The hardest part of training to hold a specific pace for a specific race distance is learning how to deal with lactic acid accumulation during the race.
WHAT IS LACTIC ACID?
Lactic acid is created in the body. In fact, as you are reading this your body already has a level of lactic acid build up but it is far too low to cause you any stress.
It is created by red blood cells and in your muscle tissues.
As long as there is ample amounts of oxygen being delivered to your muscles (aerobic) carbohydrates are able to be broken down into carbon dioxide and water.
If your body doesn’t have enough oxygen and cannot break down carbs into carbon dioxide and water, lactate is produced and hydrogen ions (which are the real cause of muscle functioning breakdown) build up and you slow down.
WHAT IS HAPPENING WHEN YOU SLOW DOWN IN A RACE?
When you do not have sufficient oxygen delivery to your body (anaerobic) and are trying to race what is happening is your body uses up it’s carbohydrates stores by breaking down glycogen (muscle sugar) and glucose (blood sugar) for energy and produces lactic acid.
You slow down because it interferes with nerves and muscle functioning and slows down energy reactions. It is not the lactate but the hydrogen ion within lactic acid that is to blame for impairing muscle contraction causing you to slow down.
Your body’s preference for delivering oxygen is clearly via aerobic means. It is very easy to go out for an easy run or a walk but try doing a set of 400m repeats on the track and you will know the difference quickly.
Your body functions, thrives and needs oxygen. It is when you are going anaerobic, when you are trying to function with less oxygen, that things become complicated and effort is harder to sustain.
The problem is when our energy demands exceed our ability to deliver oxygen to our muscles.
IS LACTIC ACID THE REASON I AM SORE THE DAY AFTER A HARD EFFORT?
Lactic acid is not the reason you are sore from the workouts you do. This is muscle inflammation and due to muscle damage from the hard session.
Runners many times mistaken lactic acid as the cause for why they are sore when it is mainly inflammation from the hard workout they did and muscle tissue damage.
WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO GET RID OF LACTIC ACID?
One of the best things you can do is rest and allow yourself proper recovery between your next hard session. You never ‘get rid of’ lactic acid.
The body continues to produce it within the body even as you sleep.
Lactic acid does not stay in your system, at least in high levels, so it isn’t so much that you will have to get rid of lactic acid and it surely isn’t ‘toxin’ removal like so many people talk about.
Unless you have been bitten by a snake you do not have toxins that build up in your system from a hard workout.
Lactic acid is a chemical reaction, when you slow your pace your body’s ability to use lactate for energy lessons and catches up with the rate of lactate production.
WHY CAN’T I SEEM TO HOLD MY PACE FOR THE AMOUNT OF TME I NEED TO IN MY RACES?
A big cause for this is that as mentioned above. Our body functions on an aerobic level. As long as there is ample amounts of oxygen we have full muscle function.
Our reliance on carbohydrates (glucose and glycogen) during maximal efforts is one of the main causes for us having to slow down in the race.
Running easy means you have heavy reliance on slow twitch muscle fibers and you have the proper amount of oxygen delivery to your muscles.
The more fast twitch muscle fibers you can recruit (by training at faster paces) the more economical (effective) you are going to run.
The problem lies in how do you train your body to handle lactic acid build up? The only way to do it is by training at higher exertion rates.
It is isn’t a question so much of how do I lessen lactic acid accumulation in my body when I am racing but how can I use it more effectively.
Auburn Professor Bruce Gladden stated,
The world’s best athletes stay competitive by interval training. The intense exercise generates big lactate loads, and the body adapts by building up mitochondria to clear lactic acid quickly. If you use it up (as an energy source), it doesn’t accumulate.
The faster and longer you train the more you teach your body to handle and process the usage of lactic acid as a fuel source.
The more reliance on fat, and not carbohydrate, as your main fuel source at higher exertion rates the better, longer, and faster you are going to run.
Dr. Thomas D. Fahey, Professor of Exercise Physiology at California State University at Chico said this beautifully,
Burning fat as fuel has this function, it decreases lactate formation and speeds its removal.
Higher intensity running delays the onset of lactic acid accumulation and teaches you to use more of it as fuel, rather than the other way around.
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS FOR NOT BEING ABLE TO CLEAR LACTIC ACID QUICKLY ENOUGH?
Well, it only takes about 30 minutes for lactic acid levels to get back to normal levels once you stop exercising so there are not long-term effects from lactic acid.
The main side effect that comes from not being able to use lactic acid effectively as a fuel is you simply are forced to slow down.
The only way to become more effective in using lactic acid is by doing intervals at speeds exceeding your goal race pace and higher focus on your goal race pace.
You want to also pay closer attention to implementing long runs at speeds closer to your anaerobic lactate threshold.
WHY DO I NEED TO RUN LONGER FASTER?
The longer you run with high lactic acid levels in your blood the better you are going to teach your body to use it as a fuel source, rather than rely on carbohydrates.
You want to use fat and lactic acid to your benefit and conserve carbohydrate when you need it the most, that could be the last mile of a 5K, last 6 miles of a marathon or when you have to sprint at the end of a race.
Ed Eyestone in how to push past your lactic acid limits brought up and interesting study conducted in 2006 at the University of Western Australia.
Researchers found that athletes working at 120 to 140 percent above their lactate threshold three times a week for five weeks showed an increase in their ability to counter hydrogen ions from building up in their blood streams.
YOU CAN’T DO THIS BY RUNNING SLOW!
This is why we miss the mark sometimes in races. The reason this is so close to my heart is that I see far too many runners giving up too early, selling themselves short as if they weren’t born to run well.
They think they don’t have what it takes, they weren’t born with the big enough engine. If you are a 4 hour marathoner and want to run a 2.10.
I am not saying that is impossible but I get it, that would be asking a lot out of yourself.
We both know you must have some genetic gifts but relying solely on your genes is not enough.
I do believe in being rational but at the same time it doesn’t mean you can’t run up to your own expectations.
HOW ARE YOU PREPARING?
If your goal is to run a 2 hour half-marathon or a 4 hour marathon how often are you running at 9.09 per mile pace?
You have to adjust not only the way you are physically training but mentally training.
You have to ask yourself.
I want to know how to run faster but what is the underlying reason for me not being able to hold this pace? Is my goal above my capabilities or is it reasonable?
If it is, then all I need to do is learn that pace and spend more time in that zone.
I know running easy has it’s purpose but if researchers, educators and top-level athletes push this train of thought, maybe I should give it a try.
I can promise you it works but you have to pay very close attention also to how serious are with recovery.
Are you disciplined enough to slow down when you are running with a group, knowing you did a hard session the day before?
Far too many runners don’t have enough patience. They worry if their pace isn’t where it needs to be. Forget about it on your recovery days. Run easy, jog.
WHAT DOES AN OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST HAVE TO SAY ABOUT IT?
Frank Shorter said, “when I train hard, my runs are very, very hard but on my easy days I run very, very easy”.
Common sense training from one of the fastest marathoners in world history.
The best understand that the pace on and recovery days is irrelevant and are extremely focused on running very hard when it is called upon to do so.
Hurt, adapt. Hurt, adapt. Hurt, adapt. I leave you with that. It was a statement we used at Malone University. You stress your system, then you rest, then attack, then rest.
The result will be, if patient, faster times and new personal bests.