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 same  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!

 

Progress is occuring!

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Happy Star Wars day! It’s been a week since my last update on my Maffetone-style heart rate training and I am happy to report that the results are encouraging. How they will translate to long distance runs and/or races is yet to be seen, but as of today I am happy.

To quickly review, I did about two weeks of heart rate training in March just to try it out, knowing I’d have to give it up for a few weeks because of a couple of races on my calendar. My objective with this training is to adjust my pace as needed in order to keep my heart rate in the target zone, which for me is 131-140 bpm. My first run was 4.50 miles, completed in 51:27 (average 11:27 pace). My fastest mile was 10:27 and I quickly fell to 11:12 and eventually to 12:00. For comparison, I typically do my long runs (15-20 miles) at a 10:00 pace, so this was really slow for me. Walking is only an option for a few seconds at a time unless you’re walking fast enough to keep your heart rate in the target zone; falling below the zone will slow your heart’s adaptation (the point of this training).

I made some decent progress on paper in those two weeks in March, but my last HR training run at that time showed me that it was mostly on paper. My pace was improving rapidly, but the weather was consistently getting cooler at the same time. For my last run it was almost 70 degrees with 93% humidity and my pace slowed way down. At that point I decided to take most of my runs inside on the treadmill in order to gauge progress better by eliminating the weather variable.

You can find more background on my training as well as results from last week here.

Over the past week I ran every day, twice outside and 5 times on the treadmill. As could be expected, my slowest pace (10:56) came on Monday when I ran outside, and my fastest run was yesterday on the treadmill (9:59). Not only did I break the 10:00 average barrier for the first time yesterday, I also recorded my fastest times for every mile except the first (out of 23 runs). Today’s run was even a little faster through 3 miles but I had to slow down more than expected for miles 4 and 5 and finished at a 10:04 pace. I think the slow down was due to pushing hard on the leg presses after yesterday’s run. Either way, my times for this week have been MUCH better than the 11:27 that I started March with, and this week’s average pace was 17 seconds per mile faster than last week’s average.

That’s progress! My schedule has one more month of heart rate training right now, with plenty of room to add another 2-4 weeks if I continue to see this type of progress. I admit that at first I was a bit skeptical and frustrated at the pace that I was running, but since my pace has picked up at the same heart rate I think I’m liking this idea right about now!

What I’ve learned so far

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In March I completed about two weeks worth of heart rate based training, giving the Maffetone method a test run. I had to take a break from it with the Storm the Campus 10 mile race and the Star Wars half marathon weekend, but now my race calendar is clear and I’m diving head first into about 6 weeks worth of heart rate training as I build up my weekly mileage and get ready for marathon training. I have already learned a few things that might come in handy for anyone considering the Maffetone method, so I thought I would share my findings so far.

First, the plan indicates that you should not be overly concerned about any numbers (like pace or time) except keeping your heart rate in the target zone. Phil Maffetone has obviously never met me. Numbers are my way of life and I just can’t ignore them. I am tracking my daily runs mile by mile as a way to look for trends and I fully realize that not every day is going to show improvement, or even stay flat; there may be some days that are worse than the day before, but overall the trend should be in the right direction. The plan also says that you should see some progress as you compare runs that are 2-3 weeks apart.  In the first two week trial run I definitely saw my pace improving, though some of that appears to be due to the weather. My first couple of runs were in the 70-71 degree range, then upper 60s, mid-60s, mid-50s, and one run at 46 degrees. Then my final run was at 74 degrees and I struggled to find a pace slow enough to keep my heart rate in the zone. At this point I learned that the only way to determine if the training or the weather was responsible for my improvements was to control the weather. The only way to do that is to take most of my runs inside for the six week training.

