Research on Individual response to training, and I'm Finally Racing again

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I’ve been pretty dang busy with School lately as I’m completing my Critical Literature Review for my Thesis. It’s basically a long (60+pgs so far) look at the physiology of distance running performance with my critical analysis of the research on the subject. It will be interesting to see how the critical analysis of the research goes over, because I come at it from a runner/coach standpoint, meaning, to put it bluntly, I think a lot of the research is crap, the conclusions drawn are suspect, and basically that we think we know a lot more than we do about how the human body functions.

So, that’s what I’ve been focused on. And to tie that in with the blog, I’m going to go over a little study I came across in my research.

And for those who ask, HS kids are starting the championship portion of the season. They had a nice regular season but now is when it gets fun. They started off great with a perfect score at district. Things get a bit tougher for regionals and onwards though, but it should be a blast.

My Running: I don't write about my running much, but things are going well. I'm 2 for 2 in road races this fall off of base training. The last one was particularly good because for once in my life I raced how I should, patiently and relaxed. I won a tough 8k against some good competiton, particulary an Ethiopian who has run 28:30 (10k) and 1:03:xx for a half marathon. Really, it just felt good to race and execute a plan without any problems. Race report and pics can be found here: Race Report


A big theme of my training/this blog is individuality. It’s central to training a successful runner. The problem is that it is hard to do. It takes work to actually individualize something. It’s much easier to give a cookie cutter approach. If you know anything about research and studies is that most of the time they ignore the individual and focus entirely on the group. If you read abstracts or if you read papers, all the conclusions concern the average improvement in performance or certain parameters. However, if you dig deeper, does everyone improve in the same way? Well if you are a coach, the answer is an easy no. But lets look at the research.

The study I’m going to go over is one by Vollard et al (2009) entitiled “Systematic analysis of adaptations in aerobic capacity and submaximal energy metabolism provides a unique insight into determinants of human aerobic performance.”

In this study they looked at the effects of 6 weeks of endurance cycling at 70% of the subjects VO2max in untrained subjects. They measured all sorts of data during a maximal test, a performance test, and submaximal test, in addition to certain aerobic enzyme activity. They then compared the before and after results on an individual basis. Here’s what they found:

Given the same “training stimulus” the adaptations were all over the place. You had a range of improved VO2max from -2 to +30%. This not only happened with VO2max but with almost everything. And the high responders (the ones that improved the most) in VO2max were not the high responders in other things, same thing with low responders. This means the ones who didn’t improve at all in VO2max had huge improvements in other parameters. The changes varied all over the place with enzyme concentration, submax HR, submax lactate, performance, resting glycogen, maximum work capacity, creatine phosphate, and a whole host of things. What does this all mean and what are the key findings?

-The change in VO2max was not related to the change in performance. That means how much the VO2max changed didn’t correspond to how much performance improved.

Let’s look at some of the author’s conclusions:
-“ VO2max is often presented as a critical determinant of aerobic performance, yet we demonstrate
that training-induced changes in V˙ O2max and aerobic performance are not related even in untrained subjects”
-“ we demonstrate that VO2max and aerobic performance associate with distinct and separate physiological and biochemical endpoints, suggesting that proposed models for the determinants of endurance performance may need to be revisited.”

- “Although the overall stimuli for improving aerobic capacity and aerobic performance are identical (i.e., aerobic training), we demonstrate that these adaptations do not occur in proportion to each other and do not appear to be determined by the same physiological or biochemical parameters.”
- “First, standardizing training intensity to a set percentage of VO2max in training studies aiming to study aerobic performance will result in large interindividual differences in the magnitude of the training stimulus (see Figs. 1 and 5). Second, the use of set percentages of V˙ O2max in studies investigating metabolic responses to exercise will also produce large interindividual variation. Finally, in studies determining changes in aerobic performance using time trials to exhaustion at a set percentage of V˙ O2max, the metabolic response to exercise of individual subjects may vary considerably, potentially affecting any changes in performance measured or the underlying nature of fatigue (49).”
-“the present study demonstrates that VO2max cannot be considered a universal parameter to standardize aerobic exercise training studies. Based on the present data we conclude that plasticity of V˙ O2max is a poor determinant of improvements in aerobic performance in healthy young untrained males.

So, what does it REALLY mean?

-The assumption that we often make that an improvement in VO2max=improved performance is wrong (This is backed up by other studies too). So, why do some focus training on improving a parameter that (a) doesn’t change in elites and (b) doesn’t mean an improvement in performance?

-The use of %VO2max to base training off of is garbage. The stimulus varies completely depending on the person, even in groups of very similar people. This begs the question why we try and do it. Take a look at USATF guidelines or Vigil or Daniels. In addition, all the research does it, which might explain why the research does not match up with real world experience!!

- We do NOT know as much as we think we do. We can’t explain fatigue and performance yet. Quick lesson, we base things off of what we can measure. As a consequence, the most important things become variables that are easily measurable. Why is VO2 used so much? Because we could measure it in the early 1900’s which led to a crap load of research on it. Thus it formed the basis of our knowledge. Another example, why is lactate considered evil even though it is not? Because we could measure it early on when we couldn’t detect what else was going on in the muscle. Thus it gets a horrible reputation…poor lactate.

