Understanding Threshold From a Runner’s Perspective by Marcus O’Sullivan (2006)


Introduction by George Block
Before we start, I want to talk a minute about the Counsilman Memorial Lecture and the Counsilman Memorial Fund. The Counsilman Memorial Lecture and Counsilman Memorial Fund are obviously named after swimming’s greatest coach scientist, Dr. James Counsilman. Doc challenged all of us to be scientists and researchers and to think scientifically, even if we didn’t have a scientific background. He urged us to have a hypothesis, to identify a single variable, to measure change and track it and know what cause and effect we are having in our athletes and then to communicate with each other as peers about what we are finding about our athletes.

When Doc died, a group of coaches put together the concept of having a Counsilman Memorial Lecture that was not about swimming, but about coaching. The idea was to bring in coaches from outside of swimming to talk about the commonality of coaching – whether it is the commonality of science or the commonality of psychology or the commonality of dealing with human beings. Sport is a great unifier and it is another opportunity to get outside of our swimming box and hear from another point of view. Last year we heard from a great basketball coach and this year we are going to hear from a great track coach.

I want to give just a momentary fund-raising speech. This talk is not supported by our fees that are paid to come to this clinic. There is a separate Counsilman Memorial Fund and it is an endowment that we are trying to build so that the interest on that fund will pay to bring a speaker each year.

Last year John Leonard sent out letters to all the clubs whose coaches were at this clinic and asked for a commitment of $500 a year for five years to build this endowment, and 16 clubs responded. Next year I got John to promise that those 16 clubs will somehow be recognized and we can thank those clubs for committing, but it will also give time to go out one more time to clubs and say, “please help.” Please help with this great concept of this memorial lecture and bringing coaches from outside and please help in keeping Doc’s memory alive.

At some point in the next few months, when John decompresses, he will get a letter out to all of us again, asking us to make this commitment and I would like to ask you, the coaches who are here, in your leadership role with your organization, to go back to your boards and ask them for that commitment of $500 a year for five years. I know that boards have the tendency to say, “What do we get for it?” The answer is nothing and everything. Your particular board will get nothing for it. No one will come to your pool and lecture to your swimmers, but it is everything because it enables this great free exchange of ideas across the boundaries of sport to take place and that is everything.

I ask you to bring that concept – when you get that letter – take it to your board and I hope that at this time next year we can say that we have 160 teams that have committed to a five-year commitment to build this endowment.

Now I would like to introduce our speaker, whom I got to know by wearing another hat. In another life I coached the USA Pentathlon Team, which is just five sports – swimming and running being sort of scissor sports. A swimming coach sometimes had to coach the runners and so I did what I did when I first had to coach diving as a high school coach – I went out and got a tape. And I found out that the same company that has Richard Quick’s great tapes and Dave Marsh’s great tapes, also has Marcus O’Sullivan’s great tapes on threshold training. And I thought – well that is swimming – that is threshold training and it is an incredible tape series because he so clearly defines his concept of threshold.

Marcus asked me before we did this: Do swimming coaches use threshold or how many use it? And I said, every coach in the room uses threshold and every coach in the room has their own definition and so it is really important to get that concept and common language down. I think Marcus will help us. He is an incredible athlete and an incredible coach and I did the normal thing when you are going to introduce somebody you don’t know – I Googled him and saw that he had run the mile in under 4 minutes — 101 times. And I thought, well that has got to be an error. It must be 11 times or something, and I asked him – is it really 101? And he said yeah, and that he hopes to add another 100 metric equivalents with the 1500 meters so it is really over 200 times running a mile under 4 minutes.

I also saw that two years ago he set a Masters world record and I noticed in the Masters World Championships there were not a whole lot of coaches setting world records a couple of weeks ago. So, he is probably embarrassing us all. He has learned to coach by coaching himself. He spent a year, after he graduated from high school, in Ireland, making himself scholarship eligible so he could come over and be a scholarship athlete because he wasn’t when he graduated. He dropped his mile 20 seconds in a year of self-coaching to go from 4:25 to 4:05 and make himself a recruitable athlete. And then in 15 years of running as a professional athlete, he taught himself more and more about threshold training. His quote to me this morning was that “he learned to understand it easily, but it took him a long time to learn to trust it.”

I think we are going to have a great time listening to Marcus and I will give a plug now for his tape package. It has nothing to do with swimming and everything to do with thinking.

Marcus O’Sullivan
First of all, I am flattered – first and foremost – for getting an invite to speak before you. This is a little bit unorthodox – a little bit unusual for me…speaking for track coaches. And initially I thought to myself – well, what am I going to talk about and it was suggested to me that I just talk about what I utilize in training – from my perspective — and let the audience grasp what they want from it.

