In one of my collections of old Running Times Magazine, I came upon an article written by Pete Pfitzinger, a two-time Olympian athlete, about the importance of VO2 Max and how to improve it. The following are the important points of the article as copied:
“According to the said article, VO2 max or “maximal aerobic capacity” is the maximal rate at which the body can transport oxygen to the muscles so that it can then be used to produce energy. The higher your VO2 max, the more energy you can produce aerobically relative to your bodyweight. Everything else being equal, if you can produce nore energy aerobically, you can mantain a faster pace.
The range of one’s VO2 max is set genetically; meaning that some runners are naturally gifted with relatively high maximal aerobic capacity and others are not so lucky. Where you fall within your range depends on how much and how hard you train. VO2 max increases substantially with the correct types of training.
There are two schools of thought on what is the optimal workout to make the largest gains in your VO2 max. Some coaches believe that doing speedwork faster than the VO2 max pace jolts the body to increase maximal aerobic capacity. The other school of thought which the author/writer adheres is that the greatest stimulus to improve the VO2 max is provided by running at an intensity that requires about 95 to 100% of your current VO2 max.
In the duration of intervals, the VO2 max will improve most rapidly by running repetitions of two to six minutes in duration (typically about 600 meters to 1,600 meters), which can be done on the track, roads, trails or uphill. Shorter intervals are not as effective in providing this stimulus because you do not maintain the optimal intensity range long enough.
On the length of workout, the writer suggests that a runner should aim to do 4,000 meters to 8,000 meters of intervals per workout within the 95-100% of his current VO2 max in order to improve his VO2 max.”
As part of my training & preparations for longer distance races like marathons and ultra trail runs in the future or in the next few days and weeks, I am trying to adopt this school of thought for me to increase my VO2 max.
Last Monday afternoon, after a warm-up run of 4 laps at the oval track, stretching exercises and speed drills, I did 10 laps within my best effort. During the run I tried to find out my 1-mile split time and I was able to glance at my GF 305 with a time of 8:47 minutes after passing the 1-mile mark at the track. For the distance of 4.16 kms, I was able to register a time of 20:39 minutes with an average pace of 4:57 mins per km. For this particular workout, I was running below my 95-100% VO2 max effort.
Yesterday evening, I had to go back to ULTRA Oval Track for another workout to improve my VO2 max. After the usual 4-lap warm-up jogging, I did my stretching exercises, however, instead of doing those “speed” drills, I did a continuous “stair-drill” exercises, doing 10 repetitions at the ULTRA bleachers. After a slow recovery run for one lap at the oval track, I started my 5,000-meter run (12 1/2 laps) at my best effort.
During the run, I was surprised to see in my GF 305 that I was able to register a time of 7:46 minutes for my 1-mile split. I observed that I slowed down on my last lap due to some disturbance made by one of the runners who made a conversation with me but I tried to make up for such situation by increasing my pace for the rest of the workout. I was able to finish 5 kilometers in 24:07 with an average pace of 4:47 minutes per kilometer. Basing from my VO2 max results, I was running at my 102% best effort which is a big improvement from my last Monday’s performance.
In conclusion, I was able to prove that I could improve on my VO2 max after a rest of 24 hours and with proper warm-up, stretching, “speed” drills, strong legs, lots of experience and positive attitude.