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Reintroducing Aerobic Volume

By Marty Gaal

running on trackAfter finishing a big event, it can be tempting to get right back into higher effort workout sessions, the thought being you can keep that super race fitness you previously achieved.  And you can extend your peak/race-type fitness for a handful of weeks with lower volume and higher intensity or race pace workouts, knocking out a couple more solid race performances.   
However, after a month or so you will start to feel stale and your body will require a return to more aerobic-focused sessions in order to reacquire that deep level of fitness which made your race day performance possible in the first place.
Generally speaking, you want to slant the bulk of your training back toward moderate aerobic effort levels for a few weeks — in the four to twelve week range depending on your specific fitness and short and long term racing goals.   
What you shouldn't do is stop training entirely!
For example, if you are not doing another important long event for several months, you can afford to spend more than a month redeveloping your aerobic fitness.  You might limit your faster pace to the moderate-hard range or tempo type efforts.  When you return to harder efforts you'll be doing some work at or near threshold, but many of your key workouts will still be primarily fast, steady state in nature — 20 to 30 beats per minute below your lactate threshold heart rate. 
If you're focused more on short duration events like 5ks or sprint triathlons, you might continue with limited amounts of threshold/over-lactate threshold efforts, but your key sessions should also return to aerobic development or steady state training for a few weeks.
Endurance racing relies primarily (some would say entirely) on maximizing your aerobic fitness.  In a typical training cycle, we spend the first part developing this aerobic fitness with limited amounts of anaerobic or over-threshold effort.  In the later weeks we rely on the aerobic fitness to help carry us through our harder workout sessions, changing the focus from pure aerobic system development to raising our threshold or increasing speed at/over threshold.   
The salient point here is that without step one (aerobic system development), you will have a hard time achieving step two — maximal anaerobic and threshold development.  That is the difference between running the last 4 minutes of your 5k super hard versus just holding the same hard pace, and that time gap can be significant! 
Repeating this cycle season in and season out is what will help you become the best endurance athlete you can be.  Neglecting one or the other will put a lower limit on your horizons.  

Marty Gaal, CSCS, is lead coach and co-founder of One Step Beyond. Marty and the One Step Beyond coaches work with endurance athletes around the globe.