Lately I have been seeing more and more around two opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to improving your threshold power or pace. The first school of thought is you push your power up through lower threshold workouts. The second school says you pull your power up with higher intensity work. So which is correct? Both.
Interestingly when training to get my mile under 5:00, I considered the following strategy. Run an interval at whatever length I was able to hold the desired pace for. Let’s say that interval is 400 meters at 1:15. With that in mind, I would build a program that focused on 400 repeats with some longer sessions such as 800’s and eventually 1000’s when I was able to perform a sufficient number of shorter laps but at the proper pacing. The idea being that by doing a larger volume of running at the desired or slightly faster than desired pace, I would build the muscle memory needed, the strength needed, and potentially the endurance needed. As the volume grew, and the rest shortened, I would expand the intervals to a longer distance but it would be necessary to keep the proper pacing. In this way I was pushing up my mile time.
However, that just isn’t enough. On top of stamina, I also needed some extra strength and speed. If you are only capable of running a 1:15 400 at your top end, the likelihood of being able to hold that pace is low. Continuing to train at that level helps, but mentally and physically you need more. The mile will always be hard, but if you want 5:00 pace to feel comfortable, you need to run harder during workouts so on game day it is no big deal. For these sessions I would go shorter but faster intervals with less rest. Doing 15-20 200’s shooting for around 33 seconds was about right. By going over goal pace I was pulling my speed and capabilities up.
So as you can see, I worked on both types of intervals. Over the Vo2 max and functional threshold. Both working together was a great approach, and a few weeks back I ran my fastest mile yet in 5:08. So there is still work to be done, but considering where we are in the season and how much I have been able to get to a track due to snow, I am pretty happy.
This same principle applies to cycling, maybe even more so. My coach has been giving me threshold and Vo2 max sessions alternating each week. These are also great for me because they really do cause completely different muscle responses. For example, I am very good at holding short painful bursts of power. On the bike or on the run it is something I have always been good at. So 125% of FTP for 60-90 seconds is very comfortable for me. However, when it comes to 10 minutes at FTP, sometimes I struggle quite a bit. The good news is that I am not neglecting either end of my range, and as a result I think the improvements are faster and likely more lasting.
I say more lasting because I have been holding the low 5 minute mile mark for about 4 months now even without getting to the track. The body has taken in the training and I have been able to hold on to it with minimal focus on that goal.
The same will be true for cycling, and with the weather starting to lighten up (although it did snow on my run yesterday) I am looking forward to trying out the new speed on some LBS pelotons. In fact, I am going to search them out just to see if I can ride through them after this big Winter training block. In my head I am riding like Frodo, but in reality it might be closer to Fro-no. Ok bad dad joke, but there is only one way to find out and hopefully I do soon.