If you took a v-12 engine with 600 horse power and found a way to stuff it in my rusted 1997 ford ranger pick up, and you then put a giant gas tank in the bed of the truck and filled it with gas would I be able to go race neck and neck with a formula 1 race car? No as soon as I cracked 100 miles an hour the truck would start to tear itself apart. It would most likely suffer some sort of complete failure long before even cresting 150 miles an hour even though the engine would barely be warmed up and the gas tank would still be full to the brim. . Not only that but if my p.o.s. pick up did some how hold together I would still get left in the dust as my transmission would waste huge amounts of the engine’s power, my wheels, shocks and struts would fail to grip the road in an effective way wasting yet more horse power and the back end of the would truck fly violently left and right wasting large amounts of my massive engines force on sideways motion that the race cars were using to go forward.
This seems a silly parable but it is very much the equivalent of what many of our US distance training systems, even many of our most successful, do with their runners. We build and build the aerobic engine, and we train the hell out of the anaerobic system, but we ignore the muscular systems that need to put out the force they create. This is still better then just working the anaerobic system which offers no long term future and is a plan that is going to lead to underachievement and often injury. Not only that but if my p.o.s. pick up did some how hold together I would still get left in the dust as my transmission would waste huge amounts of the engine’s power, my wheels, shocks and struts would fail to grip the road in an effective way wasting yet more horse power and the back end of the would truck fly violently left and right wasting large amounts of my massive engines force on sideways motion that the race cars were using to go forward.
This week we’ll talk about muscular endurance, which sprint coaches will often refer to as speed endurance. I use both terms interchangeably. Next week we’ll talk about basic speed/muscular power, both of these modalities are key in souping up our personal sports car so that it can do justice to the engines we are building simultaneously. We will talk about general speed endurance and race pace specific muscular endurance (specific muscular endurance). These exercises can be the same exercises as you will do in speed development but done in great volume. It can also simply be race pace or faster for large global volumes but in short enough intervals and with long enough rests that the efforts- in terms of heavy breathing etc.., are rather easy and the form never breaks down. Still these sessions can be very hard and leave you very sore. The fatigue in these sessions can be crushing but it is just that muscular fatigue, not burning in the legs or sucking for air.
Why are speed endurance and muscular endurance important to us as runners? Well go watch a race, any race and you’ll see many athletes start at a quick pace and look like they are running very easy. But late in the race, say after half way you will see these athletes, some going slower, some going the same speed, but they will look like they are going much faster, they will be driving their hands more and straining. Now watch a world class race, look at the very top athletes, you’ll see no such change. If they go out at 2:45 per K in a 10k they’ll look as smooth at 8k as they did a 1k. This smoothness is often hiding that they are in a lot of pain and pushing very hard, but it is key because they are expending the same amount of energy to go the same speed, where as the athlete who’s muscles have exhausted causing his form to fall apart is using less efficient muscles and is in turn using far greater amounts of energy to run the same pace. This is similar to an college student who knows he will burn through his savings over the course of a school year, as he is unable to work enough during the year to earn what he will spend on a weekly basis. Now as the year goes on he has to start spending more and more of his money to buy the same things each week. Simply it is a recipe for disaster.
It is key no matter what type of muscular work you are doing that your form never breaks down. This is true whether you’re doing strides, ballistics or plyo’s. As soon as your form falls apart you not only learn bad habits and waste energy but you take the load of the exercise off of the muscles you want it to be on which ends the effectiveness of the exercise. For these reasons good form and relaxation are key to these sessions being effective.
An example of speed endurance training is a session I routinely do of 30x100m at 14 seconds with a good bit of rest. At the end of this session I will have run 3000m distance in 7:10 to 7:20 which is faster then world record pace. It is way faster then my goal 3000m pace- about 8:00, or my 3000m PR-8:08. But this isn’t a specific session it is about building the strength endurance for your overall fitness. By running this volume of work at that pace you can build the ability to run quickly much more efficiently which gives you the ability to run quicker much longer.
You can also do race specific work for muscular endurance as well. These are the specific muscular endurance sessions. For example you may want to do a session of 10 to 12k of 800m to mile repeats at 10k pace with large rest so that all of the repeats are at an controlled aerobic effort, the exhaustion you will feel late in a session like this is muscular fatigue- it is important to note that this is not the burning feeling you get in your muscles from anaerobic fatigue, but a weak dullness that you’ll know when you feel it is the muscles getting tired not being starved of oxygen. You would do sessions like this in your base/fundamental phase and then as you transition to specific work cut the rest down causing these sessions to become specific and anaerobic sessions while maintaining their specific muscular endurance component. You can also do a session like 24x400m at 5k pace or 50x400m at 10k pace with whatever rest you need to make sure you hit the times, usually about a 200m jog. By doing a session like this you will be able to get twice the volume of the race at race pace, greatly fatiguing the leg muscles and teaching them that they need to be very efficient at that pace for a great distance. You will likely be very sore after a session like that but as long as you allow for good recovery you can get a lot from it. But as such it should not be a standard session only one that is done once in a great while, at the end of the base/fundamental phase or very early in the specific phase.
