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Training Specificity: Developing And Utilizing The Correct Energy System

Success in any race depends on how your body reacts to the stresses of that distance. Using the principles of specificity of training this means short/intense workouts for shorter distances and long/sustained workouts for distances beyond the half-marathon. We must train the energy system we’ll utilize the most during a race.

Talking specifically about the half-marathon and marathon distances, the body need not be stressed too much at the higher end of one’s aerobic capacity (75% – 80% of max heart rate or when you’re having a hard time talking during a long sustained run). Most recreational runners can finish by running 60% of max heart rate (being able to speak multiple sentences without gasping for air during long sustained runs).

Knowing the difference between aerobic running versus anaerobic running is key in the preparation and execution phases of racing. Go out too hard during a race, and your body will delve into the anaerobic energy system – your body operating while lacking oxygen – which produces more waste (lactate acid) and operates less efficiently than the body during aerobic capacity. Too much time training the anaerobic system, usually exercises with short and quick movements high intensity movements (sprints, weight lifting, bounding and jumping), and it will take longer for the body to recover and continue effective aerobic running and the greater chances of injury.


For new or recreational runners look at the “Classic Model” and for veteran to sub-elite runners, look at “Current Model.”

Running Times Magazine mentions the proportion of time a long distance runner needs to commit to either training efforts. For the marathon distance, while running 65 miles a week, a runner need only run 2.5% of the distance at the anaerobic threshold effort or 2.5 miles a week! Why? The long distance runner doesn’t need the kind of leg speed or strength as a sprinter. Running just above our aerobic threshold (when we run and can talk in short sentences comfortably) does more to elevate our running than monotonous 400m repeat. Our bodies grow accustomed to the long distance and give us the kind of feedback regarding hydration, nutrition, and fatigue that running sprint intervals will not. To be honest, how many of us will ever possess the kind of speed that world-class distance runners have to warrant speed intervals shorter than 1200m? When we don’t stray too far from our aerobic efforts we run more controlled and efficiently. Constantly building on our aerobic base is the safest way to build endurance and speed.

The body is great at adapting. As any veteran runner will tell you, constantly running our aerobic pace becomes easier with each run. Incorporating just the right amount of speed during long training seasons will build on your base and create a new level of speed. Being mindful of your speed during training and races will help in your development as a successful runner in the long-term.

Example weekly workout:
I use talking as a gauge of effort. If you use a watch or GPS and have run a race in the previous two months use the link to McMillan’s running calculator on the right to view your pace for a number of distances.

Aerobic component:
– Weekday long run of 1 hour at talking pace. (recite part of a song and if you can go through it without gasping for air every sentence, then this is your aerobic pace)
– 1.5-2 hour weekend long run at talking pace
– 10 minute pick-ups during a long run (run a little faster than talking pace for ten minutes during your long runs)

Anaerobic component:
– 4 x 1000m repeats with 5 minute rest or rest to full recovery.
– 2 minute pick-ups during long runs.
– speed ladders (1600m, 1200m, 800, 400) or any variation of ascending or descending distances no more than 1 mile and not less than 400m. recovery is to jog half of the distance ran.