So I arrived this morning and I bumped into John Leonard and John said, oh – everything is set up. Keep it inspirational and talk about lactate threshold. Now anybody who knows anything about lactate threshold – it is as dry as you get, right? And I am thinking to myself – keep it inspirational. I was planning on coming to the lecture before mine, just out of curiosity and to listen. Instead, I ran back to my room and started to redo some of the presentation and I am on the phone with a friend of mine out in Indiana who has got computer skills. I am not exactly a computer-skilled person and I am redoing some of it and I am happy to have redone it because I want it to be somewhat inspirational to you at the same time that it is insightful as to how I discovered threshold.

First of all…Doc Counsilman. I did not know the man and very, very quickly I called two people who I thought might and immediately they started to ramble about him and to talk nostalgically about him. One was Sam Bell from Indiana. He talked about Doc’s innovations. He talked about his creativity. He talked about his curiosity to learn more and more and it started to come together for me that that is probably why I am here and I think it speaks volumes for your organization — to bring outside speakers to a lecture to allow you to think somewhat outside the box.

Well, as Sam Bell was hanging up, he said, “You know what? I honestly think Doc Counsilman learned more from his athletes than any coach that I have ever had to work with or worked around. He listened to his athletes. He paid attention to his athletes and I think that was his greatest contribution.”

I spoke to a swim coach when I was getting this lecture ready and he said look, if you are really stuck just tell them a story and sure enough I noticed that when Mark Schubert was up here, somebody from the audience put a hand up and said “tell us a story.” So I am going to tell you a story and it will allow you to know who I am more than anything and maybe allow you to understand where I am coming from and how I evolved at the threshold part of my life.

This is me as a young boy. And it is important that you should see these photos because I am the little guy leading in front. The guy behind me is a year younger. It gives you a whole understanding of where I am coming from, okay? Let’s walk it through the whole way on this one. I am going to get out-sprinted. Obviously he has got the same colors that I have –- he was in my school, along with a whole bunch of other kids — and I never won a field day in high school – ever. I was that bad if you will, but I was a tryer. You know God loves a tryer. And this was a grass practice. This was one of my first races and the person who taught me threshold — the person who really opened my eyes — is the same person who gave me these photographs as a gift about two years ago. There are a lot of interconnections.

In this next photo I am not in the race. I am off to the side. I am the guy cheering. The guy standing next to me is a year younger, all right? I am not kidding you. David Varian – that is his name. Same class, but he was a year younger than I was. We ran age groups, so these kids were seniors and we’ve done our race and here we are, just cheering on the kids. I had a tremendous inferiority complex. I was so small that I was always getting out-sprinted. I felt I could keep going forever, but I could not sprint, and I remember one day looking at a magazine and in the magazine there was an article and the article said “grow taller” and underneath it was an address. So I got a postal order — a check — they did not have checkbooks back then — and I wrote away for what I thought was a potion or something that was going to help me grow taller.

It arrived in the mail about two weeks later and to my dismay I opened the package and inside was a set of instructions to do drills and exercises. I was so disappointed, but I started to do the drills and exercises. I did ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening. They were crazy drills – six in the morning and six in the evening.

I never drank milk. I hated milk. But as a young boy I read in a magazine that milk is good for you. So I decided that I would knuckle down and I would drink milk. Every evening I would run across to the shop – we didn’t have a refrigerator – I would run across to the shop and buy a pint of milk and bring it back. I hated it so much that I would buy a candy bar with it, right? So, I would shove the candy bar into my mouth – stuff it around the inside of my mouth to cake it with chocolate — and then I would chug a pint of milk and hope I wouldn’t throw up.

So I did this for about two years – nothing happened. It is funny now, but back then it was not so funny, okay? And like George said – I finished high school and I really wasn’t good enough – I wasn’t scholarship material. Anybody that knows track times – I was about a 4:25 miler, which is okay, but nothing special. I was very, very fortunate – not like what George said. He said I self-coached. I didn’t. I was very, very fortunate and I think this is destiny, if you will, and I think sometimes this is far more important than threshold training. I was in the right place at the right time.

I knew a man who had come back from Villanova – his name was Donald Walsh. You probably do not know who he was. He was an Olympian in 1972. If anybody has a track background and knows who Steve Prefontaine was, Don Walsh was the guy who was second to him at the NCAA cross-country championships. So he was good. I didn’t even realize how good he was but he came back to my hometown. He was a member of my club and decided to take me under his wing for a year. Every evening we would meet together. But first there was the day.

You know, I had to get a job, all right? I finished high school. I am 17 years old. I am probably 5’ 6” and every day, after running in the morning, I would take a bus ride 20 miles to where I worked as a sail maker for Spinnaker yachts – those big colorful sails that go out in front of the yacht. I was making 25 cents an hour. I was bringing home a paycheck of about 10 bucks a week. That is enough to motivate anybody, all right? I would come home at about 4 or 5 in the evening. I was getting so tired. If anybody has had a kid, you know that when they start working, they finally realize that working is tough. They come home and they are absolutely exhausted. They start falling asleep on the couch and everything – and that is what I was doing. I would have dinner and I would go right to bed — at about 5 o’clock in the evening.

