High-End Aerobic Running:
At the end of the summer we left off with some longer LT runs and a 7.5miler at about marathon pace. Having a developed aerobic system is the name of the game for cross country so we do not want to neglect high end aerobic running the season. Doing that is a recipe for peaking early or having your performance decline. Early in the competition period we still want to develop your threshold. Also, we want to start transitioning that into slightly faster paces. Later in the season it serves as support for race pace. Meaning, it serves as a way to balance out the faster work that you are doing.
The first thing that is done is to add on some slightly faster running at the end of the LT workouts. First, slightly cut back the length of the LT portion of the workout. For instance, if you have been doing 25 minutes at LT, cut back to 15-20min total. Then add on a mile, or 5 minutes, at a slightly faster pace (about 10k pace). I normally do this twice, so that they go from 25min at LT down to 10min LT, then 2x mile at 10k pace with short rest.
As a transition to faster work, or to increase strength endurance, I also combine a LT run with some hard hill work or faster paced work. An example would be to do 15min at LT followed by 4x400m uphill hard or followed by 4x400m at mile pace. This serves as a transition to harder “anaerobic” work or as a way to give a little stimulus to both particular training aspects.
Throughout the competition period, they will also do normal LT runs like in the summer. Since we are no longer trying to build the threshold but simply maintain it, they are thought of as medium workouts and cut back slightly. A typical workout would be 20min at threshold. These are thought of as aerobic maintenance workouts. Another aerobic maintenance workout that is done periodically throughout the competition period is a fartlek that progresses from steady work down to 5-10k pace. One I often use is 10min at a steady pace, 7.5min at LT, 5min at 10k, and 2:30 at 5k pace. That workout, and similar ones, are great as an aerobic refresh.
Lastly, during the early to middle part of the season, I like to have the athletes do a 10 miler hard. This serves as a good indicator of the aerobic fitness of the athlete. Also, it gives one last big boost to the aerobic system. Be careful though, this is a very taxing workout for a HS kid, so give plenty of recovery before and after. Later in the competition period a good aerobic maintenance workout is to do a 5 mile run at the pace that they did their 10 miler at. For advanced athletes doing a full 10 miler but in a time that is a couple minutes slower, is another great aerobic refresh workout. An example would be for someone who ran 57 minutes when they ran it hard, to try and run 60 minutes.
As I have said a couple times now, the aerobic training during the competition period serves as a way to prop up the specific and faster work. It is used to keep the athletes general aerobic fitness at a high level. It is best to use a variety of paces, from one pace up from race pace to just slower than marathon pace.
It is difficult to give a simple progression of aerobic work like I have with the specific endurance work. This is because during the competition season, the aerobic training tends to blend with the other types of training. It’s done as a way of maintenance or as a prelude to other work. Below is just a sampling of some of the aerobic work that is done throughout the competition period.
When doing threshold work, it depends on what the goal of the workout is and in what direction you are trying to take it. Below are three examples of how to progress threshold work.
LT Maintenance: Simply a shorter version of full LT work. If you did 30min during the early competition period, you might do 20-25min here. Another way to make it slightly easier is to do the same amount of total time, but split it up into more segments. The goal of such sessions is to get a strong aerobic stimulus, but it not be a full bore workout that tears you down.
LT to strength endurance– Shorten the LT session, to 15-20min, and add in some longer hills at the end, such as 4x400m uphill with jog down rest. This can serve as a transition into full length, longer hills (such as 800m uphill repeats) if the athlete lacks a necessary amount of strength endurance. Or you can transition into shorter and faster hill repeats (such as 300s or 400s) that will increase strength endurance too, but is more of an anaerobic* workout that helps develop the ability to recruit fibers under high acidic/intensity conditions. Longer repeats are essentially more specific to 5k racing and better at extending the endurance, at race paces, of fibers.
LT to anaerobic/speed– Shorten the LT session and add in some speed at the end. An example would be 15-20min at threshold with a long break and then 4×400 at mile pace w/ 60sec rest. This serves as a transition into full bore faster speed sessions or in CC season, as a way to develop some anaerobic endurance without risking the effects of too much of that kind of work tearing down the aerobic fitness. Generally after this combo session, for Fast Twitch athletes, you move to some anaerobic work because even with racing a 5k, they need to develop their anaerobic system a bit more to race up to their potential over 5k. For Slow Twitch athletes, these little spices of “anaerobic” work might be enough to develop that system, and there is no need to go into full anaerobic workouts.
*Note: I know anaerobic isn’t used in the correct technical way when I refer to anaerobic workouts. It’s just a way to classify workouts that are faster than race pace.
Aerobic Refresh periods: A mix of paces from steady down to 5k pace. Provides a wide range of stimulus to the aerobic system. Really, you are just touching on each system briefly, but it is a great way to balance out the faster, more intense, work. An example would be 10min steady, 7.5min at LT, 5min at 10k, and 2.5min at 5k pace.
General Aerobic Refresh: Easy progression runs and steady longer tempos are a great way to maintain general aerobic fitness. One of my favorites is to have athletes run 5 miles at the pace that they did their full 10 miles at earlier in the year. Or, have the athlete run 10 miles at slightly slower than they did earlier in the year. For instance, if an athlete runs 54min, then he might run it in 57 minutes.