Learn about the science behind the new My ASICS training programs.
Early 2011 saw the launch of a completely redesigned version of My ASICS, the popular online running service. At the heart of the new My ASICS is a suite of training programs developed by Takehiro Tagawa at the ASICS Institute of Sport Science in Kobe, Japan. Tagawa-san talks about the science of running and his own testing of the training method.
Takehiro Tagawa, manager of the Performance Development team at the ASICS Institute of Sport Science in Kobe, Japan, was responsible for developing the new My ASICS training programs. A scientific concept he used is the so called Anaerobic Threshold (AT), an index that can be used as a measure for training intensity. Tagawa-san explains: “The effectiveness of training depends on three basic elements: length of training time, frequency and intensity. While time and frequency are easily measured, the right intensity is more elusive. In other sports, it might just be a matter of going full steam, but this doesn’t work with long-distance running.”
“When the body is stimulated, its physical condition actually deteriorates. At that point the body needs rest and the right nutrition in order to recuperate and improve. Resting is part of training too.” — Takehiro Tagawa
It turns out that the optimum speed to run a full marathon can be expressed physiologically as AT. “So by focusing on how to improve AT, we can understand the kind of training that’s necessary for running a marathon.”
Despite the scientific approach Tagawa-san advocates, he still meets a lot of misconceptions and superstitious ideas among runners. “People tend to believe things like the more you run the faster you become. This may sound logical when you see how fast runners tend to run longer distances while slow runners don’t run as much. But it's not necessarily correct in terms of efficiency and effectiveness of training.”
Another common misconception is that you need to run on a daily basis in order to improve. “It’s important to understand that when the body is stimulated, its physical condition actually deteriorates. At that point the body needs rest and the right nutrition in order to recuperate and improve. Resting is part of training too.” This also goes for running when you're in pain, Tagawa-san stresses. “There’s no point in running when something hurts.”
With this idea of training quality over quantity in mind, running every day is not necessarily the best way to improve your AT. In fact, Tagawa-san's method makes it possible to train for a marathon with as little as two runs a week.
The importance of logging
My ASICS also lets you keep a logbook of your runs. Tagawa-san emphasises the importance of logging as a training tool, which again relates back to training intensity. “Intensity can be understood in terms of pace. Logging your pace enables you to grasp at what kind of intensity you ran on that particular day.” However, as he is the first to point out, such numbers don’t necessarily tell you whether you were in good or bad shape. “It’s important to gather facts to analyse your performance. We tend to become too sensitive to other people’s opinions, and end up not being able to do what we set out to do. By logging additional information, such as amount of sleep and diet, you gain a better and more objective understanding of the results of your training.”
Moreover, a running logbook becomes more effective as you use it longer, because it becomes increasingly unique to you as a runner. “It allows you to compare your performance with that of past seasons, so you can maybe say, 'Ok, it’s fine to be in this condition at this stage'.”
In the real world
The training method Tagawa-san developed was, as he likes to say, the outcome of “logical reasoning”. But he also has the practical experience of individually coaching over 200 athletes of all levels, from beginners to advanced runners. While this helped him refine his method considerably, he also decided to test it himself. “It had been 20 years since I graduated from university and stopped doing any kind of physical exercise. When I started running I struggled to keep it up for even 10 or 15 minutes. Luckily, though, we have running facilities. So I put myself through scientific training, and after six months I managed to run my first marathon in 3 hours 39 minutes.”
Now that the new My ASICS is live, Tagawa-san is curious to see how it will perform in the real world. “We can’t complete My ASICS ourselves, so it’s really dependent on how much our users will work with it. What interests me most is what kind of results they will get compared to what the theory would predict. And if the results are different, I’d be interested in what the causes may be.”
Besides his scientific interest in further improving My ASICS, Tagawa-san is also proud to share his knowledge with the running community. “Training allows people to change their body. That makes people feel differently, and that feeling can sometimes be very profound. I feel lucky to be able to contribute to such a process.”