I would sleep a few hours, then I would get up at 8 o’clock in the evening and I would meet my coach and off we would go and we would train. We would train until about 10 o’clock at night. Now keep in mind – we didn’t have a refrigerator. We didn’t have a washer or dryer. It rained a hell of a lot in Ireland. Every day my clothes were wet. I had a little heater in my room and I would hang my clothes in front of the heater for the next run the next day. So much salt built up in it that the stuff would start to stand, and after a while I would have to take it to the washer and get it cleaned up.

But Don Walsh would meet me every evening and we trained for a whole year and he took me and this is important now. He would take me to a field and he would have me run –- not fast…not slow…but somewhere in a zone. He said, I want you to run from this point to that point and come back here and I would come back and he would say all right – take a little bit of a rest and now I want you to run from this point to that so I would like run to this gate and run to that gate, but I don’t want it too fast and the workout would be finished and I would almost be disgusted because it wasn’t that hard. And every week we would do this and at the end of the whole year I went from 4:25 to 4:05 and I got a scholarship and off I went to America. Keep that thought in mind because it comes back to me almost about 15 years later and I never forgot it.

So I go off to school. My first year the man that I wanted to be coached by – Jumbo Elliott — was like a Doc Counsilman for track and field. But he died my freshman year. I was totally distraught and felt like I was cheated, if you will. You know, I didn’t come here – this is what I wanted to do and all of a sudden my coach died and so for two years I floundered. Basically I can say this now because we are all adults. I drank too much and hung around at night too much and really just started to let things slip away and it is so easy when you send kids off to college that you have been coaching as teenagers. So many things go wrong when they go to college. They meet girls. They get distracted. School work is too much and all of a sudden the dreams you have as parents or as coaches for them do not pan out and this is where mine was going. It wasn’t really panning out.

I came to a critical point in my junior year. We lost everything at the Penn Relays – Penn Relays is huge in track for us. It is like the Olympic Games and it is bigger than the NCAAs, in my estimation, particularly if you are a Villanova athlete. We lost everything. I walked away, after anchoring the relays, and went behind the stadium and I cried. I had never been so humiliated in my whole life and I went into a bit of a depression. Now that I reflect on it – we did not have any counselors back then – not like we have now. We just went into a depression. We had a few beers and we just kind of worked it out with our friends. And that is what I did and I went back to Ireland that summer and I was going to quit school. I had no intention of going back. And Don Walsh, the man who had coached me to get me there, said I want to meet you in town.

So I have to draw a picture of this guy. Donald Walsh used to hang with bookies and gamblers, and the only place that I could ever make contact with him was in a local pub that he would always go to. So, I went into town and opened the bar door. I got rid of all the smoke and I found him in a corner and he said, come over here and he sat me down. I am a junior in college. He always made me keep a diary. Which, if I can tell you nothing else, you should insist all your athletes keep diaries because when things go wrong, that is when you need a diary. You do not need a diary when things go right. Nobody needs a diary when thing are going well. You need it when things are going wrong. As Doc Counsilman would say, you need information. And the diary is the first place you should look.

So, Don has me sit down and he opens up the diary and he flips through the diary, as he nurses a beer for about ten minutes, and he doesn’t say a word. He is reading the diary and finally he closes the diary and says, “You are an absolute disgrace.” He says, “You have squandered and wasted such a gift that I am ashamed to be sitting here with you.” And of course I am like the typical kid with excuses, excuses, excuses. No, I will get it right…don’t worry…we‘ll start the first of August…three weeks…we’ll turn over a whole new leaf and get moving.

And Don says, “How about we start tomorrow? You have wasted enough time already.

Well, I left that night and walked home and I felt for the first time in my life somebody pointed me in the right direction and said “You need to go in this direction, now go.” It is probably one of the most valuable things I had ever, ever learned and he said to me as I left the bar that night, “You know what? The worst thing in life you could do is not fail. The worst think you could ever do is not try. And he said that is what you have been doing – you are not trying. Failing like you did – at the Penn Relays – that is not a big deal. The fact that you didn’t try to be successful at the Penn Relays was the real issue at hand.

