He ran a personal best in the 10K distance on Sunday, and it was the exact reminder I needed to trust in aerobic training. When you do it well, it works.
By most training logic, it made zero sense that he was able to run 6:20s for six miles. He hasn’t done any speed work or paid any attention to his pace for the majority of this calendar year. What he has done is consistently run aerobically, for months.
This is essentially the MAF method that Katie and I use as the base of our run (and her triathlete) coaching. He did it on his own, but after completing two marathon training cycles under my watch. He decided to focus on ultras this year, so instead of doing long runs with speed intervals, or 800m repeats, or tempo runs, he just ran long and easy. He hit the trails and charged up the hills; he did CrossFit workouts; he maintains his strength. But he did not run hard or fast. He ran “easy”, keeping his heart rate low, for months. Ten months, to be exact.
At the end of those ten months, he had one scheduled race (50K) and two impromptu races (5K, and weeks later, a 10K). He ran a personal best in each one of them. And I’m like, WHOA, dude. Look at you go! And, I’ll be honest, there is also a part of me that was a bit shocked. The 5K run was a mere couple of days after his 50K (PR by 30+ minutes). He ran those three miles just slightly faster than his previous best time, but even that made little sense to me. How had he recovered so quickly? How did he run that fast after months of slow aerobic running, and just a few days after running for five hours? I chalked it up to his general ability to defy a lot of my logic.
Then this 10K happened. It was on Sunday and he said, “I’ll try to just double my 5K time from a few weeks ago.” That would indeed add up to a 10K PR. But most people can’t just double their 5K time. That’s why it’s a 5K PR! You couldn’t have run at that pace for any more than the three-point-something (one) miles. Of course, he did.
And of course, once I gave it more thought, it made all the sense in the world. He did it right, in a way I haven’t had the patience to. He committed to heart rate training without any agenda or schedule, and he stuck with it. The MAF theory goes that when your aerobic base is strong—and his is strong AF—you are more efficient at lower efforts. Your heart rate stays “low” (aerobic), but your speed increases and it feels the same.
It takes a long time to get there. It takes a lot of patience to strengthen your aerobic base. It may take up to ten, or more, months for this to result in a PR, or whatever your goal may be. But if you do it right—consistently, patiently, fully committed—it works. This is the case for most things, though, right? Why should it be any different here? Because we WANT to run fast so we should just be able to. That’s what our ego says. That’s not what science says. Science says when you work for progress, it works for you.