine of a car. The greater the engine, the stronger the car. Lactate threshold is likened to the Driver of the car. A runner with a poor lactate threshold is like a 20 year old NS-boi who just got his license and drives with a P-plate while a runner with a good lactate threshold is a professional F1-Driver. If both drivers are given a damm solid car (insert watever model you like) of say 2.5 liters engine, due to lack of skills and experience (read:low threshold), the Ns-boi boi can never fully utilize the car to its max speed it can handle b4 wear and tear starts setting in. But the professional driver with all that years of racing and drifting (read: high threshold) would be able to confidently ramp the speed up to 160km per hr n take it for a spin. BUT. What if in the scenario whereby a 2nd hand 1.5 liter engine family car (read:low VO2max) is given to the professional driver? No matter how zhai his skills are, the max speed a 1.5liter car can generate b4 wear and tear stills settling in can never outdo that of a 2.5 liters car. Personally, if you ask me what I think of lactate threshold training, I would think it looks good in theory, but its not what you see in reality. Quoting the words of mine role model, Exercise Physiologist Frankie Tan, "The lactate threshold is nothing but a mere blackhole which sucks the athlete in"... these words 4ever echoing in mine mind. oops better stop here b4 pple think this not-a-runner but just a scientist talks too much.

ReferencesBillat, V.L., Flechet, B., & Petit, B. (1999). Interval training at Vo2max: effects on aerobic performance and overtraining markers. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 31, 156 - 163.Ekblom, B. (1969).

Effect of physical training on oxygen transport system in man. Acta Physiol Scand, 328, 1045.Laursen, P.B. & Jenkins, D.G. (2001). The scientific basis of high intensity interval training. Sports Medicine, 32, 1 - 22.Londeree, B.R. (1997).

Effects of training on lactate/ventilatory threshold: a meta-analysis. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 29, 837 - 843.


PS said...

Thanks for the neat summary. :) Glad many of us found the session useful. Mind if I referred the link to others too?

On reflection, I realised that in the past when I ran less and did more diverse workouts that (unintentionally) involved core, skipping, plyometric etc that Guy mentioned, I had less injuries. In the past 2 yrs that I ran much more, and less of those, I'm getting weird kinks everywhere. Maybe it's time to rebalance. :)

runmondeo said...

PS, all thanks to you and your kakis, I'm merely acting as a scribe. I think intuitively it may not be so obvious to runners that core strength is important. Understandbly, most folk just want to get out there and bash out the miles.

Feel free to link, but I think I'm going to moderate some of my comments first, don't want to hurt too many people's feelings!