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A little high-intensity work is a perfect health option

“Do you want to see my taser?” asked my running partner as we were driving down a narrow Forest Service road to our backcountry destination for a 17-mile run along a river route more often visited by bears and elk than lycra clad runners.

The taser’s blue light and eerie crackling sound lit up the Jeep's cab in the early morning light. I chuckled a bit imagining her jolting a marauding bear. In an ominous new take on an old joke she said “I don’t have to tase the bear.” I laughed a bit nervously as I considered the lack of speed work in my running regimen.

Competitions of endurance test our abilities to effectively and efficiently deliver oxygen to muscles. Increasing the amount of oxygen to muscles sets one up for success to outpace a taser toting running partner.

The measure of our body's ability to deliver and use oxygen during exercise is abbreviated as the VO2 max. This is a measure of the volume of oxygen one can consume per kilogram of body weight every minute.

Simply put, those with a higher VO2 max are likely to go faster for longer. Olympic marathoner Frank Shorter is reported to utilize 72 ml of oxygen per kilogram of body weight every minute.

Pronghorn antelope have readings in the 300 ml range and I doubt anyone has ever measured VO2 max in a bear.

High-intensity interval training involves relatively short duration maximum effort intervals followed by rest intervals and research indicates it is the most effective way to boost VO2 max. The recommended distance and time of the high intensity interval will vary according to the race distance being targeted.

Countless examples exist, but commonalities include four-six repetitions and rest intervals from 25 to 100 percent of the intense interval. The level of intensity can be geared towards a desired race pace, or 85-90 percent of one’s age-adjusted maximum heart rate.

Those with health concerns should seek medical clearance before engaging in this level of intensity.

The running portion of the MAC Dash is three miles, and with about six weeks to train a HIIT weekly training progression would include a first week of five repetitions of two minutes duration (5 x 2) and a second week of 5 x 3; 4 x 4; 5 x 4; 4 x 5. By week six, progression should be five reps of five minutes.

Rest interval means a conversational running pace from half to full duration of the high-intensity interval and the session is performed one time a week. It is relatively straightforward math; the most important is the doing of the thing.

The cardiovascular benefits of high-intensity training are not limited to those seeking a podium finish at a local race. Applying the same concepts to an evening walk will produce results.

Emerging research indicates that those with type 2 diabetes can achieve better insulin control pedaling 10 repetitions of one minute duration on a stationary bike, with positive changes happening after six sessions in two weeks.

Not quantified in the research evidence is the social benefit of a high-intensity, short-duration workout. Discussions with running comrades reveals a commonality in the challenge of balancing fitness with the many demands of life.

The desired hour-long run may get an exasperated look from your life partner who may be otherwise engaged in the more domestic aspects of life while you are blissfully striding around Juniper Hills Park. Consider the somewhat easier sell and far greater training benefit of a shorter duration run.

We did enjoy a long run that day on the river. We counted six piles of bear scat in less than two miles, indicating a rather high density of bears.

The taser was not deployed, though I did stay a cautious few strides behind, feigning some new onset of a random tendon problem. I suspect my newly inspired interest in interval training will create a bit more peace of mind in our next run in Jefferson County’s wild country.



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