. When should you be doing these sessions?
Specific Muscular endurance and speed endurance work should be doing it pretty much throughout your training cycle, but it should be done most heavily in the base/fundamental phase and only touched on lightly for maintenance during the specific phase and racing seasons. You should be doing at least one session for speed endurance during each micro cycle during your base/fundamental phases. If you are strong enough a session for specific muscular endurance should be done as well in each cycle but you can spread it to every other cycle if it becomes too much. It can be done a bit less often or with the same frequency but greatly reduced intensity in the specific and racing phases.
Workouts for strength/speed endurance
- large number of 100m sprints 15 to 50 at a quick but not maximum speed(roughly 800m race pace)
- repeats at race pace in large volume with large rest
- large number of short hill sprints
- long uphill runs- tempo pace or if steep enough even regular running
- Fartlek in very loose/soft footing, ie sand or mud, this session is GREAT for cross country prep and injury prevention.
- Hill circuits or circuits on the flat
- For marathoners long basic aerobic tempos(80 to90% marathon pace) for 30 to 50K are good specific muscular endurance sessions.
I do think that a lot of HS programs do a lot of work for muscular endurance work, though it may not be their goal it is still one of the few things that I think the American HS system does that accomplishes any kind of long term development for the athletes. Many athletes are racing at two or three meets a week, often running two or three races in each meet. On the alternate days the athletes are often doing a lot of anaerobic interval sessions at faster then race pace. Even though many of these workouts are very short, which they should be given the low mileage of these athletes, when added up the amount of weekly volume run at a fast pace is rather impressive. It is not uncommon to find a HS athlete running 30 to 50 miles a week, but with as much as 20 miles of that at 2 mile race pace or faster. This is one of the reasons that HS athletes continue to improve, though slowly, after they get there first big boost from anaerobic fitness in the first 3months of training. Sadly this work is often lost when these athletes go to college, and though their overall fitness jumps greatly thanks to increased volume there is often a long lag before their race performance catches up to this fitness. Part of this lag is certainly do to being tired, which is something a college coach can’t avoid. Of course if the athletes mileage had been increased sensibly over his first four years (frosh 30 to 40, soph 40 to 50, jr, 50 to 60, sr, 60 to 70) the transition to college freshman mileage(most often 60 to 80 miles a week in national level programs would be eased greatly. That aside these athletes still should see greater gains. But when you take our example athlete who has been running 15 to 20 plus miles a week at faster then his two mile race pace- for the sake of this example we’ll say he has HS bests of 4:30 and 9:50. Now he goes off to college and over the summer builds his mileage from a range of 35 to 45 up to a range of 60 to 80 miles a week, but with only one to three hard sessions a week, and maybe a small set of strides he is running only 10 to 15 miles a week faster then 10k pace and less then a mile faster then 2mile pace. He comes indoors and starts running short intervals on the track and one of the first things you will hear from this athlete is that he has ‘lost his speed’ this is in fact very untrue. Athletes at this age won’t lose basic speed that quickly from not using it- in a time trial 40 meter sprint he would run almost identical to what he would have run the spring before- BUT he has lost his speed endurance. Which is what he really means, but the misleading statement is a pet peeve of mine because it leads to doing the wrong kind of work and a basic misunderstanding of how we improve and how we should train. Despite being in much better shape after 6 months of greatly increased training load he is having a hard time running 65 second 400m and 32 second 200m reps that felt fairly easy for him the spring before. Our athlete will most likely PR by the end of the season but he will also likely run over his hs best in about 1/3rd of his races and his PR will not be nearly as fast as it could have very easily been otherwise. This lag is unnecessary. If this athlete had been running one or two sessions for speed endurance during the summer and fall, which may have cost him 5 miles a week in overall distance, well worth the loss, he would come into his first season with not only the muscular endurance he had in HS but the aerobic ability to actually do something with it.
Muscular endurance training is becoming more and more important for every American as our lifestyles before running and around our running become more and more sedentary, it is also of enormous importance to athletes at altitude. For those athletes running specific muscular endurance work may be near impossible without going anaerobic so aerobic power reps will need to be run slower and with great rest. This increases the importance of speed endurance work which can be run at full speed because of its alactic nature. For example Roldofo Gomez, one of the top marathoners of the early 80’s who ran under 2:12 four times in 1982 alone finishing his season with a 2:09 second place at the NYC marathon who went on to later coach a half dozen or so sub 2:10 Mexican marathoners, would run two sets of 20x100m sprints with good recovery each week. Training at altitude it was the only way he could build the muscle needed to run very fast when he got in the thick air where is lungs could push to those paces.
I would suggest that we are in comparison to the worlds best runners, those from the third world, so muscularly weak due to our lifestyle that we should view speed endurance work as important for us, whether we train at altitude or not, as Roldofo felt it was for him and his athletes when training up high.