Very few runners think of themselves as avoiding suffering in their training, but in my experience most do. They embrace a certain kind of suffering, which is the grind of high volume, but they shy away from exposing themselves to much of the acute suffering of burning lungs and legs that is experienced in challenging high-intensity workouts. In fact, lately I have noticed a trend among runners of trying to put a positive spin on their suffering avoidance by couching it in terms of a Lydiardian training philosophy.
High-intensity training is risky, even dangerous, they say, and therefore its place in the training process must be minimized to prevent injury and overtraining. It’s not that these athletes are afraid of the misery of high-intensity training. They’re just being smart. Yeah, right. Having been an endurance athlete since 1983, I’m experienced enough to see this philosophy for the excuse-making it really is. Now I must confess that I fear and loath lactate interval workouts as much as the next runner. But I do a lot more of this type of training than most runners because I have simply been around the block too many times to live in denial of its effectiveness. Even elite runners fall victim to the tyranny of the comfort zone.
In an interview, Charles Pedlar, an exercise physiologist employed by the English Institute of Sport to provide physiological support to elite British endurance athletes, told me, As athletes tend to improve rapidly over the first few weeks of training, they then find a comfort zone and sit there, so we use intensity targets to push them on. Specifically, Pedlar and the coaches he works with will challenge athletes who appear to be coasting a bit in their training to hit faster pace times, higher heart rates, and so forth in workouts. And mind you, these are some of the best athletes in the world.
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