I went back to school with a whole new set of ideals and that was a critical point for me. From then on I decided I would just give it my best shot. At anything I did in life I would try my best to be the best that I could possibly be. I went back to Villanova and trained all year. We were due to meet Arkansas. There is huge rivalry between Arkansas and Villanova. We had a 4 X mile relay – not a great 4 X mile relay but an okay 4 X mile relay — and I said to my teammates if you get me within 50 yards of Arkansas – I promise you – I will not let you down. I had trained so hard all year. I had them all fired up and that is what they gave me. They gave me a 50-yard deficit, which was great. I was kind of expecting my teammates to give it to me 50 yards down and I shut the gap down – went out in 54 seconds. Anyone who knows track – it is probably too fast for a mile – but we shut it right down. We sat on Arkansas.

From that moment on, things changed for me. I trained diligently, yes, but my whole attitude changed. My whole attitude was just try – if you give it your best shot every time, stuff will happen.

This next photo shows the 1984 race where I make the Olympic team. The interesting thing about this – and it all puts it together because when you have a philosophy of trying, it permeates everything that you do in life. There are 200 meters to go in this race. Now I know swim coaches and swim athletes do not understand this, but we went out too slow. We really shut it down and the whole race became a tactical race. We have 200 meters to go. I am on the rail. All of this is going through my head. This is the Olympic Champion from 1980 right in front of me — Steve Ovett. I had never met him before, but he is off my shoulder. So I am desperate. There are 200 meters to go. I am going to get boxed in from everybody and he has just about cut me off and I said Steve – I called him by his first name – I figured that would work, you know, getting his attention. And it did. He looked over and I said, Steve, please don’t cut me off and he didn’t. He moves out into lane 2 and lets me have the whole inside lane coming around the turn. We get into the home stretch – they are only taking three to the semi-finals – this is the draw and I am just out of college. We get into the home straight and all of a sudden two runners pass me. I’m in fourth, but I won’t give up. Damn it…I am going to keep trying the whole way down the home straight. I am going to keep trying – keep trying – keep trying and that is what I did and the runner in the middle here — he is in third at this stage — I see him look over his shoulder. We have about 20 yards to go before the finish line and all of a sudden his leg buckles and he falls. Ten yards before the line and I sweep by him and I get third and make it to the next round. He comes up to me later and says, “I was giving it everything I had and I couldn’t believe you were still pushing, pushing, all the way to the end, even though you had nothing to run from. 4th was going to have yard and money – you were only doing it.”

In many ways it is philosophy. It is a mindset that athletes need to have, but it is also a mindset that coaches need to have. Never give up. Never give up on your athletes. They are struggling sometimes and they won’t tell you everything. Never give up on what you are doing in life – whatever it is.

This is my first encounter with threshold. Very, very simple, but this is it. I was fortunate enough to meet a young gentleman. We were boyhood friends. He departed for many years and he never made it in running, but became a top-10 triathlete in the world – top 10. My friend ends up getting into a major accident. His career is cut short. He gets into physical therapy. To make a long story short, he becomes the physical therapist for our professional group in York, so he is traveling with us. It is crazy how it happens. Your boyhood friend. You don’t see each other for ten years and then all of a sudden he shows up and he is a physical therapist with triathlon background. So after many years of working together – one day he got me off the table and this is how I first got introduced to threshold training.

I would never have worn a heart monitor in my whole life when I was running. It was something that joggers wore. It was not something that real athletes wore. He sits me on the table and says here, look at this. This is the maximum heart rate. I have watched you all summer. I see you on the track and you are above that line where lactate acid is building.

Now threshold, to me, is a point where what you are building, lactate-wise, is what you can clear, lactate-wise, from your body. Once you go above it you are in an anaerobic state. That point is different for every athlete. As you are all sitting here right now you are building a certain amount of lactate, but it is here and you can clear this much – no problem. If I asked you to get up and walk around and jog, you would be clearing.

If I asked you to get up and jog a little faster, you would start building lactate, but you could still clear. And then you get to a critical point where what you are clearing is what you are building and that is where the 90% is – roughly at what maximum heart rate is. And my friend said I see you up here on the off day and then he says I see you down here on the other days and I said well, I am so beat up from the days that I am up here that I have to come down. He says – that’s my point. You are missing a whole block – an area right here. You are missing a whole area right in there between 80 and 90% where you can get more bang for your buck. It’s not that I didn’t work in that area. I did in the off season. But what he was trying to explain to me is that the threshold is different for everybody.

Prior to this point, I would do a typical workout of, say, 10 X 1000. And each 1000 would be about 2:45, which is way above that 90% – way above it. It is probably a little bit below where the dots are on the higher end. I would take a lap jog, which was pretty long and I am trying to get away from times and just go intensities, but it was too fast and the jog was too long.

A friend of mine, Frank, was a world champion in the two mile. I had been a world champion in the mile and I said to Frank – Frank – you have been getting tested. I know you are into this heart-rate stuff, so what are your numbers? And he said – you want my numbers? Well, yes. What are your numbers? And he starts to tell me what his numbers are.

