AT training works

By Gary Droze

Many area racers agree that the single best workout for improving their 5K times is a weekly session of brisk 400 meter to 1600 meter repeats, punctuated by short rests (the Gulf Winds Track Club version of this workout – free to the community – returns to the Florida State University track, beginning Tuesday, March 4th, at 6:30pm). However, some may want to add a second high-quality running session to their weekly training programs. Among the candidates for “second-best workout of the week,” the one the gets the nod from most coaches is the anaerobic threshold (AT) workout.

Just what is an AT workout? Simply stated, it is a run at a pace just below a point which forces one to struggle mightily to avoid slowing. For experienced runners, this point is generally equal to their pace for a 10 mile or half-marathon race. For neophytes, it is the point at which they can feel their breathing become labored during a twenty to thirty minute bout of running.
AT workouts can be conducted in a number of ways that range from highly structured activity to lightly outlined sessions. Although they may differ in application, all AT workouts reward their practitioners by increasing the speed at which they can comfortably run…which translates into faster race times.

The most highly structured AT workouts involve the use of heart rate monitors. Area veterans such as Kiko Cintron and Shannon Sullivan often wear these devices, using them to maintain 70-75% of their maximal heart rate. This intensity closely matches their true anaerobic threshold.

Other athletes employ a qualitative rate of perceived exertion (RPE) to monitor their efforts. Teenage distance ace Jennifer Emo sets out on 45 minute runs, with an aim to build up to an intensity that she would call a 7 or 8 on an RPE scale of 1 to 10.

For beginning runners who are still trying to define their limits, a reasonable introduction to AT training consists of multiple loop or out-and-back course running. The goal is to run the first 2-3 mile loop (or “out” portion) at an easy pace, and then run the second loop (or “back” portion) a few minutes faster. Area coaches Scott Gowan and Judy Alexander often send their young charges out on the Lake Overstreet trails with this mission.

Judging by these coaches’ successes, the older running crowd in Tallahassee may want to try AT training, too.