Couch to the Summit

Icon Collap
Home / Workout of the Day: VMA Anaerobic Threshold Flat Intervals

Workout of the Day: VMA Anaerobic Threshold Flat Intervals


No one should attempt to train exactly like Kilian Jornet, because his incredible training volume and intensity is only achievable after decades of building a base like he did. He also appears to have unique genetic predispositions to recovery—some of which are the physiological outcome of his 1000 hours a year training approach (including training twice a day)—but some of his ability appears to be uniquely genetically gifted. The coaches in his early teenage years noted his ability to recover faster than any other ahtlete they had ever coached at the junior level.

However, we can most certainly implement some of his workouts with a little extra rest between sessions. Kilian purposely included more flat training sessions in his summer 2019 plan, which ultimately saw him reach even greater heights, smashing almost four minutes off Jonathan Wyatt’s impressive course record at Sierre-Zinal.

Kilian's extra flat training helped him on the hills. Writing on his blog Mtnath, he explained, "It was interesting that even if I drop my average elevation gain per week and add many flat kilometres the uphill performance have been improving a lot."

Personally, I am really strong on the uphills right now, but flat speed has been a weakness for a long time, and I’m keen to also increase my speed and Vo2Max with some flat sessions.

Enter the short VMA intervals. VMA indicates an athlete’s maximum aerobic speed, the running speed reached by an athlete when the maximum oxygen consumption is reached (Vo2Max). You can only run at your VMA for a maximum of 3-6 minutes.

Scientists have found the maximum average potential for athletes is running:

10km @ 80-90% of VMA
21.1km @ 75-85% of VMA
Marathon @ 70-80% of VMA
100km @ 65% of VMA
24h @ 60% of VMA.

So, the higher you can raise your VMA, the faster you will be able to go at all these distances. If you are focused on climbing faster, the conditioning from these flat workouts will also help you on the hills.

The workout today is working at 100-110% of the VMA for intervals lasting approximately 1-2 minutes.

Jornet’s VMA workouts over the summer rotated between sessions of:

20 x 300m or 15 x 400m or 12 x 500m or 10 x 600m or 10 x 1km. With one-minute rest between each interval.

This morning I gave it a go and implemented the 20 x 300m interval session. It was tough, really tough. I would recommend beginners only attempt 5 intervals at first, intermediate athletes 10, and advanced can go for 20.

I was able to run 11 intervals at 3:00/km pace with 1-minute rests at near maximum effort, but then I had to extend the rest periods between the intervals to keep running at the same pace. I ran another 4 intervals on 2 minutes rest, then the last 5 with three minutes rest.

I was very tempted to quit after 11 intervals when the suffering began, but I told myself I was not going to stop and I was going to get the full 20 intervals in no matter what. I had the choice of putting in 9 bad intervals if I kept trying for the 1-minute rest, or if I wanted to ensure each interval was still of sufficient quality, I would have to increase my rest periods. I went with that. I survived, but I was close to throwing up by the end, which for the record, I have never done before from running.

The goal of my future training would be to continue this session and attempt to increase the number of intervals I can do with only 1-minute rest. Once I can do 20 on 1-minute rest, then I can work at very slowly increasing my speed on each interval.

I like the idea of rotating between different distances for the short VMA intervals, so I would not attempt 20 x 300m for another five weeks.  Next week I will have a go at 15 x 400m.