Hard workouts yield results

By Gary Droze

Many competitive runners follow a weekly schedule that includes two key sessions: a long run of moderate effort for endurance, and a higher intensity, shorter distance run that simulates the pace of a race. Typically, the long run is a Saturday or Sunday morning affair, consisting of eight to sixteen miles at conversational pace. Many Tallahassee area runners meet at the Forestmeadows complex or the St. Mark’s bike trailhead for these social approaches to adding layers of aerobic fitness. For race pace training, most locals meet at the FSU track on Tuesday evenings.

A third weekly session may appeal to those who have dutifully included long runs and pace work for years, but find themselves at a plateau for race performances: lactic acid training. Lactic acid yields hydrogen ions that slow our capacity for muscular contraction. Without muscular contraction, we aren’t going anywhere. Lactic acid is also responsible for the painful burning sensation in our legs – that one we feel just before slowing markedly in a race. This is not a happy feeling.

Fortunately, our bodies can stave off lactic acid accumulation by increasing their circulating levels of buffers and anaerobic enzymes. These substances neutralize hydrogen ions, and let us hold a fiercer racing pace, or surge away from competitors. So, how do we get these buffers and enzymes working for us? Time for the bad news: we must practice running HARD. Hard enough to generate lactic acid, so that our bodies eventually adapt by pumping out more buffers and anaerobic enzymes. Legendary running researcher Dr. David Costill found that eight weeks of lactic acid training was enough to make a significant improvement in a runner’s ability to buffer lactic acid.

Many runners and coaches have their own pet lactic acid workouts. Herb Wills, the all-time most accomplished distance runner native to Tallahassee, used to simply run 3 X 400 meters at about half-mile race pace, with a few minutes’ respite between bouts.

Others have tried one half-mile bout at maximum effort, once weekly. I have inflicted cut-down sessions on some Gulf Winds Track Members: 400 meters, then 300 meters, then 200 meters, all at near maximal effort, with 100 meter walk recoveries. While these sessions aren’t particularly fun, they may prompt a smile months later, after you outsprint a rival.