Part I: The Nuts and Bolts of Learning to “Float”
By Peyton Hoyal
Runners are always seeking to gain an edge over their competition and learn the “secret” to enhanced performance. Scouring the internet, you will find myriad tips regarding supplemental exercises, dietary revolutions, or extreme training methods that could lead to drastic breakthroughs in performance. However, as seasoned runners all learn, there is no “secret” to success in distance running aside from hard work and consistency. Combine these two ingredients with an intelligent training program, and any runner of any ability can improve over time.
With this basic tenet in mind, there is much to be said about following an intelligent training program that prepares you specifically for your event. Virtually all coaches prescribe some blend of basic aerobic mileage, speed training, and up-tempo running into their respective schedules, but what if there was one missing ingredient to these typical blends of stimuli? I personally believe there is. It lies with what we will refer to as a “floating recovery interval” in this series of articles.
While the origins of the float recovery are rather vague, several modern coaches refined this specific form of training. First among these is British coach Dr. Peter Thompson who has worked with elite athletes for over forty years. He refers to the float as a “roll-on” recovery where the athlete does not take a passive rest between harder repetitions, but rather proceeds at a slightly less intense rhythm for a set distance before beginning another hard repetition. This work is often broken into sets until the athlete has accrued the desired training volume, and can be modified depending on any number of factors (the athlete’s ability level, target event, training phase, etc.).
Dr. Thompson describes this methodology as a “new interval training” system that supersedes traditional repetition training. Other coaches such as Veronica Bilat, Renato Canova, Gabriele Rosa, and, closer to home, Bill Dellinger, have used this style of training by a variety of different names, as well. For the purposes of this article series, we’ll refer to it by its formal title: lactate dynamics interval training.
To clearly differentiate between the two, let’s quickly examine the differences between standard repetition training and lactate dynamics interval training:
Standard Repetition Training (SRT)
Dating back to the mid-20th century, this type of workout consists of an established amount of fast running separated by periods of walking or jogging rest. In its purest form, you run a hard repetition over a set distance and then recover until your heart rate falls to roughly 60 percent of maximum before beginning another repetition.
Example: 12 x 400m @ 75 sec w/ 90 seconds jog recovery between each
Lactate Dynamics Training (LDT)
LDT focuses more on the recovery interval between faster repetitions than SRT, thereby forcing you to recover at a quicker pace (the “float”) between target repetitions. While the float’s exact pace and distance will vary from session to session, you need to stay mentally engaged during the recovery to ensure it’s paced properly.
Example: 12 x 400m @ 75 sec w/200m “float” recoveries @ 45 sec between each
In both examples, the runner targeted the same goal time during the 400m repetitions. However, in the first example, the athlete likely ran between 8:00/mile and 10:00/mile pace during the recovery segment in order to get their heart rate down. In the second example, the athlete barely backed off to 6:00/mile pace. For two athletes of the same ability, it is easy to see which session would be more challenging and race specific.
Float recoveries improve your ability to transport waste products from the cell (lactate, hydrogen ions, etc.), enhance efficiency at race pace, and prepare you for the specific demands of competition. This is where the term “lactate dynamics” comes into to play, as you’re working to improve your body’s lactate shuttle system from cell to bloodstream with each repetition. The cell becomes somewhat saturated with lactate during the fast running segments and is then forced to remove the waste during the float recovery. This is quite challenging at first, and it will take a few workouts to keep from panicking mid-run and slowing either the fast rep or recovery interval (or both).
The float recovery essentially takes a standard repetition session and transforms it into a more complex, challenging bout of exercise that closely mirrors the stress of racing. Without neat little breaks for water and chatting between reps, the athlete must invest more mental energy into each of these sessions knowing that it will push them to a higher level of fitness.
As complex and challenging as they may seem, LDT workouts are not reserved for top tier runners, but can be used by anyone wanting to improve through careful manipulation of the work-to-rest ratio.
The next article in this series will focus on how to design your own lactate dynamics interval sessions, employ the float recovery effectively, and move your fitness at an accelerated rate towards an upcoming goal race. The beauty of this training, as we’ll see, is that it is largely up to your imagination in terms of specifics as long as certain guidelines are followed along the way.