Tom Schwartz, AKA the Tinman Coach, is a US elite running coach who adopted this kind of training to maximise performance and has had stunning results with his team.
To many, running and racing at elite levels means heavy and hard training, with high workloads focused on hitting paces and analytics. But to Tom Schwartz, the Tinman Coach, it means consistent, slow and steady improvements.
Schwartz recently became somewhat of a superstar in the American elite running scene, thanks to the incredible achievements with his running team. A 6-runners strong team, it became known as the Tinman Elite in October 2017 and since then they have been winning races left, right and centre, including the club cross-country championships in 2017 and 2018, and having one Tinman qualify for the USA Track and Field Nationals in 2019.
At the heart of their successes is an approach to training, championed by Schwartz: Critical Velocity (CV) training – a hard, but not-too-hard running pace that improves the aerobic capacity of the fast-twitch muscle fibres responsible for endurance and sustainable intermediate speed.
We spoke to Tansey Lystad, a runner of the newly established Tinman Track Club to better understand what CV is and how to incorporate it in our training.
So, what exactly is Critical Velocity?
“I like to think of CV as a relatively hard but manageable effort,” Tansey explains. “Don’t get me wrong, by the end of a rep you're ready for a break, but you're not necessarily going to-the-well to achieve the pace.”
On a scale 1-10 (or as we know it, in RPE terms), it hovers between 7.5 and up to 8.5 by the end of the workout.
In an interview with Runner’s World, Schwartz also described it as 90 percent of VO2 max. He also added: “For the average runner, think of it as a few seconds per mile faster than your 10K race intensity.”
This sort of training is great, says Tansey, because it gives you high quality work without digging too deep into a hole, physically or mentally. It is the type of work that gets you fit.
But it obviously isn’t the only thing you would do in your training. Tansey explains: “CV is just a small piece of the greater overall puzzle of training. We like to incorporate it often to break up tempo work, or shorter faster work because it is the bread and butter of our training, so to say.”
What are the results?
Tansey started running in 7th grade, breaking the junior high school record for the mile, with a 6:36/mile finishing time. From there, running became her main sport. She was an All-American (an honorific title given to outstanding U.S. athletes in a specific sport competing at the collegiate and secondary school levels) in cross country and ran on the track at the University of Portland. She’s now training to compete in the Olympic Trials.
Since she started training with Schwartz, she says she’s gotten into the best shape of her life. “I placed 8th at the USATF XC National Championships and represented Team USA in the Pan-American XC championships in February 2020,” she says, proudly.
“I also broke the Colorado soil record in the 5000m, running 16:14 and then ran a new personal (altitude) best in the 5000m in 16:09 and a 3K personal best 9:18 later in the summer.”
Sounds great, how do I incorporate it?
As an introduction Tansey suggests doing fartlek-style CV workouts, and doing 4 or 5 reps of 3 min at CV pace, followed by 2 min jogging.
You can also try this session by Tom Schwartz aimed for a recreational runner with a 22:00 5K time (For a different pace, use the calculator on his website), published in Runner’s World:
Warm up at an easy pace;
5 x 1km at Critical Velocity (4:30/km), job 200m recoveries;
5 x 200m cut downs start at 5K race effort and ending at 800m race effort, job 100m recoveries;
10-20 minutes of slow cool-down.
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