Now this is the stupidest thing you could ever do. Anybody knows anything about heart rate. I said, you are about my build. You have run my time. Whatever your heart rate is, I will use it and that is what I did. You talk about being in the right place at the right time. As it turned out, a year later I got tested and I was too beat up and this is why it worked for me. Purely by accident. I almost gave up on the whole thing.

I talked to my coach of 15 years – Tom Donnelly. He’s a terrific individual and I had learned so much from him. So I said, Tom, I am 32. I have got to retire. I am too beat. I can’t recover quickly enough. He said, I have been thinking about this stuff. What do you think? I said, all right – let’s put the heart-rate monitor on and I called Frank. What are your numbers? So I put them in and I do 5 X 1000. I would not let myself go above 90%. I want to see what I can do at 90%. I had to run 25 seconds slower. I was running 3:20. Now, instead of a lap of jogging, I was taking a 30-second jog, which means I was recovering so much quicker.

After the first day of working with the monitor I said to Tom – I can’t deal with this. This is way too slow and this is what I was talking about when George was saying it is easy to understand threshold training…but it is hard to trust it. How can slow make you faster? It is counterintuitive. It doesn’t make sense. Tom, being the coach that he was for thirty years, said, well we are sticking with it for six weeks – come hell or high water.

So, we stuck with it for six weeks. I got down to about 3:05. I got a little bit efficient. He sent me off to a road race that I reluctantly entered and I went down to the road race and ended up winning. I ended up running one of the fastest times in like six years. I came back to Tom and I was so excited to tell him. I don’t know what’s happening but whatever it is – it is great so let’s keep doing it. And that is the beginning for me.

At that point I wanted to learn more. I got curious then and it actually extended my season another six years after that because I was curious about the education. This was the first time in my life I was tapping into something that was turning me on and, as dry as this may seem – I know it is dry – I love it because I think it explains so much to coaches. I stuck with it and have done so to this day. Yes, there are days when I lose faith in it if my team is not running well. This is a starting point. It is meant to be a starting point. It is meant to keep you grounded. There are days when you know that this kid on your team is not getting confidence from this. Well then, don’t use it. You’ve got to use something else. But if you have more tools in your repertoire of coaching, you can pull out different tools.

To me, this is a tool. This isn’t something that is set in stone that you have to do, but it does augment what you are doing. It does give you ideas of where you need to be with your athlete at certain times of the year and there is some sensible coaching that can take place within these parameters. But at the same time, it is really just one of many other tools.

That chart started to look like this as the years went on. It is the same chart – that little line that he drew – this is based off a max heart rate of 200. I just used 200 for easy calculation. You will see 90% is at 180. That is about where the zone is. It is about 85% of your max VO2. I don’t work in VO2s. Too complex. It changes. It fluctuates. As an athlete gets better and fitter, the VO2 is going to change. So, therefore, you are following a moving number and sometimes that can be difficult. So I usually stick with heart rate. Once I get a maximum heart rate.

How do we find the maximum heart rate? I take them on a treadmill, which I am going to do with my freshman kids coming in. I am going to take them on the tread mill. We slap on a mask – the whole thing – paraphernalia and all that and we run them until they almost drop off the treadmill. I am always there. I am standing behind the treadmill because some of them do fall, and we try to find out where the maximum heart rates are – from there – that is my bench mark.

I recommend that you don’t use 220 minus your age. I don’t know if anybody uses that, but I will give you an example. I have had kids on my team and they have been okay and their max heart rates are 200-220. I have had kids on my team in the 4-minute mile area and their max heart rate is 180. If you use 220 minus your age, it is going to be flawed somewhere. It may work, but it is hit and miss if it works. Your best bet is to find some way that you can get a maximum heart rate and if you can get a maximum heart rate you can back into the numbers that way.

I know you guys do – is it a T30? How many people use T30s in here? Okay, great. You would not get that at a track. Alternative methods – I use Jack Daniels’s V-dot charts. If anybody is familiar from a running background – they are almost the same as a T30. You do a time trial over 30 minutes and you factor in the charts. I will use charts also and I will augment them with heart rate. The only problem we have with the charts is when we run a race that is short. Are you using the right numbers from the race? If you are running on a 100-degree day and now you are applying it in training where it is 70 degrees, there are going to be differentials. If you are on a hilly course and you are training on a flat course or if you are on a flat course and are training on a hilly course.

The beauty for you guys, at least using the charts, is that you have a constant area to work within. The temperature is pretty stable. You have a pool – it is the same for everybody pretty much, so charts could actually work perfectly if people do use them. I could see them working very, very well in the pool.

I don’t rely on the charts. I augment them with heart rate so I am ebb and flow – back and forth — and usually they are very close. But you have to do more coaching when you use charts because you have to take into consideration what the condition of the athlete is that day. How do they look? How do they feel? Are they coming off tests? Are they coming off sickness? Are they in the early stage of something? Are you guessing the time from a previous T30 that they did? So there are a lot of complications that could go into charts. I think that they work better with swimming. They can work with running, but I like to have the heart rate as my back up.