-Aerobic capacity and aerobic performance are NOT the same thing.

-Individuals will respond differently to a similar stimulus based on their physiological and psychological makeup. It’s why fast twitch guys can improve threshold by doing short reps at 2mi-5k pace, while an endurance guy might need 30min total at half marathon kind of a pace. Or to tie it into a recent topic, its why some people need 10mi while others need 5 and 5.

-This really calls into question the efficacy of using %of VO2max or in other terms vDOT charts or whatever you want to use. Can we just stick to race paces and variations of individuals race pace?

Conclusions: Individualization. Think about the effect of a stimulus will have on the individual.

Is 9mi once better than 4.5mi twice? Maybe not.

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Singles vs. Doubles:
Part 1- Introduction
Part 2- Evidence for doubling: training in glycogen depleted state
Part 3-Revisiting Single vs. Doubles: Evidence from Dathan Ritzenhein

I've been dabbling around with this idea in my head for quiet some time. I've even mentioned it on this blog before. The question is how long should easy days be and can they be split into relatively short runs?

It's common sense to think that one 8mi run is better than two 4mi runs, and that definately holds true when building general endurance. During a period of time when the focus is on general aerobic base building, it makes sense that you want that longer stimulus.

However, when it comes time to start doing harder work and ultimately during racing season, is it better to do one 8-10mi or two 4-5mi during an easy day?

I really have no idea what the answer is. So feel free to write in with thoughts, comments, critiques. I'm going to do a little bit of thinking out loud to try and see if I can wrap my head around this issue.

The initial reason that I've kicked this idea around so much is my own training in HS. Due to circumstances at my HS, we trained twice a day and generally split our mileage right down the middle. Why did we do this? First off, we had CC first period, so running in the morning made sense. We also had afterschool practice, so once again it made sense to run again. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we were restricted to running on our campus. So, we had a 1.5mi loop that I ran way too many times. No one wanted to run 8mi straight doing loops, it was mind numbing to do that every day. Lastly, it's just how things had been done traditionally. Starting out, we weren't running that much mileage so a couple loops in the morning and afternoon was all that was done.

If I go back and look at my logs, in 2002 I mostly ran 4.5 and 4.5. In 2003, most of the time I was doing 5 and 5 or 6 and 6. It should be noted that in the summer, I, and my teammates, ran longer and didn't stick to the straight split doubles. That could be important.

Now, this wouldn't be a big deal, except it kind of defies the conventional wisdom. If it was just me doing this and having success, you could dismiss this for talent. However, for the past 10 years KO has had one of the more consistant and successful distance programs in Texas, sometimes with not the most talented of guys. For example, this years teams was just ranked #21 in the nation by Marc Bloom. So, it obviously is not taking anything away from the development of good runners.

Conventional wisdom would expect the aerobic system to be the one that took the hit if the mileage is split in half. However, this does not show up at all with the athletes. Through the years, numerous guys have run 5:30's for a staple yearly 10mi tempo run that is tradition. That means there high end aerobic abilities aren't taking a hit at all. Two more examples are that one guy who was only a 10min type 2miler at the time, ran a 1:13 half marathon off of the training, which one would not expect for a HS kid, since it takes years to get the aerobic system up to where it can be. Similarly, this year, a runner came through 5mi in mid 25's on a tough course on a 7.5mi threshold run. The point is, the aerobic system's, developed through a good deal of high end aerobic work, are not taking a hit because of the split mileage.

Which leads me to my next example. I was looking at some training done by former world class marathoner Kenny Moore. When I read it, I quickly noted that his easy days were filled with days of just 4-5mi runs or days of 3 and 3 or 5 and 3. Seeing this in an elite runner really made me reevaluate things. The key was that Kenny was hitting his workouts every couple days and had a good long run.


If splitting the mileage on easy days doesn't affect the runner's performance or aerobic abilities, then what does it do and can it be beneficial?


Here is my theory. Once general endurance is built during the base for that season, and especially in older athletes who have years and years of general aerobic work, you're not going to get much benefit from running 8mi at 6:30 pace. It's going to be the same stimulus that it's gotten for months. So, it's not going to force the body to go through some adaptation phase. It's basically going to be maintenance. But, we know that it is much easier to maintain than to build. So, it is not necessary to do a longer 8-10mi run during some easy days.

What happens when you split it with shorter doubles is that it might enhance recovery. The runs are shorter so that not much mechanical damage is going to happen, same with oxidative damage. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, splitting may aid in glycogen replenishment. It's much easier to restore glycogen stores after an easy 4-5mi run then after a 10mi run. Yes, you run twice, so you have to replenish glycogen twice, but I'd still argue that it is easier to replenish glycogen twice with several hours in between. Lastly, running twice may mean that you get some sort of hormonal release twice in the day, which could improve recovery.

