Within a span of 24 hours, I had two runner buddies ask some variation of the following: “How, exactly, do quality workouts make you a better runner?” In the moment, I gave them each scientific answers detailing what’s happening in our bodies when we train at different intensity levels. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to have some fun explaining the idea using a dad (or mom!) analogy…
Anyone that has kids knows that there is a constant battle with the amount of crap that is left lying around the house after it’s been played with. No area in your home is safe. Living room floor? Forget it. Kitchen table or island? Kid crap magnet. Bottom of the stairs? Why wouldn’t something be there? How the hell did that end up on my nightstand??
When it comes to my kids’ crap, there eventually comes a point in which the rate that my kids clean things up cannot match the rate that they get stuff out to play. This relationship is shown in Figure One. In a perfect world, my kids would clean up all the crap they get out to play with, no matter how much crap that might be. The reality is that there will inevitably be a spike in the amount of crap that my kids throw around the house, and they just don’t have the capacity to clean it all up.
This phenomenon creates the “Zone of LMS,” otherwise known as the zone in which I’m going to “lose my shit.” The greater the area of that zone, the more likely I’m gonna lose it. Like, just lose it. The good news is that with consistent, diligent training of my kids over a period of time, that spike in the amount of crap they get out before they are unable to clean it all up themselves can be delayed. They can play with more crap, for longer periods of time, and make sure it all finds its way back to the place from whence it came. This will reduce the Zone of LMS (Figure Two), helping to ensure that I maintain my sanity.
The same thing happens when we run.
When you’re running, your body breaks down glucose for energy. Your body uses oxygen to accomplish this task. The faster you go, the more energy you need. This requires more oxygen to be delivered to your muscles. As you run faster, you eventually get to a point in which you can’t get enough oxygen delivered to accomplish this task. When this happens, lactic acid builds up. Lactic acid is your body’s way of trying to create more energy without needing oxygen. Your muscles, heart, and liver can get rid of lactic acid, but only up until a certain point. Much like the amount of crap my kids leave around the house before it’s too much for them to clean up, there comes a point in which your body just can’t keep up with the lactic acid “mess” being left in your bloodstream. This is often referred to as your “lactate threshold.” This idea is illustrated in Figure Three.
When there’s just too much lactic acid for your body to “clean up,” you enter the “Zone of LMS,” which we’ll now refer to as the zone in which we’re all saying, “I need to ‘lose my speed.’” Your muscles burn, you get cramps, you feel nauseous – you HAVE to slow down. The good news is that with consistent, diligent training over a period of time, that spike in the amount of lactic acid you build up before your body can clear it away can be delayed! By stressing your body while training at the correct paces, you make it more efficient at delivering oxygen, converting energy and, in turn, creating and clearing lactic acid. You can run at faster speeds for longer periods of time before having to slow down, because you’ve reduced the Zone of LMS (Figure Four).
That’s a very rudimentary, dad-like explanation concerning one of the major adaptations going on within your body when you run quality workouts to get faster. If you’re curious about HOW to reduce your Zones of LMS, here are some pointers…
- Invest in organizational furniture. I highly recommend those cube shelf thingies for which you can buy baskets. They’re fairly cheap, durable, and come in lots of sizes and basket colors.
- Practice often. Have a designated clean-up time each day to help manage.
- Make it a game. Have a race between kids and parents. Whoever picks up the most stuff wins. (Don’t always let them win. Teaching kids how to deal with losing is important, too!)
- MODEL! Kids see EVERYTHING. If they see YOU leaving crap all over the house, they’ll follow suit.
- Train at your “threshold” pace. This is around 90% of your max heart rate, give or take.
- Don’t have a heart rate device? Think of this pace as “comfortably hard.” Usually equates to a 2:2 inhale to exhale per step breathing pattern. (Inhale for two steps, exhale for two.)
- You don’t need to spend too much time here. Around 10% of your weekly mileage.
- Invest in a coach that will help you learn more about running and plan your workouts the right way to keep you improving and injury-free! I know a guy… 😉