The other thing that we use is a 5K road race or cross-country race. We put a heart rate monitor on them. They will run steady all the way through the race and at the end of the race I will get them to run as hard as they can for the last 2 or 3 hundred meters and spike it. I will always add about 5 beats onto it so if they come in at about 195 I will make it 200. The reason is, I always say to them if you had a dog chasing you or you had a guy with a baseball bat – I guarantee you get another five more beats on him. I factor that in because when we are doing it on the treadmill they are so worried about falling off the back of the treadmill that I am pretty sure I am getting an act out of them when they are coming off that treadmill. In a race, you know – you get guys that look like they are running hard and sometimes you think they could be running faster so I tack on a little bit.

You can take the time, add one minute and divide by 5 if you want to go with numbers or you can take the max heart rate and back it into the charts and go with 90%. So there are many, many ways of calculating.

I spoke with somebody this week. I was just interested to know if you guys use 400 meters. You can use a 400-meter race and take the time – get speed per minute and take a percentage of that and you can get your anaerobic work and you can take a percentage of that and get your threshold zone, so there are charts out there for you guys to use and there are methodologies out there. I am not here to teach you methodologies. I am basically here to tell you that it works. It really does work and it can be used in your implementations and in your training and I am as much of a skeptic as you get.

Here is something that I have kept over the years – just to give you an illustration of what a tempo effort would look like. This is a 20-minute sustained effort. It is going to be at 85% so what we are doing is looking at it for a block of effort. This is a workout (and, by the way, all of this will be on our website) – a workout of 8 X 1000 intervals. For good milers, this is eight times 3 minutes. As you can see, the whole idea is – once you get into the zone you don’t let them out of it too far because if you give them too much rest, the heart rate comes down.

Between efforts, I usually let the heart rate come down to about 60% so they can platform themselves back into another repeat. And, with running, the reason we have to give them a little bit more recovery is the impact. There is no relative impact in swimming versus what there is in running. Your beats are going to be so much higher just from impact alone.

This is 8 X 3 minutes in the pool. Same workout, but in a different medium. So this will be – I don’t know what happened – maybe his heart rate monitor didn’t work or maybe he was fixing it or something, but obviously he hung around there for a bit to get his heart rate way down and then he got into it.

This is 20 X 1 minute and I understand that is something that you guys do a lot of — 20 X 1 minute in terms of that type of time frame and you take a very, very short recovery so this is equivalent. We take about a third of the effort time as recovery, so if they are in the pool – for running in the pool for about a minute, we give them 20 seconds recovery and off they go again.

All right – threshold-production time. This is something I look for as an athlete progresses and this is something that might relate to swimming or you may be already doing it. If they are young, I will keep the reps short. Eight X 1000 is as short as you get from male-threshold training. I like to keep them in there for about 3 minutes – at least three minutes — because it takes you about 45 seconds to get the heart rate into the zone. So for the first 45 seconds they are running. They are going from 120 to 130 to 140 to 150 and then they will lock in at about 175 – whatever it is. So I will take the 3 minutes – I will minus out the time that they take to get there so now it is at 2:15 and then I will multiply that by 10 and I will come out with 22.5 minutes. Put the 22.5 minutes over 30 minutes of work time that we are doing and you come up with a production percentage – this is about 75%.

You can also go 6 X 1 mile. Now we are down to 6 efforts, but they are longer. It still takes 45 seconds to get into the zone. Are you guys with me on this? All right, so instead of 2:15 in the zone it is now 4:15 in the zone. Multiply times 6 and you come up with a production time of 25 to 30 minutes. Now all of a sudden the production percentage is going to 85%.

Now you move to 5 X 2K. You still have only 45 seconds to get into the zone and all of a sudden the production time will start to climb. Now you are up to 87 percent and once you get really strong you basically put 2 X 5K back to back. Keep in mind – you are at threshold. You should be able to do this for a long period of time if you are at a mark where you are building lactate at the same rate you are clearing. So essentially, you have to find the zone where they are in it but you don’t tax them.

Once they start building lactate, you go from 3.5 mils to 4 mils to 5 mils – all of a sudden. It is only a matter of time before they have to slow down and it doesn’t become productive any more. So, that is what I will do with track. As kids come through college — and I will coach post-collegiate athletes that are more Olympic level — then we move into a higher distance and fewer repeats.

