Are you still using Jack Daniels’ running formula to determine athlete VO2? Are VO2max and anaerobic threshold the only metrics that you test for? Is your high VO2 athlete not winning all races? Then this article gives you the missing piece of the puzzle! Ben Tilus, National and State Champion coach in track and field and XC, shares what new insight skyrocketed his coaching business.
I knew something wasn’t adding up when I would get athletes that were training very differently while getting very similar results.
Here’s an example: early on in my career I coached two athletes at the same high school. One ran up to 70 miles (110 km) a week during his senior season, which is a lot for an 18-year-old. The other one was running maybe three to four days a week.
The kid only running 3-4 days a week became the first ever to break 9 minutes for 2 miles as a high school male in Iowa (US State). His 70-miles-a-week teammate would go on to do it as well later that season.
How is that possible? Obviously, a “one-size fits all” training plan was not the key to success.
Another example: a 15-year-old lady did her first ever test in my lab and had a VO2max of 71. Another lady I started coaching came in and only had a VO2max of 61, but she’s beating my 71 girl by a minute in a 5k race.
How is that possible? The running books regarding the science of training and racing are not adding up! According to the majority of the available coaching literature, VO2 should be the gold standard race performance predictor for increasingly longer events.
Last example: when I first started testing, I would test for the VO2max and anaerobic threshold. I found that athletes with a higher VO2max would not always be the athletes with a higher threshold. Then I knew: something else is going on.
Anaerobic energy - VLamax
I found the missing piece when reading cycling and swim research: it’s the anaerobic energy contribution that we are not paying attention to. That’s it!
A combination of the aerobic and anaerobic energy system together determine your runner’s threshold, race performance and training zones.
Here’s how big the effect of the anaerobic energy system is on an 800m and 5k run performance:
Two athletes with the same VO2max – 800m time
This 800m example shows that the athlete with a higher anaerobic power is 5 seconds faster, even though VO2max is exactly the same. It’s important to note that athletes with a higher anaerobic power are not always faster in a 800m race, since the results depend on the combination of VO2max and anaerobic power. More about that in the next blog. Sign up to get a notification.
Two athletes with the same VO2max – 5000m time
This 5000m example shows that anaerobic power has a big impact, even on long-distance races. Contrary to the 800m example, a high anaerobic power seems to have a negative effect on the 5k race performance. Learn why:
How is it possible that a better anaerobic energy system can cause poorer performance?
The anaerobic energy system – or better: glycolytic energy system – produces:
- Energy by using glucose
- Fuel for the aerobic energy system
Every time it produces energy, it also produces fuel for the aerobic energy system. This fuel is called lactate (hence VLamax, the anaerobic brother of VO2max, with: V = volume ; La = lactate ; max = maximum production).
When the anaerobic energy system is super active, it can produce more fuel than the aerobic energy system is able to use. The fuel (lactate) will accumulate.
While that itself is not a problem, the side effects will eventually cause fatigue.
That’s why a highly developed anaerobic energy system can make your athlete run slower. Even though it’s a system that produces energy.
We’ve now learned that the ideal anaerobic power depends on the distance an athlete needs to run and the VO2max. Learn how to know your runner’s ideal anaerobic power and how to train for it by filling in the form below. You’ll get: free exclusive training tips, access to the track and field whitepaper and access to limited spots in an upcoming webinar.
How to measure anaerobic energy - VLamax
At first, I was under the assumption that anaerobic energy was not measurable. But then I stumbled across INSCYD. INSCYD turns out to be the only validated tool that can measure anaerobic power.
It can do so via a simple lactate field test or even via a remote GPS-only test. When you already have a VO2 analyzer, you can add this data as well, but it’s not necessary. (Learn more about the INSCYD test via this link).
I knew anaerobic power was the missing piece to get the data I was looking for. So I did a few INSCYD tests and I was able to compare the test results with actual race data. By not looking at VO2max only, but combining it with anaerobic power, it predicted race performance with almost 100% accuracy.
Results in Track and Field, and XC running
After starting with INSCYD, it was like a snowball effect. We went from having 20 runners in the program winning about 30 medals last year at the State Meet (Iowa). This year our athletes won 160 medals with 23 champions, 29 Runners-Up (2nd) and 22 third place finishes.
In the upcoming article we’ll talk more about the practical application. From how to understand whether your runner should improve or hamper the anaerobic energy system, to how to actually do that in training.
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Coach Ben Tilus is an elite performance coach and data analyst who has helped runners of all distances achieve maximum results through individual testing and optimized training since starting coaching in 2008. In 2020 he founded XLR8 Performance Lab and began testing and assisting approximately one dozen athletes over the first 6 months of the business. Today he serves over 200 athletes, primarily working alongside high school athletes and their families to accomplish their goals! Learn more at xlr8-performancelab.com