Train to breathe as hard as you can
Running training which gets you breathing as hard as you can is what the scientists call VO2 max training. If you run fast, you breathe hard. If you run fast enough for long enough, you will be breathing as hard as you can.
Training at or above your VO2 max speed is hard work, but hugely beneficial if you want to get faster. In fact, I’d go so far as to say if you’re not including this type of training in your program at least once a fortnight (though better once a week), you’re not reaching your full potential (with the caveat that injury or current fitness level could prevent you from performing this type of training at various times throughout your running career).
VO2 max is the maximum rate at which your body can consume oxygen. It can be measured accurately in a gruelling laboratory test, and it can also be approximated by using submaximal tests.
VO2 max accounts for about 70% of the difference in performance between individual runners. The major contributing factors to a high VO2 max are:
1) the body’s ability to get oxygen pumping around the body- you need to be good at getting oxygen to where it needs to go, so having a strong heart, a high blood volume, lots of haemoglobin, and lots of capillaries and mitochondria in the muscles will help.
2) Speed – the ability to contract lots of muscle fibres at the same time – the more fibres contracting at the same time, the more oxygen is demanded
Both of these factors are determined largely by genetic makeup, but are also trainable. To be effective in increasing VO2 max, and therefore increasing your ability to run faster for longer, you need to breathe hard in training. Very hard.
When it comes to VO2 max training, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. That’s because oxygen consumption will climb at pretty much any intensity, the longer that consumption is sustained. Think about an interval training session where you run a series of 800’s and an intensity level of 6/10. Unless you are allowing yourself full recovery between each interval, your last few intervals will feel a hell of a lot harder than your first few.
So, there is a range of intensities you can train at to boost your VO2 max. The main thing to remember is the aim is to be breathing as hard as you can.
Because there is a range of intensities at which you can train your VO2 max, you don’t need to be super fit to train like this. Exercise physiologist Veronique Billat suggests 30/30 and 60/60 workouts for runners of low-medium fitness levels.
At least 10 minutes of easy jogging.
3-6 stride outs over about 100 meters, increasing your intensity up to about 6/10 for the last 20 metres
Body of Session
Run 30 seconds hard. This should be the pace you could hold for about six minutes or racing. Then slow down to an easy jog for 30 seconds.
Continue to alternate the fast and slow 30 second intervals until you’ve done at least 12 of each (so a total of 12 minutes of running).
Build up your sessions so that you can sustain this for 20 minutes, ie 10 * 30 seconds hard, 10* 30 seconds easy.
You should be able to cover a similar distance on your last interval as you do on your first, if you’ve judged your pace well.
Once you can complete 10 of these 30/30 intervals, you can switch to 60/60.
Start with 6 * 60/60, and build up to 10 – so again, it will be 20 minutes of running in total.
Finish up with at least a 10 minute slow jog, and stretching