The next thing I learned is that I suck at following a restricted diet. The Maffetone method includes a two-week “carb cleanse” plan where carbs are supposed to be eliminated from your diet, and not just the obvious stuff like bread, pasta, desserts, and potatoes. The plan calls for the elimination of fruit, processed meats, milk, yogurt, protein bars, peanuts, and even diet soda. I’ll let you look at what you are allowed to eat if you’re interested (here), but let’s just say not much of it was already in my diet. However, I decided that I needed to do this in order to teach my body to become a better fat burner. I made it through the first day with 5 eggs, two salads, chicken, celery, a slice of provolone, and a ton of water. When I was looking for something for dinner I grabbed a bag of veggies out of the freezer and realized I couldn’t eat them – 6 grams of carbs. Another bag had 10 grams of carbs, then I found 3 grams, 5 grams, 7 grams…. Wait a minute, except for potatoes and corn veggies are OK to eat. But no carbs allowed and the veggies have carbs. Then I checked the Romaine that I ate for lunch – yep, 3 grams of carbs. I was sabotaging my own plan (pronounced torture) without even realizing it. And if veggies have carbs, what can I eat? I am now in the process of searching for answers to this dilemma, and am happy to report that my diet needs work again.

Third, and perhaps most important, I learned that there are different ways to attack the need to stay within your target heart rate zone. Let me also add that no matter how much you despise treadmill running, trying to stay at a specific heart rate is much easier when you have absolute control over your speed and can adjust it in small amounts. I am tracking my time and heart rate for each mile of each run separately, allowing me to compare each mile from one day to the same mile for another day. Until today I had been attempting to stay as close to the top of my zone as possible throughout my runs, allowing me to go a bit faster, and I did see improvements in the early, middle, and later stages of my runs. For example, my first mile was 10:29 on March 15th, and a couple days ago it was 9:28 – over a minute improvement at the same heart rate! And miles 2-5 have shown even more improvement, getting close to 2:00 better during the fourth mile.

Today I switched things up and decided to go a bit slower than I needed to for the first mile, while still remaining in the 10 bpm window that I need to be in (131-140). I got on the treadmill and set it for 10:00 per mile. I was just over 130 for most of the first mile, 135 average for the second mile, and 138 for the third. I had never done the third mile at that pace while staying in the zone. Then I dropped the pace to 5.8 mph, about 23 seconds slower per mile and thought I’ll keep this pace until I am over 140 bpm. I never had to adjust the pace again and I ran another 3.3 miles! Miles 4, 5, and 6 were completed in 10:23, new best times for all of those miles. My heart rate for those three miles was 137, 137, and 136. That makes it look like I probably could have finished the 7th mile at a 10:23 pace, or almost 2 minutes faster than my best 7th mile time. Starting the run off a little slower brought overall improvement to the run, especially in the later miles.

I am going to repeat today’s test either Saturday or Sunday, but I am pretty confident that I am making some progress and there may be some really great things coming out of this style of training. If I have confused you with all the numbers I apologize. I’m better at handling numbers than explaining them. If you have questions about this style of training you can leave questions for me in the comments and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, or you can always send them to me through Twitter (@rilla6969) or Facebook (rilla6969). Here are the two links for the Maffetone explanations:

The Maffetone Method for training

The two-week carb-free test

 

Heart Rate Training Seems to Work!

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For the past 8 days now I have been focused on heart rate training, and surprisingly I am seeing positive results already. I expected to see improvement but assumed that it would take some time before I saw the type of results that I’ve seen. I also want to point out the fact that I use words like slow and slower in this post. In no way am I attempting to compare myself to anyone else or label anyone as a slow runner. A 12:00 mile pace may be a goal for some runners and that’s fine because we all work from where we are. Having run a 22:04 5k, backing down to some of the speeds necessary to stay within my target heart range has been quite an adjustment for me. Your mileage may vary 😉 I also want to note that I have been fasting for each of the runs that are discussed here as I’m teaching my body to burn fat more efficiently (also in the Maffetone plan).

