Avoid the Black Hole of Running
Hitting the performance plateau is inevitable. You simply can’t improve forever. But when it happens, what do you do? Change (you pick one) your diet, sleep, training partner, pattern, work schedule, life, coach. Rather, what I’d suggest is try a new training system. After 40 years of running and triathlon racing, I enlisted the help of Carl Foster, Ph.D. and running journalist Roy Wallack to get the word out about the dangers of training in the black hole in my just released new book, Be a Better Runner.
The best way to explain the training zone known as the black hole is by example.
Let’s say that for no apparent reason, your training and racing flattens and you hit the deadly fitness plateau – no more improvements and maybe a few decrements. You look at all of your data from your heart rate monitor, speed/distance monitors, power meter, training logs and when you can’t figure it out why now? Answer: Just maybe you got sucked into training in the dangerous black hole – that middle intensity between easy and hard. Did your easy recovery days disappear as your performance fell into spiral mort, the deadly nosedive. Stephen Seiler, an American exercise scientist teaching at the University of Agder, in Kristiansand, Norway coined the term the “black hole” and several of his colleague including Carl Foster, professor of exercise science at the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse popularized the term for training moderately hard on your easy days and consequently not being able to train hard on your hard days because you aren’t rested enough. This nightmare training intensity first identified by Seiler is between the two threshold: the low first threshold aka T1, known as the first lactate or first ventilatory threshold and the second or high threshold aka T2 known as LT2, lactate threshold two or VT2, the second ventilatory threshold.
There’s a field test you can do to measure the heart rate or speed at both of these efforts in order to test these two bio-markers. That test developed by Foster is explained in the new book Be a Better Runner. If you prefer more accuracy than a field test, you can take a metabolic test using h a VO2 cart. These first crossover points, T1 is just more strenuous than the “I can do it all day” intensity. The second threshold, the high T2 is the effort where you can no longer speak comfortably – when you might say “if you want me to talk, I’ll have to slow down” effort.
Here are some descriptors of that intensity when you are in the vortex of black hole:
- It’s a moderately hard effort that is sustainably taxing.
- It’s enjoyable intensity that is harder than easy and easier than really hard.
- It’s between really hard and really easy.
- It’s about a 6 or 7 effort level if 1 is very easy and 10 is all out max effort.
- It’s harder than your recovery pace and easier than 90% intervals.
Training for improvement needs to be really easy on your easy days and really hard on your hard days – and not between the two where the center of the black hole resides. And, Seiler’s recently published research* shows that for runners, times can improve significantly compared to the running group who spent time in the black hole.
According to Be a Better Runner co-author Carl Foster the black hole is poisonous to your training. He recommends that on your hard days you train higher than your T2 because it puts enough stress to allow for “adaptation” to occur. And on your easy days, if you train in the black hole according to Foster you don’t get the recovery needed to rest and recharge for the next hard, the next workout above T2.
Try it yourself – workout outside of the black hole and watch your plateau disappear and your speed improve. It’s in the middle, it’s moderate hard training, that is the danger zone that leads to plateaus and training regressions.