What is one of the greatest limiting factors when it comes to running?
The answer you already know it: energy. Without it, you are out of the race.
And unless you are a sprinter or a high endurance athlete, you’ll be using oxygen to burn the energy stored in your body. That is especially true if you are running anything from a 5k to a marathon.
You may have stored in your body all the energy to finish your race, but if you don’t work on improving your aerobic capacity, your performance will suffer.
What is it
Aerobic capacity is “the maximum amount of oxygen the body can use during a specified period of usually intense exercise” (Merriam-Webster).
In other words, it’s the maximum amount of oxygen your body can take up, transport, and use when you go running at a high intensity for some period of time, usually at least 2 minutes or more.
Your aerobic capacity depends on several factors such as how old you are, your body weight and how strong your lungs are. And just to be clear, another way to call it is VO2 Max or maximal oxygen uptake.
Why it matters
As a runner, the higher your aerobic capacity, the higher your aerobic fitness is. And the higher your aerobic fitness is, the faster and farther you can run.
Which means, if you want to run a fast race, you need to improve your aerobic capacity.
Now, not every runner is interested in winning a race. A lot of people just run for the challenge and the fun of it. If that is the case, why does being in good aerobic shape matter at all?
This is why.
Even if you run for fun, improving your aerobic capacity is a good idea because as we age, we lose the ability to use oxygen. And running is a great way to maintain our fitness levels as we age.
How to improve it
Running at a slow or moderate pace is a great way to maintain your aerobic fitness levels. But there is a better and faster way to improve it.
To help your better get better at using oxygen, you need to train it to run at a very high intensity, just at or a little above your maximum oxygen intake capacity.
For example, take the pace which you run a 5k and run a few seconds faster than that for about 3 to 5 minutes. At that speed, you will be running at the top of your aerobic capacity.
But there is something you have to keep in mind.
Running at your VO2 Max is hard not only on your body but also on your mind.
That is why you shouldn’t do it more than a few times during a workout, say 3 to 5 times, with an easy running in between, and no more than once a week. Otherwise, you could easily get hurt and, even worse, discouraged.