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Training & advice

Steady on!

How do you run? Easy? Steady? Fast? Perhaps you do a bit of all of them but what do those words mean? What pace is steady and how does steady-state running make you able to run further or faster?

Your body uses three systems to provide us with energy to run. You can choose the energy system that you want to train and then run at a pace that will develop it. The three systems are

  • Aerobic
  • Anaerobic lactic
  • Alactic

The aerobic system operates with oxygen and so has to be trained at a pace where you can breathe in enough oxygen to be taken to the muscles.

The anaerobic lactic system operates without oxygen and produces lactic acid. You can only operate with this system as the dominant one for a short period of time before waste products build up in uour muscles and slow you down.

The alactic system also operates without oxygen and is known as the 'start up' energy system as you use this for fast, short bursts of up to around seven seconds.

There are many benefits to improving your aerobic energy system. Amongst other things, it increases blood volume and capillaries which makes your heart more efficient, makes you more economical at burning fuel and increases your lung capacity. You can do this with some long, slow distance where you perhaps run at 70% of your maximum aerobic effort or you can do it with some shorter steady-state running where you push on to around 100% of your maximum aerobic effort. Any good training programme will include both.

The good thing about running at a steady-state is that you will benefit from all of the above more quickly. The steady-state run will be shorter but faster than your long, slow run but your fitness will improve in many ways at this faster rate. Amongst other benefits, you will get warmer more quickly from steady-state running and so build up a sweat. This will help you to lose weight, increase your muscle tone and can keep cholesterol levels down.

Steady-state running requires you to run at a good effort but not too hard and to finish pleasantly tired but not exhausted. You should feel relaxed and lively and enjoy the feeling of running fast with no stress. This kind of running can also help you to unwind and de-stress after a hard day at work. 

If you are tight for time, a steady-state run could be the best option as you will fit more miles into your time available. The length of the steady-state run should be a moderate distance. If, for example, your long, easy run is 12 miles, your steady-state run could be anything from 5 - 8 miles, whereas your short, easy, recovery run could be 3 - 4 miles. You should vary the distance of your steady-state runs, especially if you are carrying them out on consecutive days. If you do 8 miles one day, the next day could be 5.

The long, slow runs must also be kept in your programme though. They improve your endurance, teach your body to use fat as fuel and aid recovery from the faster training sessions. Consistency is the key. A week that includes one long slow run, two steady-state runs, one speed or strength session and two short recovery runs is a good recipe for improvement.