A few days ago I posted about my first tempo run in a few years. The response in the comments forum discussions was interesting. Quite a few people expressed surprise I was doing an hour-long tempo run. Several people recommended alternatives that involved either slower or shorter distances.
I thought the runs were rather modest. The first run averaged a 7:44 pace (7.76 miles) with an average heart rate of 164 (85% of max). My fast ultra friends run significantly faster (sub-six pace) and longer, which is painfully evident when I try training with them. In fact, every faster runner I know got that way by running at a fast pace over 6-15 miles on at least a twice-weekly basis. It’s not much of a secret- to race fast, you have to train fast.
What About Low Heart Rate Training?
Low heart rate training fascinates me. There’s little doubt it’s a great tool to build an endurance base, and building aerobic capacity (the ability to run faster at a lower heart rate) is very good. It will improve performance.
The question- will it improve performance more than dedicated speedwork?
Some believe it will, but I have yet to meet a faster ultrarunner (defined as anyone that routinely finishes in the top quarter) that got there using low heart rate training. I’m familiar with the few examples often touted… so and so ran some such time while maintaining a heart rate below the aerobic threshold.
But that’s a limited number of data points.
How many runners get to that top quarter with long, fast tempo runs? I do know quite a few people that either do low heart rate training or nothing but long, slow runs. They fall into two categories- either they don’t run ultras or they’re middle-to-back of the back runners. The long, slow runs are wonderful for building an endurance base. I’m already at that point, however. Now I want to get faster. In order to get faster, I have to do more rigorous speedwork beyond my mountain fartlek runs. It doesn’t take a statistician to do the math- long, fast runs are more successful at developing speed over distance.
Back to the original point. Why did so many people react negatively to my tempo run?
Could we be getting a little too soft? When we realized more pain does not equal better performance, did we go overboard and dismissed the effectiveness of pushing our boundaries? Have we unnecessarily vilified discomfort?
Don’t get me wrong- those that are running for recreation shouldn’t force themselves to do a workout they don’t enjoy. However, for those that are interested in maximizing performance, running longer tempo runs seems like a pretty good strategy. As long as we don’t cross the “overtraining” and injury line, there’s nothing wrong with faster, longer runs.
What do you think? Are we too quick to dismiss fast tempo runs? Why, especially when they seem to be so effective?