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  • Writer's pictureMichael Dunlap

What it comes down to - training.


Mike Dunlap MS FAACVPR – Exercise Physiologist – ACSM Clinical Exercise Physiologist/Program Director – Manager Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation

For years target heart rate training programs have been based on actual or predicted maximum heart rates. In general this has worked fairly well in that it provided an objective measure of intensity (heart rate) over perceived exertion or time goals. The advancement in heart rate monitors gave everyone the ability to measure heart rate in a convenient and affordable way.

The down side to using heart rate training “zones” based on predicted or actual maximum heart rate was the variation of predicted maximum heart rates and the discomfort/safety of maximum heart rate efforts for the average person. The standard deviation of predicted maximum heart rates can vary between two people of the same age by as much as 22-24 beats. With some individuals falling even further beyond these ranges. Maximal heart rate testing is best done with very motivated (and presumed healthy) individuals in a laboratory or medical center environment. One of the recommendations for determining maximum heart rate for runners with out the use of a laboratory or medical center is to warm-up well and perform an 800 meter run on the track where each 100 meters is run faster then the previous so that the final 100 meters is run at maximum speed. Heart rate should then be recorded at the completion of the 800 meters. I’m not sure how many runners would or should perform this type of test because of the safety and motivational factors.

So basing training intensity on predicted maximum heart rate is highly suspect for error and basing training intensity on actual maximum heart rate is difficult and perhaps dangerous in some cases. Also, maximum heart rate does not change with training and varies from person to person so using it to determine training “zone” intensities that are the same for everyone isn’t the best method.

Lactate or anaerobic threshold based training is better. There are many ways of defining lactate threshold, but it is simple the intensity at which the muscles produce lactate (waste products) faster then it can be metabolized. Laboratory and field testing for lactate threshold are simple ways of determining which muscle fibers and which energy sources are used at what intensities. Lactate threshold should correlate with the point at which fast-twitch muscle fibers are first employed and the body begins to rely more on carbohydrates than fat as an energy source.

Muscle fibers consist of three main categories of fibers, slow twitch (Type I), fast twitch (Type IIb) and a group of fibers that share properties of both slow and fast fibers (Type IIa). These fibers are recruited to help carry the load in a very orderly fashion as exercise intensity increases, starting with Type I. The next fiber type is not called upon until all of the preceding fibers are in use.

Where lactate threshold occurs in relation to VO2 maximum (the maximum rate of oxygen consumption) is a great snapshot of fitness. In sedentary people, lactate threshold usually occurs at about 50% of VO2 maximum. For elite athletes in peak form, it is not unusual for lactate threshold to be around 90% of VO2 maximum. The most accurate way to determine lactate threshold is with laboratory tests. But these tests can be expensive and are not available to most people. A simpler test is a field test that anyone can perform. To do a field test warm-up for 20 minutes with three to four 30 second efforts at race intensity. Then perform a 30 minutes time trial. The effort should be all out (race effort), but start a bit easier and try to increase your effort the last 20 minutes. Then, simple determine your average heart rate over the last 20 minutes and you have your lactate threshold heart rate. This type of field test can be performed every week or so to measure progress. Training intensities can be adjusted to best match the level of conditioning for that period of time. This also gives the athlete the ability to better train the specific muscle fiber type and energy system that is needed for their event.

Below are two tables that will help you to better understand how lactate threshold training can work for you.





1 - Active Recovery

2 - Endurance


< 80%


Some Type I fibers

All Type I fibers

3 - Tempo



All Type I and some Type IIa

4 - Sub threshold

5a - Supra threshold





All Type I and IIa fibers

All Type I and IIa, with some Type IIb fibers

5b - Aerobic Capacity

5c - Anaerobic





All Type I and IIa, with more Type IIb fibers

All Type I, IIa, and IIb fibers

If your race pace effort produces a heart rate average of 150 beats per minute that becomes your 100% effort (lactate threshold). Your long runs or bike rides should be kept at a heart rate of 120-134 to maximize the benefits of Type I muscle fiber training and to use a high proportion of fat as your primary energy source. Occasional workouts at higher intensities will train Type IIa and Type IIb muscle fibers and train the body to switch to this fiber types as the Type I become fatigued. The goal is to become more efficient so that you can maintain higher intensity efforts without having to use less efficient muscle fiber types and energy systems. As this training takes place you will be able to stay aerobic at higher efforts/speed. Repeating a lactate threshold effort every few weeks allows you to adjust your training

intensity to match your current fitness.






















