**This post is one of several in an excerpt series from the book, Be a Better Runner by Sally Edwards & Carl Foster**
How much are you really running?
The threshold running system is really powerful because it adds something that no other running program incorporates: how much and how hard you are running. At its most basic level, the system allows you to measure how much you worked out. For example, if you want to train less but get the same effect that you got before you trained less, you need to push your workouts into a higher zone. After all, you can spend a lot of time in Zones 1 and 2 and not burn as many calories or get as much of a training effect (i.e., positive changes from the effort), or you can pick up the pace and move your effort into Zone 3 or 4 and get a whole lot of aerobic benefit and train for less time. What you just did in this instance is increase the training load.
Training load is the sum of all the stress that you put on your body: hills, road surfaces, weather, speed, time, and distance. It may help to think of load as analogous to weight. If you have a day of high volume and intensity, you’ve borne a heavy weight—a high load factor. Your load factor helps you gauge not only how much work you did, but also how much recovery you will need. A high-load day will require significant recovery time, whereas an easy day, with low distance and low zones, will allow you to go hard the next day. In this context, it is crucial that you get into the mindset that recovery days are not wasted training, but days where you prepare yourself to do the hard training that will lead to improvement. Good scientific data is emerging that demonstrates that the more you adopt a hard-day/easy-day approach, the more effective your training will be. In the words of Carl’s Norwegian colleague and Stephen Seiler, Ph.D., “If you don’t train easily enough to really recover on the easy days, you won’t be able to train hard enough to improve on the hard days.”
Along with the various kinds of training loads that runners can put on themselves, there are some unexpected loads you need to know about. One of these is emotional load—the weight from having an emotionally stressful day. Let’s say your mom just got sick or the stock market dropped or you got in a huge argument with someone; each causes a lot of emotional weight. You know what it feels like when you can’t run well because you just don’t have the energy? That may well be caused by the stress from an emotionally difficult period. It is important to remember that hard training days and high unexpected loads don’t mix. If you try to train hard when you aren’t rested, or when you are emotionally upset, your body will rebel, usually by making you sick.
Another major load that runners experience is metabolic load. Metabolism is the sum of all of your energy input and output. Energy input is what you eat; if you eat well, eat healthy, and eat for your metabolism, your metabolic load is low. What happens when you eat junk or foods that you know are hard on your physiology? Yep, you raise your metabolic load. The same can be said for times when you are trying to lose weight by watching your diet particularly carefully. This is not a time to do your most intense training.
Quantifying every type of load that can tell you how much training you are doing is difficult to do. Too many factors are involved. Together, Carl and I have developed a point system which we call Heart Zones Training Points, or HZT Points. Carl has tested it in his lab to demonstrate that it works to quantify running load.
Best of all, it’s a lot easier than counting calories. It’ll give you data, numbers that take your running program to the next level, because it allows you to do the following:
- Compare your running workouts with each other.
- Compare one run with other runs.
- Compare your runs with those of other runners.
- Compare your runs with cross-training.
More to come ..
Keep your eyes peeled as we continue to release excerpts throughout upcoming weeks. If you fall in love with these tips from our excerpt series, make sure to stop in and grab a copy of Be a Better Runner from our online store, and keep it on your shelf at home to reference and share with others!