LSD, a good or bad thing?

It’s that time of year specifically, as a coach, my athletes might start to question me. They have planned out their upcoming triathlon or running season, and they are ready to hit the ground running (literally). And what do  I do as a coach, I slow them down, at least on the run. My approach to cycling and swimming are not quite the same, and I do incorporate a lot more intensity with those. In fact, you could say my running approach to my cycling/swimming approach are polar opposites. And there’s good reason, which I’ll explain more about below.

LSD, or long slow distance has gotten a bad rap in the last few years. I actually don’t even use the term LSD, as when you say it, it sounds like you aren’t working hard, just that you are going slow. And no one wants to go slow. Instead, I use terms like conversation pace, easy pace, aerobic pace, or long run pace. This pace is one that you don’t even need your Garmin for. He’s an example.

Runner 1: Hi……How…..Are…..You……Doing…..

Runner 2: Hi, how are you doing. The weather’s perfect for a run, isn’t it.

Which one seems more like a conversation, runner 2 of course. Runner 1 is having a hard time talking, they are more likely closer to anaerobic pace. So, while running, you don’t even need to look at your watch to know that you are going easy, or at a conversation pace. So, why is it important to go at a conversation pace while running, especially in your base building months.

  • You are training your body to more efficient at using fat as a fuel. The more you can rely on fat, the less you need to rely on stored carbohydrates, thus sparing your glycogen (carb) stores for future use.
  • You are increasing your body’s number of mitochondria, which is where aerobic metabolism occurs
  • You are strengthening your muscles and letting your tendons and ligaments adapt to the added stress. This will help to prevent injuries down the line.
  • This will help a runner to be able to handle more monotonous events from a mental standpoint . If you are always doing sprints, intervals, etc. you won’t be able to handle the longer monotonous events.

Another way I like to explain it is, think of your training like a house. Your runs done in an aerobic nature, or conversation pace, are building the foundation of your house. Without a foundation, the house could fall. If someone is running 10-15 miles per week, and they are running intervals, they don’t have enough foundation laid, and they are more likely to get injured. My rule is that in order to begin anything incorporating lactate threshold, a runner needs to have been running 20 miles per week, holding a conversation pace. Another statistic is that, at all times, runners should be doing 75% of their runs at a conversation pace. At 20mpw, 15 will be at a conversation pace, 5 can be at a faster pace. As triathletes, we have less time to run, but I still use the same science. If someone isn’t running 20mpw, adding more miles will not add more benefit, then adding speed.

So why are cycling and swimming different? When you swim and cycle, you should still have days that you go easy. You can go for a friendly (no drop) ride, an active recovery cycle or swim, or for a casual long open water swim. The same principles apply as above. The main benefit is teaching your body to utilize fat as fuel though.

Cycling and swimming do not need as much adaptation time to build the ligaments and tendons. You have a much smaller risk for injury. You can swim and ride several days a week at intensity. In fact, my athletes do. The only caveat to this is, for novice athletes just starting, injured athletes coming back, or athletes coming back after taking a hiatus. Those athletes will still start with slower base building rides/swims.

For most of us who live in the northern hemisphere, this time of year is cold, snowy or rainy. Most of our training is done inside on the trainer. If we work LSD on the bike now, that means we are spending hours on the bike. And most people can’t handle more than 2, maybe 3 hours on the bike. Then, as spring and summer come, you are meant to pick up your speed on the bike. If your long ride was 2 hours at a relatively easy pace, and 2 hours isn’t long, that means you will need to be building speed and distance. My belief is that, you can safely build speed over the winter, working more anaerobic zones, and then, build into distance come spring. And on top of that, you are going to be faster than before. Swimming is similar in that, you can always be working intensity through intervals in the winter. Come spring, open water will help to increase your endurance, and you will be faster.

I want to mention not everyone coaches the same. There are some programs that teach speed and intensity for all disciplines during the winter and others that teach LSD for all disciplines. Not every way of training works for every single person. You just need to find out what works best for you and give it a try.


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