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10K Training Guide

A top coach's advice to maximize performance


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From the time the ancient Greek runner Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greeks' victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon, humans have been fascinated by endurance. And today's trail runners have hundreds of race options in which to test their mettle, e.g. the Wissahickon Trail Classic 10K in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Tecumseh Trail Marathon in Bloomington, Indiana, and the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in Northern California. The key to racing well is knowing how to train the three main factors affecting endurance performance— VO2max (aerobic power), lactate threshold, and running economy—for your chosen race distance, from 10K to ultramarathon.

VO2max (Aerobic Power)

VO2max is the maximum volume of oxygen that your muscles can consume per minute. To be a good distance runner, you need a high VO2max. Think of VO2max as your VIP card—a high VO2max alone gains you access into the club. But having that VIP card is not enough. To be a great runner, you need to have other tools in your physiological arsenal.

Lactate Threshold

One of those other tools is the lactate threshold (LT). The LT demarcates the transition between running that is almost purely aerobic and running that includes significant anaerobic metabolism. (All running speeds have an anaerobic contribution, although when running slower than LT pace, that contribution is negligible.) Thus, LT is an important determinant of endurance performance since it represents the fastest speed you can sustain aerobically without a significant anaerobic contribution. Research has shown that LT is the best physiological predictor of distance-running performance.

Running Economy

A third tool is running economy, the volume of oxygen (VO2) used to maintain a given speed. The less oxygen you use to run at a specific speed, the better. For example, if two runners have the same VO2max, but Runner A uses 70 percent and Runner B uses 80 percent of that VO2max while running at eight-minute mile pace, the pace feels easier for Runner A because he is more economical.