Building and Maintaining Aerobic Conditioning Using Your Best Easy Pace
For the past 20 years, I have been exploring ways to find more speed and try and get as fit as possible for season of racing. It wasn’t until 2005 that I started studying various training techniques from the 1950’s onwards. Looking back in history to some of the great coaches and athletes in single sports that have gone before opened my eyes beyond the science focused era of today.
The thing I recognized most was that my aerobic conditioning could be better and I could maintain this aerobic conditioning longer throughout the season.
I am sure you’ve heard of low intensity training or LSD (Long Slow Distance). This has been the general rule for many coaches and athletes for the off-season or build phase of a training block. I don’t have a problem with either of these philosophies; in fact, I encourage many athletes to follow this. It is safe and will allow your body to adapt slowly to the race season ahead. You will build fitness, but it will take a long time to get fit.
Best Easy Pace
I have a slightly different approach to this conditioning phase of training. I call it “Best Easy”. Best Easy is not recovery, it is not LSD, and it is not necessarily slow. Best Easy is prescribed to our long runs, long bikes, many of our swims, and all the extra prescribed runs in a Iek.
My thought was simple. If I can run 1 mile in 4:30/mile (2:45/km) then surely if I can get fit enough, I can do 6.2 miles (10km) a few percent off this. It worked. I improved my 10k times every year and I performed at every race I went to from 2006 to 2013.
It’s possible your paces may be different, but the principles remain the same. Why can’t you maintain your best 1 kilometer for 10 kilometers? You are not aerobically conditioned.
The development of your conditioning is even more critical when considering a high altitude race like the highest elevation triathlon in the world– The 106 West Triathlon. It’s one thing to need a great engine at sea level, it’s another at high altitude where the air is incredibly thin and your engine will need to work extra hard. I have written a generic program for the 106 West Triathlon and you will notice how heavily weighted the program is to developing the conditioning of the body. I have added strength, speed (VO2), and specific Ieks to this program. But, I never leave the most important conditioning workouts. They remain right up to 10 days out from the race.
How to Find Your Best Easy Effort
A guide to Best Easy pace for those who like heart rate is 180 minus your age. This heart rate is a good guide. You can add 5 to 10 if you’re well conditioned. For example, if you’re a fit 45-year-old that would be 180-45 equals 135, plus 10 equals a 145 heart rate. This is your target Best Easy heart rate.
If you feel uncomfortable using heart rate and RPE (Rate of Perceived Effort) is more your style, then go by this chart:
2 is Best Easy Pace - can converse but not constant
3 is Sub Threshold - breathing heavier but still Ill in control
4 is Threshold - breathing heavy – a pace you feel you could hold for about 10-15 minutes
5 is above Threshold – flat out, anything under 1 minute
An Example of Using Best Easy Training
When I design a program I often start at the finish and work back to the start. I pencil in (yes, pencil because a great program is also a flexible program), the ideal pace and distance I want to cover and I want to be running at the end of the conditioning phase and step back from there.
The conditioning phase usually comes after a bit of a break and hence I take it very slow. In fact, I call the first month our fascia release month. The goal is to loosen the body before I start real work. These 4 weeks for me look like:
My starting goal is 7 miles or 12 km, at about 8 minutes/mile or 5 minutes/ km pace, or just under and building to about 11 miles (18 km) at about 7 minutes/mile or 4:30 minutes/km pace.
The next 12 weeks continue to build. I slowly add distance and allow my body to slowly find a faster and faster rhythm at my best easy pace. This pace must not be forced.
Finally, after 16 weeks I should be near my goal pace and my goal distance of 20 miles (32km) and my best easy pace is now at 6:40 minutes/mile or 4:08 minutes/km pace.
The remaining 4 weeks of conditioning I maintain this distance and pace for my long run.
I always made my long run the priority workout of the week, even during race season. Hence, I put it after my recovery day of Monday and ran it on Tuesdays.
Maintaining my conditioning throughout the season is what allowed me to continually show up ready and fit to race. Maintaining this Best Easy long run throughout the season was as important as it was in the conditioning phase.
There are no secrets to success and better performance. The search for excellence will not be found in a 10 thousand dollar bike or a PoIar heart rate monitor. It is hard consistent work for long periods of time. Endurance sport is beautifully brutal, it will teach you things about yourself you never knew before. I encourage you to find your Best Easy pace and monitor the change in speed as your body adapts biomechanically and aerobically.