I want to allow for some questions so I am going to finish up pretty soon. To me, this is what captures everything about any kind of endurance sport that you are doing. By doing the aerobic work – by doing the aerobic work properly. Your heart is like a muscle. It is like a muscle that you take into the weight room and I consider a threshold workout, when it is done perfectly, to be like taking your heart into the weight room. When you take it in you are lifting with it. If I asked you to go and lift with one bicep for a whole year and not with the other, everyone would agree that the right bicep would be bigger than the left one. So basically, the heart you take into the weight room you are going to lift with it. If you can make it bigger you are going to get more stroke volume. You get more stroke volume you are going to pump more blood. If you are pumping more blood you are carrying more oxygen and if you are carrying more oxygen you are doing more work. It is that simple. It is like taking your heart to the weight room and when you capture that – you can almost for a moment forego the intuitive feeling that how can slow make you run faster.

It is not about running slow to make you run faster. It is being able to keep doing a lot of work for a long period of time without taxing the body to make your heart bigger to pump more blood to carry more oxygen to do more work.

The roof – we spend way too much time working on the roof, especially in track. The roof to me is speed work. All of the anaerobic stuff. We do all this fancy stuff – all this great stuff — and you know what? We have a big engine, but we have no gas tank. I don’t care how big your engine is – you have got to have gas in your tank and the only way to put gas in the tank is by threshold training – training oxygen-carrying capacity — and it has to be done throughout the season – not just in periods.

Old style for me in track is the Lydiard style, where you would do it all first and then move into track and forget about it. This stuff has to be periodically done – maybe not as much during the season, but yet you have to go back to do it. There are three things I call the leak in this car. The first is time off, obviously. The second is too much speed work. For track, too much speed work is an antithesis to oxygen-carrying capacity – it eats away at it. And the third is too much racing, which a lot of high school kids do in track. I don’t think it is a problem for swimming because there is not an impact element in that. You can recover so much quicker from swimming than you can ever do from running. It has to do with the impact – the banging and the impact in the muscle.

To finish my story – to go back – when I first discovered threshold – when I first started to understand it, the man I thought of first was the man who took me to the grass fields 15 years prior. He didn’t know what he was doing, but he had a feel for the sport. He didn’t know about lactate threshold. He didn’t know all the physiology about it, but what he was doing was threshold training and what he was doing for me in that year was creating oxygen-carrying capacity. And all of a sudden I lit up when the spring came around. Also, the 3:10 that I started off with – that first year I went to 3:05 and about six months later I did another cycle through it – it went to 3 minutes. Another six months later it went to 2:56. Another six months later it went to 2:52 – at the same effort. I wasn’t that far off from the 2:45 to the 2:52. I just hadn’t gone into the weight room lifting with my heart. It took me a year and a half to two years to finally, finally start to lift with it and create oxygen-carrying capacity.

I noticed a couple of things. I didn’t get sick as much. Honest to God – I did not get sick as much. I remember one winter my whole family had the flu. I had never seen the flu as bad as this one. I didn’t get sick with them. I ran my fastest personal best at the age of 36 – after I thought I was going to retire at 32. I came back and won another World Championship and I think I extended my career far beyond what I ever thought I was going to be able to do. I buy into this, but I also understand that coaching is subtle. I also understand that there is more to it than just the threshold part. What Ed Reese was talking about up here when he was talking about the team aspects of it – looking after each other – there is so much – we become psychologists. This stuff is pretty easy, right? This stuff is relatively easy when you apply it and you understand it. For me, the hardest part is learning the psychology of getting athletes, particularly young kids today, to do things that might have been a little easier twenty years ago. I will take any questions.

Q/A: The question was: What was the duration on the treadmill to establish a max heart rate? It can run anywhere from 15 to 22 minutes. It’s similar to a T30 in that respect. We will build them slowly – take lactate tests along the way to see where they are in millimoles and then right at the end – we have a treadmill that will go 5-minute miles. Once they start to reach the five-minute mile, we put an incline in and the only problem with the incline is that some athletes are just not physically able to run hills as easy as a flat so they can physically peter out and sometimes things go wrong with the test, which is annoying, but sometimes they can actually physically run out of energy before they ever reach their maximum heart rate. So there can be some issues with it, but anywhere from 15 to 22 minutes – in that range.

Q/A: The question was: What part of the 15 to 22 minutes am I looking at? I am looking at everything. I am looking at R values. I am looking at a whole bunch of different things. I look at VO2, even though I don’t pay too much attention to it, and I pull them all together and I give what I consider a guesstimate – within a range. I will never tell an athlete – you have to run 175 at this pace. I will give you 172 to 176 – it is a range. Always work in ranges. I will look at the very end. I am curious, obviously, and I will look throughout when I see the numbers that I am looking for coming off the test. I can almost kind of guess where it is going to be before we actually finish the test. I can actually predict where the max is going to be right as we are passing through. I am basically looking for this mark right here.