What is heart rate training? Basically it’s a system that was put together by Phil Maffetone that helps determine your optimal training heart rate zone; a zone that keeps you in your body’s aerobic system rather than the anaerobic system which stresses your body more. After reading all of the details I was able to determine that my training heart rate should be between 135-140 beats per minute (the formula allows for 130-140, but I have elected to shorten that window). In order to benefit from the heart rate training I will need to keep my heart rate in the 135-140 zone during all runs as well as all cross-training activities. Using running as an example, this means that once I get my heart rate up to 135 I need to stay between 135 and 140 until the workout is finished. The bad news is that this pretty much eliminates the possibility of run/walking for those that typically run using the Galloway Method because walking would lower the heart rate below the bottom end of the range. This also eliminates strides, intervals, repeats, tempo runs, fartleks, ladders, progression runs and any other attempts at working on speed. It’s temporary.

Last Tuesday I set out for my first crack at this different type of training before the sun came up. As it sometimes does, my heart rate jumped way up right off the bat (164 max), but after about three minutes I was back in my target range, finishing the first mile in 10:27 with an average  of 141 bpm. Yeah, this type of training takes a little getting used to, especially if you’re used to running by pace more than feel. As expected the remaining miles were each slower than the previous mile: 11:12, 11:45, and 12:00. The final half mile was on pace to be even slower than 12:00. Overall I averaged 11:27 per mile and a 138 heart rate.

Without knowing exactly what to expect I just accepted these numbers as my starting point and decided to run the same distance each of the next two days to make comparing data from day to day a little easier (#NumbersNerd). On Wednesday my first mile was about the same (10:29/131bpm) but the other miles showed more and more improvement: 10:31, 10:47, 11:07, and the final half at 11:19 pace. The day’s averages were 10:48 and 135bpm. Interesting…. About 40 seconds faster per mile with a lower heart rate. Thursday was a split compared to Wednesday, with some numbers better than Wednesday and some worse. I’ll post the specifics below if you’re interested.

Saturday’s run was different on many levels (non-fasting, run later in the day under hot sun, higher stress, etc.) and the results reflected the differences. I’m going to skip the specifics until I can determine which elements affected me and which ones didn’t, but the entire run was done trying to stay in the 135-140 range.

Sunday was a longer run, so I checked the numbers for 5 miles (to compare to previous runs) and for the full 8.2 miles. More improvements! At five miles I was averaging a 10:44 pace and 135 bpm, and for the full run, an 11:09 pace and 136. Yeah, I averaged a faster pace for 8.2 miles than I did 5 days ago for 4.5 miles and at a lower heart rate. Hmmmm, I’m seeing a trend that I like. My sixth run, a week after my first run: 10:20 average pace for 5 miles at 134 bpm. Last Tuesday was 11:27/138 bpm! That’s 67 seconds per mile faster at a lower heart rate. Today’s first mile was at 9:44 and a 127 heart rate! I’m actually having trouble getting my average heart rate for the first mile high enough without going over the 140 mark because it is increasing so slowly.

I have plans to continue this training for about six weeks and if the improvements keep coming the way that they have so far….. I am getting excited to think of the possibilities! If you have any questions about this training method that I might be able to answer please feel free to contact me. There are more details about the Garmin that I use here. If you are looking for more details about the Maffetone Method, the formula to find your training zone, etc. then please click here. Other useful Maffetone links include the MAF test and The New Aerobic Revolution. Thanks for listening to me ramble and best of luck on your training.

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Heart rate values are average/max for each mile




Training recap: November

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Is 2015 really almost over already? One month left and I can see that I’ll miss my mileage goal for the year, but not by much. I’m blaming February because that’s when I took some down time to recover from a couple of minor overuse injuries. Here’s how November finished up:

I ended October with the Lighthouse Loop Half Marathon and went right into the final couple of weeks of my marathon cycle. I also spent part of the month on antibiotics, so I didn’t see very many really good runs. Another factor in November was the weather – 12 of my outdoor runs were in temperatures of at least 70 degrees and 85% humidity, because summer just would not go away! Even the first two days of December have been in the mid 80s. If it ever cools down I’ll be flying!