Exercise stress does not create fitness. Exercise only creates the potential for fitness. Fitness is not realized until you rest following exercise. Over training is the worst thing that can happen to an athlete, short of a life-threatening illness. The only way to reverse the condition is by complete rest. This could take weeks or even months. Overtraining is not something to be taken lightly.

The best way to prevent overtraining is the liberal use of rest. Just as every week should include at least as many easy days as hard, you should have easy weeks and even easy months. If you make a mistake in training, make it on the side of too easy training. It is far better to be under-trained and eager than over-trained and apathetic.


“Running is the classical road to self-consciousness, self-awareness and self-reliance. Independence is the outstanding characteristic of the runner. He learns the harsh reality of his physical and mental limitations when he runs. He learns that personal commitment, sacrifice and determination are his only means to betterment. Runners only get promoted through self-conquest.” Noel Carroll

“In running, it doesn’t matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack or last. You can say, ‘I have finished.’ There is a lot of satisfaction in that.” Fred Lebow

“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.” Oprah Winfrey

“Running helps me stay on an even keel and in an optimistic frame of mind.” Bill Clinton


“A teacher is never too smart to learn from his pupils. But while runners differ, basic principles never change. So it’s a matter of fitting your current practices to fit the event and the individual. See, what’s good for you might not be worth a darn for the next guy.” Bill Bowerman

“The key to coaching is to get the mixture right for each individual. I think most coaches in the world now know the basic ingredients of a runners training program. What they have to do is get to know their own athletes so well that they know the right recipe for them. It’s a bit like making a Christmas cake: a question of individual taste.” Harry Wilson, who coached Steve Ovett

“People think Billy Squires is a little wacky, but I’ve never met anybody who knows as much about training as he does. I think myself as a disciple of his. He really just took a little of Lydiard and a little of Bowerman like everyone else. But he added his own personality and insights. Most importantly, he taught me patience is the key to the development of a champion distance runner.”

Bob Sevene, who coached Joan Benoit


“If you run 100 miles a week, you can eat anything you want – Why? Because (a) you’ll burn all the calories you consume, (b) you deserve it, and (c) you’ll be injured soon and back on a restricted diet anyway.” Don Kardong

“If you feel like eating, eat. Let your body tell you what it wants.” Joan Benoit Samuelson

“Listen to you body, Do not be a blind and deaf tenant.” Dr. George Sheehan

“The experts are always telling us to ‘listen to your body!’ But if I listened to my body, I’d live on toffee pops and port wine. Don’t tell me to listen to my body….. It’s trying to turn me into a blob.” Roger Robinson

“It’s like putting gas in your tank.” Nancy Clark, dietitian, on sports nutrition bars

“My whole teaching in one sentence is: run slowly, run daily, drink moderately and don’t eat like a pig.” Dr. Ernest van Aaken, German coach

“All men and nations eat too much, and for this reason are not fit.” Paavo Nurmi, during a 1925 US tour

“One time I asked Clarence Demar why the Orientals and Finns are such good runners and he said, ‘they don’t eat as much as we do.’ “ Johnny A. “Old John” Kelley

“There’s no such thing as a bad carbohydrate.” Don Kardong

“Avoid any diet that discourages the use of hot fudge.” Don Kardong

“Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos.” Don Kardong

“Kardong’s article was very dangerous and disgusting.” Reader’s reaction to one of Don Kardong’s “alternative” articles on diet


“The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.” Juma Ikangaa, Tanzania

“I wish chiefly to impress on all athletes who may read this book that if they wish to excel at any branch of sport they must train. Train steadily, consistently, and constantly, and always bare in mind that however well they may be doing it is possible for them to do better.” Alf Shrubb

“Running is a lot like life. Only 10 percent of it is exciting. 90 percent of it is slog and drudge.” Dave Bedford, English distance runner who occasionally put in 200 miles of week in training.

