First and foremost the biggest mistakes I see with people training for any running event, from a 10km race all the way up to ultra marathons, is they either try and cram a big training load into a small amount of time, they focus too much on speed work and/or hills, or they neglect the most important training phase – The Aerobic Phase
“The golden rule is that you can never progress faster than your slowest part will allow.” – Arthur Lydiard
Aerobic running, like mentioned before, is often neglected and takes some time to mature (exactly the same as wine, it gets better with age). During any event over 20km you’re going to spend a significant time in your ‘aerobic zone’ and there is no argument: The greatest gain for any aspiring distance runner is made by spending the majority of time on aerobic development*. And for recreational runners training for a local weekend race, this is one phase that is initially indispensible.
Think of aerobic running as a place where we hang out until we are mature enough to leave, but also a place we can always come back to for rest and recuperation. In the aerobic phase we increase the capacity of both the heart and the lungs for work, build our circulatory network to the muscles by increasing our capillary sizes, increase the number of mitochondria in the muscle cells, strengthening our ligaments and tendons to prevent any injuries later in our program and develop other beneficial metabolic and enzymatic pathways for gathering and converting oxygen to energy.
Once these structures are established they allow us to respond and recover quicker to any form of hill or speed work. How well you do the aerobic phase will determine your working capacity once you get to your anaerobic phase (speed work), the more time spent on this phase the better your overall outcome.
The aerobic phase should be your longest block of training. Generally speaking first we need to become efficient at running flat, building stronger ligaments and tendons as well as our lung capacity before we move onto any undulating running. This usually takes between 6-10 weeks. Fitness levels may vary.
For example you may run in your aerobic threshold (eg 130bpm-145bpm) at 6:30min/km at this point in time, however in 8-12 weeks time we would want to look at running in that same aerobic heart rate zone but say at 5:30min/km. Now, over a long race this is a significant reduction in heartbeats with increased pace, this is before we even add in any speed work. You can find out your aerobic zones HERE
Please note everyone has different aerobic zones. Some people have bigger hearts meaning more blood is pumped on each beat resulting in a lower heart rate
Without building an aerobic foundation you are really reducing your ability to get faster and stronger in the later stages of your program and also enhance your chances of injury. Depending on your lifestyle you may want to incorporate three key aerobic runs to start off with, this may look like 2 x 45 minute flat aerobic runs plus 1 x 60-90 minute aerobic runs and building from these each week.
If you have any questions regarding aerobic development you can contact me (Matty Abel) at firstname.lastname@example.org