Heart rate training update

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on my heart rate training, but I’m still at it and the results are beyond what I ever hoped to get out of this. During this training phase I have been able to fully understand why I have struggled in the past in the last quarter of the six marathons that I’ve run. Put simply, my heart rate was too high for too long and I was completely out of gas. I realize that there are some people who can run faster and longer than me and have never had to do intentional heart rate training. I’m not sure how they trained their system to be as efficient as it is, but I’m not one of those people, probably because I didn’t start running until I was 44 years old.

I started my heart rate training on March 15th and did 9 runs as a trial, then took about 3 weeks away from it to train for a 10k and half on back-to-back days. I needed to work on a little speed which is not allowed using the Maffetone method. I returned to my heart rate training on April 20th and have been averaging about 4 runs per week following the plan, plus a long run each weekend. The guidelines of the Maffetone method call for EVERY run to be in your specific heart rate zone 100%, but with the Florida heat I would end up walking 8-10 miles of my long runs, if not more. The plan also calls for a 2 week specific diet that is beyond clean eating. Though I have greatly improved my diet I’ll admit I did not follow the two-week plan. I’m getting better, but decades of bad habits must be broken piece by piece in order to be successful.

OK, on to the training. My goal heart rate zone is 132-142 beats per minute. I’m pretty good about staying in this range (once I get up to 132) but I do tend to push the top end toward the end of the run. Most of my HR training runs are 5 miles and I keep a spreadsheet for every run, the 5-mile total time, 5-mile average time, and the BPM and time for each individual mile. I’m a data analyzer and I look for patterns and exceptions so I can learn what works and what doesn’t work. In addition, almost all of my runs are early in the morning and are fasting runs in an attempt to teach my body to burn fat for fuel (a main purpose of HR training). I also try to do most of my HR training runs on the treadmill just so I can compare apples to apples as far as the weather is concerned.

Day 1 of my training back in March was only 4.5 miles because the pace was getting slow enough that it was difficult to keep running. If I started walking then my HR would dip too low, so I just went as far as I could and stopped. Please note, I am not calling anyone else slow if he/she runs at these paces. I’m simply stating that the pace is too slow for me to continue “running”. My miles for day 1 were 10:27, 11:12, 11:45, 12:00, and 6:02 for the last half mile. These splits were completed at 138 average BPM, 11:27 average pace, and the total time was 51:27 for 4.5 miles. For comparison, my easy runs have been typically run at a 10:00 pace.

About 7 weeks later for my 22nd run in my HR training zone (including the 3 weeks away from the plan) and broke into new territory: my average pace for 5 miles was 9:59. I had improved by one minute and 28 seconds per mile while staying at the same heart rate, 138, over the course of those miles. The individual miles were 9:43, 9:43, 9:54, 10:12, and 10:21 and I finished in 49:53. I couldn’t believe that I made it so far so fast. However, the next 5 runs that I did were in the 10:04 to 10:24 per mile range. Several factors may have come into play here, such as elevated stress, lack of sleep, not warming up enough, etc., but sticking with it is the key.

Let’s fast forward another 22 runs to yesterday. Five miles completed in 46:47!! Running within the sameĀ  HR range I ran miles of 9:12, 9:07, 9:15, 9:33, and 9:40 for an average of 9:21. That’s 2:06 per mile faster than my first attempt in March, and the 8th time that I ran all five miles in less than 10 minutes. Now it’s turning into a “how low can you go” thing.

New day, new times. Today’s run: five miles completed in 46:11, again at 138 BPM average. My mile splits were my best times in 45 runs for each and every mile: 8:57, 9:00, 9:10, 9:29, and 9:35 for a 9:14 average. I finally managed to dip below a 9:00 mile! Today’s run was 7 seconds per mile faster than my record run yesterday, and I’ve been sick for the past 5 days.

In addition to my running I have been helping myself out with some cross training on the spin bike, recumbent bike and outdoor bike, plenty of stretching, and a lot of core work. I do abdominal workouts at the gym 3-4 days per week, just completed a plank-a-day challenge of 30 days, and am now doing a push up challenge. I’ve still got about ten pounds to get rid of, but piece by piece this is coming together. I plan to keep about 3 HR training runs per week through the summer because the progress is incredible!