The first, and most important, is that you need to build an aerobic base. This is usually done early in the season, after some time off, and is appropriately termed the base period. It is accomplished by lots of long steady durations completed at a low effort (Friel, 21). I will spare you all the euphemisms but suffice it to say that all other training stems from what is accomplished during this time. During this period Dr. Philip Mafetone argues that, "...anaerobic training should be minimized -ideally eliminated- from the training schedule" (Maffetone, 60).
So, what exactly is "low effort"? Most likely you are currently doing your base work at too intense an effort. It should be easy, so easy that you are embarrassed. There are several ways to monitor your intensity. Your heart rate should be about 75% of max, but max heart rate formulas are deeply flawed and rarely match up, not to mention the fact that heart rate can be affected by many outside influences (sleep, caffeine, stress, etc...). Dr. Maffetone uses a heart rate formula to determine your aerobic training heart rate ceiling in which your age is subtracted from 180 and then beats are either added or subtracted from that number depending on factors such as health, experience, and age (Maffetone, 69-73) it is this method that Mark Allen credits for his success in Kona. Joe Friel uses a system in which you perform a time trial for 30 minutes which gives you
your lactate threshold heart rate and then you work backwords to find your different training zones (Friel, 95). I like this method better, but it can still be cumbersome as there are different zones for cycling and running and there are 6 zones for each. The method I like best is based off of the first ventilatory threshold, the point at which breathing rate increases in order to blow off the CO2 that is being produced by the buffering of the lactic acid in your working muscles (Foster & Porcari, 383). Not only is this method easy to monitor, but it's based on a physiological response happening in your own body. If you are breathing rapidly enough that you wouldn't be able to carry on a conversation then you are working too hard. To help monitor progress you can associate a heart rate range with this effort and over time you will become faster at that same effort and ultimately you will race faster.
By training at this easy effort several key things are happening. Slow twitch muscle fibers, the muscles you rely most heavily on during endurance events, are being conditioned and becoming more efficient. The mitochondria, the power stations, within your cells are increasing in size and number which means more energy production. Also, the capillaries around the recruited muscle fibers will grow and become more dense resulting in more available oxygen for your working muscles (Foster & Porcari, 370). Furthermore, the stores of glycogen in your muscles will increase and your body's ability to use fatty acids as fuel will be enhanced (Foster & Porcari, 371).
Training at this level is probably the hardest for any athlete as it just feels too easy, however, if you can be disciplined enough to spend a significant amount of time at this effort you will reap the awards come race day. So, next time you train... take it easy!!!
- Bryant, Cedric X., and Daniel J. Green. "Cardiorespiratory Training."ACE personal trainer manual : the ultimate resource for fitness professionals. 4th ed. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise, 2010. 370,371,383. Print.
- Friel, Joe, and Charlie Layton. "Your Fitness." Your best triathlon: advanced training for serious triathletes. Boulder, Colo.: Velo Press ;, 2010. 21-22. Print.
- Maffetone, Philip, and Mark Allen. "Developing Maximum Aerobic Function." The big book of endurance training and racing. New York: Skyhorse Pub., 2010. 60,69-73. Print.