If you don’t follow along on the Darkside Facebook page, you may not know that I am training for my first marathon. I really hate running, especially in Louisville in February. I have coached and trained other people for marathons in the past but have never come anything close to running a marathon.
I will say that the point of this post is not to explain the aerobic system, Coach Bronkall did that very well here, but to offer up a story with some personal experience to explain why it matters. Over the past year or two I have really been experiencing a paradigm shift in my thinking when it comes to endurance and aerobic training. My first introduction to training for endurance came while I was in the Marine Corps. Prior to that, I had only lifted weights in high school playing football and basketball. Obviously, we had “conditioning” training that usually consisted of, not very well thought out, sprinting sessions that made you want to puke. I had never really trained to be able to do stuff for a long time.
In the Marine Corps, you do a 3 mile run for your PFT (physical fitness test) and the end of your bootcamp you have the “crucible” during which I think you hump about 40 miles over the course of a couple of days. It’s actually weak AF and pretty much anyone can do it.
I had a Drill Instructor who I will never forget. Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Mckaskill thrashed me all day everyday no matter what. It didn’t matter who had done something wrong, he would say, “Bullshit Brown” and I would commence mountain climbers, pushups, burpees, or whatever suited him at that moment.
Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant McKaskill had a saying, “To train to run 3 miles, you need to run 5 miles.” and we did… often.
This vein of thinking reverberated through all the old salt dogs in the Marine Corps. It followed me all the way until I got to my unit (⅖ Echo, Retreat Hell, Kill) and we started PT with our platoons. My first Platoon Sergeant was chubby and slow, but we would go out any morning we were not in the field and run for an hour to an hour and a half. The same people would fall out of the run everyday and didn’t ever seem to really get any better. The real key piece here that I didn’t put together at the time was the fact that the guys who were cruising along and able to handle the pace the platoon was running with ease, seemed to improve steadily.The fact that the good runners were getting better exacerbated the problem because it seemed that running long distances “worked” and we always just wrote it off as the ones who were always falling out as being “little bitches”.
Once I was no longer a boot and I became a team, and eventually a squad leader, I was able to be in charge of PT. At this time, CrossFit was really starting to take off and I had been introduced to CrossFit through one of the all time Bad Ass Marines Major Brian Chontosh (if you don’t know who that is read his Navy Cross citation here). Since he was doing CrossFit, I decided that was what we needed to do.
What we were really doing was a bastardization of “functional fitness”. I would pretty much just think of the hardest shit that I could think of that would take us anywhere from 10-20min and then we would crush our souls. Not to mention, I had no training, whatsoever, in how to lift weights. We did away with any distance running almost entirely. Our running training was limited to the 400-800m runs in our workouts.
The funny thing that happened when we did this is that everyone’s 3 mile run time improved.
I was an advocate for the whole “death to long slow running” campaign and the evils of low intensity aerobic exercise for a few years. I saw the benefits that we were getting from the high intensity workouts and the lifting and I thought we had found the holy grail.
I was completely discounting the fact that in the Marine Corps infantry you spend shit loads of time doing low intensity aerobic work already. Hours and hours of patrols and the simple fact that we would walk all over damn San Mateo everyday that we weren’t in the field was giving us all the low intensity work that we needed. Part of my problem in recognizing this was that I didn’t realize how low intensity your low intensity work really needed to be.
ENTER THE POINT OF THIS BLOG
One of the books I read in preparation to put together my marathon training program was Alex’s Viada’s Hybrid Athlete. He recommends a 30 min baseline test maintaining a certain heartrate for max distance. He has a quote in the book that stuck with me –
“The resultant speed will represent the vast majority of conditioning work the athlete should be doing – and for many individuals, this could be dismayingly slow. Resist the urge to go faster. “ Alex Viada – Hybrid Athlete
I had already been studying the need for low intensity training and how much more low intensity training you should do compared to high intensity. Dr. Stephen Seiler and knew that that needed to be the base of my program. I had never actually worn a heart rate monitor and checked what my pace actually should be to be low intensity.
Then I got a HR monitor and was shocked/not so shocked to see just how dismayingly slow my low intensity work should be and realized that I had never ever trained to run in the low intensity that the majority of my running should have been.
I think that this is the biggest misrepresentation about aerobic training. The fact is that for the majority of people who say they are going to do some cardio, go way harder than they should be. This interferes with their other goals and does little to actually develop their aerobic capacity. Only a couple of weeks ago I was in the gym at Trinity and one of the football players was on the Woodway jogging. I could tell by his face that he was going way too hard. He was riding the struggle bus. As Coach Bronkall described in his article, all athletes need well developed aerobic systems. This allows them to recover from hard training, among other things. However, cardio gets plastered with a bad name due to the fact that people don’t understand how low of an intensity you really need to be training at in order to develop their aerobic capacity.
I think back to the Marine Corps when the guys who always were dying on our runs and falling out, never getting better, but the Marines who easily maintained the pace that the platoon was running at steadily improved. For the guys who were always falling out, we were training at too high of an intensity for them to make improvements. The other guys were training at a low intensity and were able to steadily improve.
Take away points:
Everyone needs to develop their aerobic capacity.
Everything you do in your life is aerobic. Your aerobic system never shuts off.
Most people train their “aerobic” work at too high of an intensity, reducing it’s effectiveness
Training your aerobic work at too high of an intensity reduces the effect of your high intensity training