Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Running on LSD


Before you get all excited it is important to explain that I am not preaching about running high on acid. Hell no, Sir! Long Slow Distance (LSD) is a form of aerobic endurance training - commonly used in running and cycling - where the goal is to perform at a constant pace of low to moderate intensity over an extended distance or duration.  Although not the creator or even the first guy to use such method, LSD was mainly promoted by Joe Henderson in 1969. He saw it as an alternative to the dominant school of training for distance running which he called “PTA school of running – the pain, torture, and agony” approach. 

If you want to run a lot in your life, and for many years, it is wise to go slowly but surely. Constance is key. It is the sudden activity and quick progress that mostly causes injuries. The idea of LSD is that instead of having a short session where you finish tired and out of breath, you will do long sessions where you will finish barely sweaty. You will be placing emphasis on distance/time, rather than speed. The moderate training intensity is effective in increasing muscle strength, improving aerobic endurance and fitness, and maximum oxygen uptake, specially in individuals who are undertrained or moderately trained.

Easier say than done…

Running slow?! This surely can’t work, right?

The misconception of LSD is that it is easy. Yes, the runs are at an easy pace and yes you can hold a conversation while running. But holding the correct aerobic effort for hours, can become quite painful. After 2 hours, whatever the pace you are at, it all hurts. Plus, the mental strength required to stay at this pace for such a long time already worth the whole effort.

I have also read stuff along the lines of “if you only run slow, all you learn is to run slow”. First things first… On the book "Going Long: Training for Ironman Distance Triathlons", by Joel Friel and Gordon Bryn, the authors explain that you cannot just fire a canon out of a boat. In sportive terms this means that if you want to run a marathon (or more), you should first focus on being able to complete such distance before getting worried about doing it quick. No 5 or 10km sprint will able you to do that. Slowly and gradually acquire endurance is the first step towards a long running life. Every time you step you are subjecting your knees to massive amounts of force, your joints, tendons and bones need to get used to these hours of impact and this takes time. Friel and Bryn go as far as recommending a 6 months period of LSD base training for runners without foundation.

Another point is that only LSD training will not going to get you there. Training is about stressing the body so variety is essential so you won’t stagnate. In order to achieve further improvements in metabolic conditioning you obviously require higher and different training intensities and sessions that are not sustainable at the work durations associated with LSD. 

So what is it good for?

Physiological adaptations to LSD training include improved cardiovascular function, improved thermoregulatory function, improved mitochondrial energy production, increased oxidative capacity of skeletal muscle, and increased utilisation of fat for fuel. You will be building your aerobic base and that includes increase in blood volume while the body becomes more economic at burning fuel - it will teach your body to use fat as an energy supply. It will also help you to lose weight and build up your endurance.

I started on LSD trainings a very long while ago and although I am still a total newbie in terms of training and running, after a while I could clearly see some interesting results. When I first started, any minimum effort would have my heart racing up way beyond what I would expect but as the weeks progresses, I manage to keep my heart rate low during the whole run. Another interesting thing is that it seemed that on normal runs, my heart race would recover much quicker when I decreased the intensity of it. Basically my heart took longer efforts to increase it’s speed (it became more economic), and was quicker to recover. Obviously my random training and lack of consistency did not bring much greater results but now, with more focus, consistency and a proper training plan I will  hopefully be able to address the right complementary sessions and finally get a marathon done in good form.

Finally, I truly believe the concepts of LSD training can and should be applied to other sports as well, including climbing. In climbing this sort of training – long sets of easy non-stop climb without getting pumped – definitely improves the ability of your muscles in maintain a sustained effort without crossing your anaerobic threshold plus it helps a lot in getting your skin, muscles and tendons for future longer climbs. There is plenty of material about this available on the Net and I specifically would recommend the PDF How to Climb 5.12, by Eric J. Horst and Training Manual for Competition Climbers, by Mike Doyle 

Wrapping up…

If you want to run a lot in your life, and for many years, it is wise to go slowly but surely. Constance is key. It is the sudden activity and quick progress that mostly causes injuries. LSD is not only about running slow, it is about observing the right heart rate (Zone 2) throughout the whole training. If you want to maximise it’s benefits, you need to be sure about what this means to you in terms of heart rate zones.

LSD is less intense than the other types of training so, as long as you choose the correct footwear for your long runs, the chance of injury is low as there is less stress on the body. It is s also a good initiation for runners wannabes or for that joint run you want to have with friends who are much quicker or slower than you. The easy pace easily allows for a chat and time flies.

Whatever the training you are doing, remember that ice, stretch and rolls are your friends. Whenever you are feeling sore of tense, do not wait to ice the area as often as possible, stretch regularly, and roll over balls and hard foams to release your muscles and joints.

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