If we look at growth hormone release during easy running, there's a swift rise intitially for the first 30-40min of a run, and then it levels off significantly to 60min. In one study, it showed an increase of about 550 percent from 0-40min, yet from 40-60min it only went up another 40-50percent.

The second part of my theory involves the rest of the training done. My hypothesis is that these shorter double days will only work if the athletes have a good deal of high end aerobic workouts, and there is a long run on the weekend. Kenny Moore mentions his 25-30milers some weekends as being key for him. Similarly in HS, the weekly long run of ~11-15mi seems to be enough to sustain general aerobic endurance during the season.

Lastly, it's likely that there is an individual component to this question. Some runners may adapt better with a split while others may need the single run. What runners need which is beyond me at this point. You could make all sorts of hypothesis at this point based on aerobic abiltities, fiber type, glycogen storage capacity, and a whole host of other things.

To sum things up. What do I truly think? I think the idea has a lot of merit. If I truly could find a reason for the HS kids to do 9mi all at once instead of doubling 4.5 and 4.5, then I would make them do that (even with the boredom factor of loops...). However, with the past 4 years of helping them, and with my own experience of 4 years in HS, I really can't find any physiological reason or, more importantly, practical performance difference to make the change. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Sometimes we can't explain why things work, yet they still do.

What does this mean practically? Test it out if you want to. During the season replace one day with an easy double of 4 and 4 or something similar. Monitor how you feel and how you respond the next day. You might be surprised.

Hopefully all of that made sense. This is just a pet theory of mine and it admittedly has wholes, so feel free to tear those apart, but if you look at it without being trapped into the traditional idea of longer is always better, even on easy days, it kind of makes sense. Thoughts, comments, critiques, welcome.


Part 2- Evidence for doubling: training in glycogen depleted state

Strength Endurance Circuit Video

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I'm posting a strength endurance circuit of the HS guys that they did in the tail end of this past summer.

The idea behind this kind of circuit is strength endurance development obviously. What we are trying to do in basic terms is to force fiber recruitment and extend the endurance of those fibers. The exercises serve as a way to increase fiber recruitment, as does the fact that it's done uphill. The sprint at the end is for maximal recruitment of specific fibers. You'll notice that we go from bounding to sprints at the end.

In addition to neuromuscular adaptations, it also serves as an introduction or maintenance of some higher lactate work. If you took lactate readings (I've done it on myself), you'd see that following a circuit, lactate readings are relatively high. Normally when you do a lot of work with high lactate, you effect the lactate threshold because it manipulates the production/elimination ratio. Most of the time when you do high lactate work, it's pretty fast running, so you are essentially shifting to adapt to the higher lactate/high glycolyitic work being done. Your body's pretty smart in the sense that it adapts to what you give it. The fact that fast "anaerobic" work reduces LT is not a problem in some cases (it's all about balance) and at the right time of the season.

However, during a base phase, that's not the time you want to hurt the LT. Well, hill circuits like this allow for high lactate work to be done without it affecting LT. Why? Because it is non specific lactate work. You are using different muscle fibers than normal, and the one's you are forcing to be used are the harder to recruit FT fibers. So, they are used for high anaerobic activities. You are going to be producing most of this lactate from these fibers you normally don't recruit. In addition, the ST fibers are going to be trained to take up and use that lactate.

This is a general circuit, meaning the exercises and running are carried out at about 75-80%. It's important NOT to take this workout without knowing what surrounds it. The workout by itself probably won't do much, but in a larger paradigm it works well.

Before doing this type of work, you need sprints (either flat or hill) to increase the muscle fiber pool (the total fibers that can be recruited). Then you can use general circuits like this to help recruit these fibers during a longer activity.

You combine this work with regular strength endurance work that gets progressively more specific. A good way to work these hill circuits into something more specific is the use of mixed workouts. A workout like 1600,600,1200,500,1000,400 with 3-4min rest, with the paces being at 10k,3k,5k,1mi,5k,1mi takes the hill circuits and translates those adaptations into specifically helping your 5k (in this instance). The longer reps are for specific endurance, while the shorter intervals in between serve to force fiber recruitment and squirt some lactate into the system. Then you go back to the longer intervals to use those fibers, and train them to work under fatigued conditions (enhancing their endurance).

You can also manipulate the circuits to achieve different goals. Increase the speed of the running portion or increase the intensity of the circuits will both bring about different adaptations.

Lastly, for kick development, do a kick workout where you force fiber recruitment under very acidic conditions. A classic example is 300m at 800m pace, 100m bounding, 200m kick in. The 300m serves to build lactate, the 100m bound forces recruitment, the 200m kick in trains recruitment/use of these fibers under heavily fatigued conditions.

Finally, I've written on strength endurance and circuits before, so if you have any questions look there or leave a comment.


Enjoy the Video and thanks to the guys for letting me run along and film them. (NOTE: many of these guys have been doing a progression to this point over 3+years, or at least have a long period of solid mileage, I wouldn't give this to a freshman or a relatively undeveloped runner).

Strength Endurance Hill Circuit from Steve Magness on Vimeo.

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