LSD

No – not the kind you’re thinking. The above acronym is known in sporting circles as long slow distance and refers to extended training workouts at a low intensity. The experts claim these workouts increase the aerobic capacity and lead to better athletic performance, especially in endurance races lasting many hours.

Google long slow distance and you will find reams of information on the subject. Pooled from coaches, athletes and weekend racers, intent on doing their bit for the nation’s health, the answers are there for you to sift through, in conveniently downloadable pdf format.

With so much info at your fingertips, and from such diverse sources, how do you know which theory to believe? The experts, after all, can’t seem to agree. Take LSD. Well – not literally! But let’s look at the conflicting views surrounding this staple of modern exercise.

Any seasoned marathon runner will tell you that the key to success is a sound aerobic base. And the way to achieve this? Good steady road work, conducted at 70 – 80% of your maximum heart-rate.  The kind of workout that gets you over the finish line with energy to spare.

Ever since the running guru Arthur Lydiard dreamed up the concept back in the 1950s, endurance athletes all over the world have adopted his methods. The result – peak performances at every distance, particularly the marathon, which demands a sustained pace in excess of two hours.

Most of the debate among experts centres on the amount of training done at the lower intensities. Train consistently at 10 minutes per mile, they say, and that’s what you get good at – running at 10 minutes per mile. To improve running speed, you have to train faster. But herein lies the paradox.

There are many ways to get fit.  The most popular method – doing too much, too soon- doesn’t work. I can attest to this personally, having spent months trying to swim, bike and run flat out every time I ventured outdoors. Basically, you can’t enhance a system that doesn’t exist. First you need to build a foundation.

The good news for someone starting out is that you don’t have to run yourself into the ground to get fitter. Choose this route and the opposite will happen. You’ll wake up one morning with legs like railway sleepers! The best, and perhaps the only, way for a beginner to improve is … gradually.

Endurance sport has a short but compelling history. Legends have sprung up from running tracks and triathlon sites around the world. Champions have come and gone, many of them fading quickly into obscurity. Those whose careers spanned many years all had something beyond a gifted physique and extraordinary genetic talent. They knew when to go hard and when to take it easy.

Mark Allen, perhaps the greatest triathlete of all time, trained aerobically for four months of the year, even stopping to walk up a hill if his heart-rate rose above 155 bpm. At the height of his preparation for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, he was training a total of 38 hours per week, a huge volume of swimming, cycling and running by any standards. And yet, he attests his dominance of the sport to his willingness to conserve energy and rest when he needed to, thus prolonging his career at the top of one of the toughest sports on the planet.

Long slow distance is good for improving your aerobic capacity. Speed work is good for making you go faster. But for beginners, it’s that old call for moderation we used to hear from our grandparents – little and often – that works every time.

Exercise is good for you. … eat more of it!

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