The Myth of Long Slow Distance (LSD)

<strong>LSD or "running slowly" is relative to each person.</strong><br><br><em>Credit:</em> Triathlete <em>magazine</em>

Most of us have heard the acronym 'LSD' and we know it stands for 'Long Slow Distance.' I decided to write this article to debunk a few myths.

I don't think of 'Long Slow Distance' as being as slow as most people think. Years ago we were taught that running slowly would make us faster and I admit that I harped on this when I first started running. What I've learned over the years is that LSD or "running slowly" is relative to each person.

Having started running at the back of the pack, it took me time to improve, but it forced me to use more brain power than aerobic power. In college, I was walk-on for the cross country team because they needed a seventh man. Most of my teammates ran a 5:15- to 5:35-mile pace for a 10K. I started out at seven-minute mile pace and one of my goals was to break 40:00 someday—a blazing 6:25 pace, which is considered slow in the world of cross country running. I had a lot of work to do to reach my goal.

I didn't start out with a heart rate monitor, knowing my max heart rate, VO2max or anything else. I knew that my five-mile time was 34:50, which put me at a seven-minute mile pace. From there I worked backwards and decided to run about one or two minutes slower per mile for my training, or an eight- or nine-minute mile pace. I typically ran 10 miles in 85 to 90 minutes, and for shorter runs I ran three miles in about 25 minutes.

Frequency and Repeatability

My running wasn't blazing fast; it was just simply 'running.' I ran hard enough to stress my system, and easy enough that I could repeat it day after day for weeks. Frequency and repeatability were the keys to my improvement.

Frequency is something we tend to dismiss as multi-sport athletes. Some of us 'get through' our weaker sports and maintain our fitness while spending the majority of our time on our strengths. If you want to become a better swimmer, and you don't come from a swim background, you need to swim more than three times a week. Simply, the more you do an exercise, the easier it becomes.

Running and cycling more frequently will also benefit you. Spending more time on your feet or in the saddle and teaching yourself that four runs or rides a week is an easy week pays dividends in the long haul. The key to being able to train frequently is having what we call 'repeatability.'

Repeatability is the notion that no matter how hard you go today, you can repeat the workout tomorrow. It's stressing your system enough to get an aerobic benefit, but not so easy that you didn't tax yourself a bit.

Training Effort

If you want to find your aerobic heart rate (HR) for your LSD runs or rides, ride or run at the same heart rate for five or six days in a row. If can you recover from day to day and you aren't losing pace and you're not burned out, chances are you're pretty close to running at the right aerobic effort.

Training at an effort that allows you to stay injury free and train consistently will lead to better performance. Keep in mind that eventually you'll want to run at the top of your aerobic zone, but until you can run at your current pace consistently, keep the HR well below the top of your aerobic zone.

For a more technical way to gauge how hard you should train, take 20 to 25 beats off your lactate threshold (LT) and start from there. For example, I run at a HR of 140 to 144 and my LT is 163. To challenge myself, I'd throw in a 20-minute pick up (or two) in my longer run where I sustain a HR closer to 148 to 150; it's still aerobic and allows me to train again the next day.

I use the same philosophy with my cycling and swimming. I allow myself to go hard one day a week in the pool and that's usually the day before a recovery day. Most of the time however, I try to maintain good form and keep my HR steady and think about being able to repeat the workout again the next day. Don't get me wrong; when it's time to go fast I go fast.

'Easy' Is Relative

The misconception of LSD is that it's easy. Yes, my long runs are at an easy pace and I can hold a conversation while I'm running. But holding the correct aerobic effort four to six days a week, month after month, isn't easy.

Eventually you'll see that your pace for the same effort or HR will be faster. It's when you go out there and plod along or run too hard that you won't see as much improvement. Remember, doing it frequently and being able to repeat the workout day after day are the keys.

'Easy' is relative to each of us. When I improved my running to a 5:40 pace, my easy runs became 7:00 pace, which was my race pace not too long before that. Still, I was training about 1:20 per mile slower than I was racing. That 7:00 pace was what I could maintain day after day. And when I couldn't? I would back off to a 7:30 or 8:00 pace. You need to find your own 'easy' repeatable pace.

Frequency and repeatability are the two words I want you to think about when you train in the next few weeks. Continually ask yourself during the workout: Can I repeat this same workout tomorrow? If the answer is no, then back off immediately. Being able to consistently train week after week, month after month, and year after year will bring about the best chances for your continued improvement in triathlon. Taking a quote from father of distance running; the late Arthur Lydiard: "There is no easy way".


Mike Ricci, D3 Multisport head coach and USA Triathlon Level III Certified Coach, was selected to write the training programs for both the short and long course USA World Championship Teams from 2002 to 2005. D3 Multisport has a variety of services ranging from one-on-one coaching to training plans for specific events and races. Visit www.D3Multisport.com for more information or e-mail Mike at mike@d3multisport.com.

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