Part 2: Adaptation

According to the Road Runners Clubs of America and legendary running coach, Jack Daniels, superb training and racing success is built upon this idea: the body adapts to stress. Time spent running is the stimulus for your body to make 3 major cellular adaptations which improve running efficiency and performance:

  1. Muscular cells modify as the number, size, and distribution of mitochondria (tiny powerhouses responsible for converting stored energy into usable energy) increase. More running = more mitochondria produced = more energy supplied to running muscles!
  2. More capillaries become active, distributing more blood. More blood means more oxygen delivered to muscles, enabling them to fire more efficiently.
  3. An increase in certain enzymes means delivered oxygen can be processed by those muscles at an improved, faster rate.

Is it cliche to say that running changes you? Maybe. But biochemically speaking, it does. Running, over time, changes you right down to the cellular level. The more miles you put in, the greater the chances your heart, lungs, and skeletal muscles (i.e. legs) will start to function more efficiently, making you…a better runner. These changes can ONLY occur in the aerobic zone, which is about 1½ – 2 minutes SLOWER than your current (yes, CURRENT- not “best” or “before I had kids” or “when I’m not injured”) 5K race pace. This is the magical, albeit sometimes elusive “conversation pace,” achieved when you are easily able to carry on a conversation while running.  But don’t confuse “‘feeling good” with “easy.” Conversation pace involves no huffing or puffing. It is slower than almost every runner I chat with feels like they SHOULD be going, but it’s important to find it! CP will enhance overall training duration and eventually have a positive impact on your racing speed. Trust the science.

What does this mean for YOU? Essentially…slow the heck down. For the vast majority of us, MOST of our miles should be easy. Slower running is the best way to allow the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to adapt to the stress training puts on them and recover in an appropriate amount of time to continue stressing them. Remember that time spent running is a key component to this deal- by slowing down, you are significantly decreasing your chances of injury, allowing you to stay on your feet longer. Easy miles means more miles! This is especially important during the “off season,” the time before your 12,16, 20, etc. week race-specific training plans begin. Building a good, strong aerobic base before a true training regimen begins makes setting and achieving higher level goals easier to attain. You can double down on these effects by heading up to the mountains and really amp up your red blood cell count, but if travel isn’t already in your plans, altitude training is best left to the pros. 

Of course, there is a time and place for going fast and running hard. A good coach can tell you when, how long, how often, and how fast your hard sessions should be based on your training, performance and ultimate goal. If you’re looking for a running coach to help you navigate the ins and outs of this whole running thing, you’ve come to the right place. Head over to my Contact page and shoot me a line! Stay tuned for the 3rd and last installment of why you need to run slower to run faster!

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