The first two weeks of the month were close to 40 miles each, with a 17 and 18-mile long run for those two weekends. I also threw in a Yasso 800 treadmill session and managed 10×800 at a 3:24 pace! Then the taper started with 31 miles for the third week and a long run of only 8.5 miles. The fourth week was marathon week, so I ran 4-plus miles on Tuesday and Thursday and paced around for a couple of days waiting for race day. Add in the 26.2 miles for Space Coast marathon and it’s still a 35 mile week.

Overall for the month I ran 145.69 miles, making November my 4th best month of 2015. I’ve run a total of 1417.76 miles by 11/30 and logged 100+ miles in 10 of the 11 months this year. This was also my eighth month in a row with at least 120 miles, which is something I am very proud of because consistency is key to achieving goals. Speaking of goals, my mileage goal for the year is 1600 miles (up from 1285 miles run in 2014). 182 miles is possible in one month, except that I just finished a marathon so I’m in recovery mode. I also have another marathon in December so there will be more taper and recovery time. I have no doubt that I will finish the year in the 1500’s somewhere and I’ll just have to settle for that.

 

Race recap: Space Coast Marathon

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Ten months ago I was set on the idea of qualifying for Boston with this race. A week before the race I was in the ER to try to find a reason for my recent spikes in heart rate while running. I wasn’t sure that this marathon was even going to happen, let alone what pace I could maintain. Add to it the fact that summer really hasn’t gone away yet in central Florida and I was seriously entertaining the idea of running at a snail’s pace.

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Once I figured out that either the Zyrtec or the Albuterol (or both) were at least partially responsible for the heart rate spikes, I stopped using both and saw my heart rate drop, but still not to where it was two months ago. Race time (6am) temperature was forecast at 70 degrees, but weren’t we pleasantly surprised when it was only 68 at the start of the race! Even with the cold front I was still using a conservative race plan (BQ was definitely out of the question) and expected that I’d have to adjust my plan along the way based on how I felt and my heart rate, something that I failed to do 5 weeks ago at the Lighthouse Loop half. I decided to start the race with the four-hour pace group and even managed a few miles just in front of the pacer. Due to the congestion near the start our first mile was a little slower than it should have been (9:22) but not bad. After the second mile (9:06) I decided to jump in front of the pacer in order to grab some room to move.

I am able to know that I’m comfortable with a run when I can run splits that are pretty even without the use of a pacer. The next three miles were done in 8:57, 8:55, and 8:56. I like it! What I didn’t like was that the sun was up and so was my heart rate. For the fifth mile I averaged 165. Miles 6 through 14 were good as far as pacing goes, averaging 9:05, and I crossed the halfway point in 1:59:31. Mission accomplished for the first half, except for that pesky heart rate. Mile 14 averaged 180bpm. At this rate of increase I would have 3-4 miles left before I maxed out. I started working in some walk breaks which worked well for about 4 miles. The problem with walk breaks for me is that my legs don’t want to start running again once they have tasted the glorious feeling of walking. Miles 15-18: pace 10:23, HR 175.

 

By the 19th mile the bottoms of my feet started hurting and I could feel the burning start in my calves. I was not used to either of these sensations coming from long runs, but I knew that I didn’t like either one. I forced myself to run more than I wanted to and tried to keep the walk breaks relatively short. Miles 19-26 varied from 11:16 to 13:04, with an average heart rate of only 165. I could have pushed harder from a heart rate standpoint, but I just didn’t have any more in me. For the last half mile I used the support of the crowd to keep me running and sent my heart rate to its highest point for the entire race (183), but I finished the race running. I also finished it with a PR at 4:31:37, 16:02 faster than I finished the same race last year.