Q/A: The question is: – I am a middle-distance runner; actually, more long distance. Would an 800-meter runner follow this? They would, depending on where you are coming from in terms of your coaching theory. I would have my 800-meter runner do this. I would not have him do 10 X 1K. I wouldn’t have him do 6 X 1 mile. It might be 4 by 1 mile. It would be relative to their overall volume that they are doing for the week. The other thing is in the 400 meters. I don’t coach the sprints, right? So I am a little bit out of my league in this one; however, one of the most interesting conversations I ever had was with a man by the name of Clyde Hart – he coaches at Baylor. If you are following sprints, he has coached our new owner Michael Johnson. I swear to God – I thought I was talking to a distance coach – the way he was talking. His knowledge – his interpretations – he gets them to do slower stuff – not banging. Sprint coaches think you have got to bang it out. And I am listening to him. And I am thinking he is going to be speaking in neurological terms, but he is talking like he is an old-time distance coach. Well, we put them on the grass – and I don’t want them to go too fast – nice and cozy and close and we hardly ever run in the top speed. I got done – the hour – and I thought geezzzz – no wonder he is so successful. It is so important to him to have cardiovascular capacity in the last 100 meters, because it is not about decelerating. It is about who is decelerating quicker and who is cardiovascularly fit over the last 80 meters. So it was kind of interesting that here I am talking to one of the better sprint coaches in the country and I feel like I am talking to a cross-country coach in terms of how he operated.

Q/A: The question is about weekly mileage. Thirty-five miles a week in high school. I am not taking them to 60 in their first year. I will take them to 40 and I will put them in the pool for two days. If they can swim and they can swim well, I will let them swim. If they can’t then I will run them in the pool and we will do some cross training on the elliptical. I can do the same workouts with athletes on the elliptical – it depends on what you can adapt to. Running in the pool for me – I couldn’t even get my heart rate to tempo. I finally just stopped doing it. It was not productive for me. I could do it on the bike, but I couldn’t do it in the pool so with a heart rate monitor on – an athlete might look like they are really working hard and you look at the rates and they are not even – they are at steady running instead of tempo or threshold, so it is relative. But I don’t do enough of it to be honest, which probably I should.

Q/A: The question is: As they get stronger and better, will their threshold get higher than 90%? Actually, I reverse and go the other way. That sounds counterintuitive. I am kind of a contrarian in that state and I will explain it as best I can. When you are not fit, your resting heart rate is, say, at 40. When you are fit, your resting heart rate could be as low as – some of the athletes that I have – they will be in the low 30s. Think of it as me jumping from here at this platform at 40. I can reach that threshold quicker as opposed to now being down lower where I have to jump even harder to reach harder to reach it. So sometimes it can be a mistake to work somebody too hard when they are fitter because they have to go deeper from the start – like dunking a basketball off a chair. Now all of a sudden you are really fit and you are no longer on the chair – you are on the floor and now you have to jump even higher. And the thing is – if you are in the middle of a season, it is the wrong thing to do because you really do want to be concentrating on the anaerobic stuff and all you want to do is keep the tank topped up. Another part of that question is not as easy as I am just explaining right there. A marathon runner can run anywhere from 88 to 92% for the whole distance and I call it red-lining – where you can perform just above threshold. It is a skill and the more you practice it, the more you start learning to cope with it and diffuse the lactate over a long period of time. So you are kind of right in a way – that you would take it up – depending on what distance you are doing, but I would not do it in the middle of the season.

Q/A: The question is about male versus female considerations. I will let a female work harder above threshold. I don’t know if swim coaches have noticed this or not – I will let them work a little bit harder than a male. I will give you a perfect example. I have coached a girl who has been silver medal at the World Championships, Olympic final. I have coached her since she was in college so we have been together now for 8 years. When I first started threshold I would let her go above it. One, because she was running much slower than a guy so as a percentage it wasn’t as much of an impact. The other thing – she didn’t have as much muscle composition, so she physically couldn’t run into a really hard effort. So I would let her flow a little bit above threshold. As she developed, and if you look at a photograph of her in college versus where she is now, she is starting to develop muscles more like a guy would have, simply because she has been running at a very high end for 8 years. I will now start to pull her back – almost like the same theory there – I will now start to pull her back and keep her closer to the 90% rather than let her float up. So, if they are young kids I think they can go up a little bit if they are girls and as they get older and more competitive and more physically stronger I will pin them back down to where they need to be so that they are going faster obviously. This girl 8 years ago was running her threshold in 3:40 for thousands. Now she is running at 3:15. That is a huge difference so I have to be a little bit more careful in pulling her back.

You have been a super audience. I hope I was a little bit inspirational and a little bit insightful. By the way – in case I forget – if you want more details on it there is a website – it is just a temporary website. One of these days I will build a site, but I haven’t gotten that far yet. If you plug into that you will find there are more slides. It might not be as explanatory as I would like it to be, but you will be able to pick up any of the slides that were on today.

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