“A lot of people don’t realize that about 98 percent of the running I put in is anything but glamorous: 2 percent joyful participation, 98 percent dedication! It’s a tough formula. Getting out in the forest in the biting cold and the flattening heat, and putting in kilometer after kilometer.” Rob de Castella

“Good things come slow – especially in distance runner.” Bill Bowerman, Oregon coach

“Training is principally an act of faith.” Franz Stamfl

“Workouts are like brushing my teeth; I don’t think about them, I just do them. The decision has already been made.” PattiSue Plumer, US Olympian

“The long run is what puts the tiger in the cat.” Bill Squires

“Basically, you have all these different types of training and different types of workouts. You’ve got general distance running, you’ve got fartlek, you’ve got hill work, you’ve got aerobic training sessions, you got anaerobic training phases and then you’ve got the rest phase. You take these phases and you arrange them in the right order.” Jerome Drayton, winner of the 1977 Boston marathon

“The number of miles I have run since I was a toddler would have taken me around the work several times, and I still cannot define precisely my joy in running. There is no sacrifice in it. I lead what I regard a normal like. In my case, I thoroughly enjoy running 100 odd miles a week. If I didn’t I wouldn’t do it. Who can define happiness? To some, happiness is a warm puppy or a glass of cold beer. To me, happiness is running in the hills with my mates around me. Ron Clarke

“Training is a case of stress management. Stress and rest, stress and rest.” Brooks Johnson

Someone once reportedly asked Jack Daniels, coach of Div. III women’s cross-country powerhouse Cortland State, about what kind of training was currently most popular among distance runners. Daniels simple responded: “Overtraining.”

“Overtraining is the biggest problem incurred by runners who lack the experience or discipline to cope with their own enthusiasm. Marty Liquori

“Runners like to train 100 miles per week because it’s a round number. But I think 88 is a lot rounder.” Don Kardong

“I leave my watch at home. Otherwise, it’s a lost cause.” Todd Williams on what it takes for him to have an easy day.

“I don’t wear my watch during my long runs. That way I am not tempted to compare my time from week to week. Lynn Jennings

“Any idiot can train himself into the ground; the trick is working in training to get gradually stronger.” Keith Brantly

“During the hard training phase never be afraid to take a day off. If your legs are feeling unduly stiff or sore, rest; if you are at all sluggish, rest; in fact, if in doubt, rest.” Bruce Fordyce

“You find out by trial and error what the optimal level of training is. If I found I was training too hard, I would drop it back for a day or two. I didn’t run for five days before the sub-four-minute mile.” Sir Roger Bannister


“Racing teaches us to challenge ourselves. It teaches us to push beyond where we thought we could go. It helps us to find out what we are made of. This is what we do. This is what it’s all about.” Pattisue Plumer, U.S. Olympian

“Second place is not a defeat. It is a stimulation to get better. It makes you even more determined.” Carlos Lopes

“Remember to ‘bank’ your racing powers until you seriously require them, and you will then find that the interest is there as well as the capital when you start to draw on the account.” Arthur Newton


“Hills are speedwork in disguise.” Frank Shorter

“Hills are the only beneficial type of resistance training for a runner.” Arthur Lydiard

“Running hills breaks up your rhythm and forces your muscles to adapt to new stresses. The result? You become stronger.” Eamonn Coghlan

“I lean with the hill…… I know I’m doing it right if it feels like I’m going to fall on my face, but don’t. Ed Eyestone on downhill running

“If the hill has its own name, then it’s probably a pretty tough hill.” Marty Stern


“Mind is everything: muscle – pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.” Paavo Nurmi

“The five S’s of sports training are: stamina, speed, strength, skill, and spirit; but the greatest of these is spirit.” Ken Doherty

“Mental will is a muscle that needs exercise, just like muscles of the body.” Lynn Jennings

“To keep from decaying, to be a winner, the athlete must accept pain – not only accept it, but look for it, live with it, not to fear it.” Dr. George Sheehan

“My life is a gift to me from my Creator. What I do with my life is my gift back to the Creator.” Billy Mills

All quotes taken from – The Quotable Runner Edited by Mark Will-Weber

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