Welcome to the ESPA Life at Corinthia Fitness Blog

Written by us, the Personal Training Team at ESPA Life at Corinthia London. We wanted to create a blog to write for fitness advocates and beginners alike, a place to share everything from tips & truths, effective workouts, dietary advice, words of encouragement , our thoughts on the what works (and what doesn’t) and what music is on our playlist. We will also run competitions, encourage you to join us for a morning run and provoke discussion.

We welcome your views and if you have any questions, please post them on the blog so that others can join the conversation! You can also email us at espalifefitness.london@corinthia.com

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Ross, David, Tom & Marina
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Friday 8 June 2012

Endurance Training Blog: An Insight into Elite Training. By David Griffin

As a competitive athlete and Personal Trainer for over a decade, the one thing that has become more apparent as I have progressed over the years is that you learn more from ‘the best’.  There is always an underlying reason why some succeed and others fail.  My intentions have always been to find the relationship between those at the highest level and what they do differently.  Many believe natural ability and just plain good luck are the reason for success.  Personally, I believe athletes ‘are made, not born’ and as Gary Player once said: ‘The more I practice, the luckier I get’.

So what do Elite Athletes do differently?  Well, fortunately enough for me, I have had the opportunity to train and compete with many of the UK’s leading Endurance coaches and athletes.  The one common theme that I have discovered with top athletes is that, as well as an ability to push themselves to the limit, they all do high to very high mileage.  This is not just the case for runners but also for elite cyclists, swimmers, rowers and triathletes that I have had the pleasure to train with and compete against.

Building an aerobic capacity (the ability to take in, transport and utilise oxygen around the body) has always been regarded as an important factor in endurance performance. However, recent research is beginning to show that it is not actually the maximum aerobic capacity (VO2 max) that is the determining factor in endurance performance, but the anaerobic threshold as a percentage of the VO2 max.  The anaerobic threshold is the point in exercise intensity when the body can no longer survive just using oxygen and uses a different energy pathway (anaerobic pathway) to maintain the intensity. Therefore, in theory, it is not actually the amount of training you do but the quality/intensity of training to boost this anaerobic threshold.  So why do elite endurance athletes still have to do high mileage to succeed?  A ‘by product’ of the anaerobic energy system is lactic acid.  This ‘by product’ can be converted back into Pyruvate and subsequently Acetyl CoA, where it is metabolised and used in energy production. However, this process is significantly enhanced when there is a greater oxygen supply. Therefore, the aerobic energy system is supporting the anaerobic energy system – an important factor in understanding the principles of training.

In sporting performance terms, this will mean the athlete with the larger ‘aerobic base’ will not only be able to go for longer at a steady state, but will also be able to keep up a higher percentage of their maximum during interval training and repetitions.

From the years of training and competing with Blackheath Harriers Athletics Club, I have always found the athletes who committed to a full winters training would excel during the summer track season.  My coach, Dave Liston, would make sure all the quality speed sessions in the summer would be based on a very hard Winters training with lots of steady runs and longer repetitions to build this ‘aerobic base’.  Dave has not only coached athletes to success at National level in middle distance events (400m-5000m), he has also had success in Marathons and Duathlons (Run-Bike-Run) where athletes were required to do in excess of 60-70 miles running per week.

Yet, I believe there are also other factors that are significant in leading to success that only long aerobic training can provide.  Particularly in Marathon running, the VO2 max is not a major factor for success.  Let’s face it - if you can run for 6 miles using oxygen at steady state, why can’t you run for 26 miles at steady state?  Obviously there are other factors that come into play that cause runners to get progressively more and more tired, particularly as they reach the 15-20 milemarkers.  The main factor to cause runners to ‘hit the wall’ is the depletion of glycogen stores.  By regularly hitting this zone in training your body will adapt and glycogen stores will be enhanced.  Your ability to metabolize fat will also improve, allowing you to ‘save’ muscle and liver glycogen.  Another reason for doing the miles…

In competitive endurance sports the strength of mind often out ways the strength of the body. I mean, let’s face it, how often does our body completely give up before our mind?  I have found that regular endurance training makes you mentally stronger.  It is also easier to get to the end of repetitions knowing you will have time to recover afterwards.  But how often do you get to stop halfway through a race?   Again another reason for doing the miles...

I am not suggesting taking away any type of high intensity exercise is a good thing.  I believe that high intensity exercise and tempo training (running just below your anaerobic threshold) are essential to improve anaerobic threshold which, in turn, is important in endurance success.  However, there is absolutely no substitute for high mileage and as mentioned previously, the high mileage will enable you to handle the higher intensity training far easier. I would love to find easier alternatives but the most important factor to success is getting out more often and for longer.

We get what we put in... which, ultimately,  is the difference between the best... and, well, the rest. 

David Griffin is a competitive athlete & Personal Trainer at ESPA Life at Corinthia Fitness Centre. 
To find out more about David & the Fitness Team

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