Road Racing for Serious Runners

Road Racing for Serious Runners 
Pete Pfitzinger & Scott Douglas, Human Kinetics, 1999

Pfitzinger and Douglas believe for the serious runner, the runner who wants to run at his or her very best, training needs to focus on a small number of specific goal races. Like Daniels, they advocate different categories of training, with different specific effects: recovery, pure endurance, lactate threshold, VO2 max, and speed. These are slightly different names for the same categories used by Daniels. All of the categories are used for all of the normal road racing distances; the length of the goal race determines what mix of which kinds of training.

Because they focus on road racers, Pfitzinger and Douglas emphasize lactate threshold training. Lactate threshold represents the speed at which you can run while still clearing most of the lactic acid from your cells. Lactic acid is what makes the bear jump on your back when you run too fast. A high lactate threshold, on the other hand, allows sustained high speeds, and therefore high levels of performance in endurance events. For most runners, 15K race pace approximates lactate threshold closely enough. A typical lactate threshold training session would see a coupe of miles warmup, roughly twenty minutes of lactate threshold running, followed by one or two miles of easy cool-down. (Daniels advocates this workout as well.)

Like Daniels, Pfitzinger and Douglas emphasize the importance of minimal effective stress. For example, they provide the example of two runners trying to build VO2 max, the maximum oxygen your body can use. Maximum oxygen consumption requires hard running–after all, you’re trying to create the strongest possible oxygen demand in your muscles. However, running as fast as you can moves beyond VO2 max in terms of stress without moving beyond it in benefit. If your VO2 max pace is roughly your 3K – 5K pace (as it is for most runners), but you do your intervals at mile pace, you may think you are gaining even greater benefit (“running hard is good, running harder is better”), but the upshot is you do less running at VO2 max pace, while recovering more slowly.

In the past I’ve had a love/hate relationship with mile repeats, a very strong type of VO2 max workout — I knew they had a great effect on my fitness but they were SO uncomfortable. I now know I was running them too fast. Last year I put Pfitzinger and Douglas’ approach into effect in my training. Using a heart rate monitor, I ran long VO2 max sessions, half-mile and mile repeats, monitoring carefully to stay in my VO2 max training range. The effect was dramatic. Not that mile repeats became easy, but they were far more manageable than they had ever been before. As a result I was able to run more of them, recover better, and actually (sometimes) enjoy them. I also had my best racing season in years.

Like Daniels, Pfitzinger and Douglas include detailed sample schedules, built in eighteen-week blocks.

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