“Instead of ignoring our differences, we need to accept and transcend them.”
― Sheryl Sandberg
Yesterday I had a brief conversation with a friend who is training for a half-ironman triathlon. Her workout for that day included intervals at a local track. This got me thinking about training plans and being purposeful with our workouts. Certainly intervals or bouts at higher intensity can be beneficial in our training plan. However, performing intervals just for the sake of performing intervals, or that we’ve heard it’s something we should do, may not be the best use of our limited time to train.
Thus, one important reason why runners don’t achieve their goals, and why you may not as well, is because they don’t follow an appropriate training plan, or don’t follow a plan at all. The training program should be appropriately designed for the specific needs and goals of the runner, while considering their age, running history, injury history, time for training, previous race results, and the topic I’m going to delve in a bit deeper in this post, which is physiology. The program should progressive build the runner to their goal, while including proper recovery, and an appropriate taper.
It seems many training programs, training groups, and running coaches don’t take important physiological differences into account, such as what is most appropriate for female and male runners. Due to the physiological differences between women and men, there is a strong tendency for women to use a higher percentage of fat as fuel, than men, when they run. Thus, the types of training and workouts that would be most beneficial to women, are not necessarily going to be the most beneficial for men. Since men tend to rely on carbohydrates for energy more than women, they may benefit more from higher intensity workouts to improve performance more than women. While women may benefit more from longer, aerobic-type workouts, which would include anaerobic or lactate threshold runs and intervals. Very few training groups will have runners perform intervals at the track in which they are running at their lactate threshold pace.
Women can benefit from higher intensity training, however the priority should be on the types of workouts that will most improve performance. Men also benefit from lactate threshold training, however this type of training is something I would incorporate later for them.
Of course, whether either of these types of intervals is appropriate for a runner will depend on their running history. In most cases with a beginner runner training for their first marathon, I may not use either type of interval.
Thus, for my friend who is early in her training for her half-ironman, I would recommend lactate threshold intervals, instead of hard maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) intervals, which I would recommend if I were coaching a male triathlete. My friend would need to know what pace or effort would be most appropriate for her intervals. This could be based on testing, previous race performance, running by feel, or possibly a combination of these. In addition, she would need to know how many intervals to perform and the appropriate recovery. All important factors in getting the most benefit out of this type of workout.
For runners I coach, I provide them with appropriate paces, as well as appropriate number of intervals and recovery, whether they are performing lactate threshold, or VO2max intervals in the customized training plans that I develop for them. I will also offer this opportunity for those who use my training programs in my upcoming ebooks for training for half- or full-marathon.
Another important factor for women with regular menstrual cycles, is the effect that estrogen can have during training. Ideally, the progression of training workouts will match the changes in levels of estrogen to get the most benefit from workouts. This is something that I have worked with female runners on to maximize the benefits of their training, and would certainly offer to all female runners I coach.
Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.
I wish you the best with your training.
Your friend and coach,
- Running for Women. Jason Karp and Carolyn Smith. Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL, 2012.