Medal 1 SC

There were several similarities between this year’s race and last year’s version, and one major difference. I felt aching in my back both years so I need more gym time! I went out faster last year, reaching 13.1 in about 1:54 and I started slowing down about a mile sooner than this year. This year I had only 1 mile over 12:45, where last year I had six in a row over 13:45. This tells me that I have made improvements and I have better self-control, but I still need long-run work, especially at or near race pace. In shorter races the finishing time might tell a large part of the story, but in a marathon what happens along the way tells so much.

And for the race highlights that weren’t about me: My friend Christin drove to Cocoa from Orlando on race morning to see me finish, which I appreciate so much! I got to see some other friends set PR’s. Because of this race I have a new favorite spectator sign: Is that a gel in your pocket or are you following a hottie? Very nice. And if you missed it, consider yourself lucky because the guy who likes to run this race in just a speedo (shirtless too) was back again this year. And thankfully so were the people who live along the race route who take pleasure in spraying runners with a garden hose if they want it. I thoroughly enjoyed being sprayed! I will be back for this race again next year, better prepared and ready to collect my 3-year Milky Way Challenge finisher medal.

Medal 2 SC

Adios from Cocoa Beach!

Race Recap: Lighthouse Loop Half

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The fall racing season. It’s something to look forward to. When the cooler weather arrives it’s time to get the results that all of those hot summer runs were supposed to produce. For those of you who are actually experiencing fall at the end of October, I’ll bet it’s a welcome change. For those of us in Florida, fall hasn’t gotten around to showing up yet. Just knowing that, I should have made a better decision at the start of the Lighthouse Loop half marathon.

LLoop medal

This race started just before sunrise, about a tenth of a mile from the beach, 15 minutes or so south of Daytona Beach. With the  slight breeze that was present this could have been the perfect race morning. That is where my thoughts were when they should have been focused on the more important details. The temperature was 70 degrees with 80%-plus humidity. And that breeze? It was a headwind for the first 6 miles of this race. Since I was ignoring those pesky details I was undecided on what pace to lock into even as the Star Spangled Banner was playing. Just in front of me in the corral was the 1:40 pacer, and just behind me was the 1:45 pacer. Instead of focusing on the conditions I was thinking that if I am going to have a real shot at a BQ (3:25) next month I need to be able to nail a 1:40 half. Decision made.

When the gun went off I was right behind the 1:40 pacer and watching how effortless his strides were. I was running the fastest pace I’ve ever attempted for a half and he appeared to be coasting. When my Garmin buzzed at the one mile mark I saw that we were 2 seconds ahead of projected pace at 7:36. Nice!! And I noticed that my heart rate was at 161. I’m going to need to keep an eye on that. Mile 2 was done in 7:37. This guy is good! Heart rate is now at 178. What? How can this be? I’ve run a 10k at 7:16 pace. I should be doing better than this. For mile three I was so focused on my heart rate that I managed to fall off the pace just a bit (7:44), but now my heart rate is 183. I’m at 95% of max at mile three. I don’t get it.

LLoop 2

Sure the heat, humidity, and headwind probably had a lot to do with my high heart rate, but for the next 99 minutes my brain was racing faster than my legs. Maybe I didn’t train hard enough. Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep, ate the wrong foods, have too much stress, and a thousand other thoughts. I really know how to beat myself up.

LLoop finish

Miles 4-7 were spent accepting the fact that I was pretty much spent at the end of 5k and my times slowly got worse. 8:06, 8:31, 8:32, 8:55. The eighth mile was where I started taking walk breaks. 9:46. In the ninth mile I even took my headphones out and never put them back in. 10:07. Miles 10-12 saw more walking and steadily slower times: 10:17, 10:32, 10:51. During these three miles I was picturing the mammoth bridge that would be waiting for me in mile 13. Almost 100 feet up and 100 feet down in about six-tenths of a mile. I actually handled the bridge pretty well, completing the 13th mile in 9:16. During that last full mile I realized that I was going to be close to the two hour mark. From the 1:40 pacer to 2:00??? I found something extra for that last tenth and covered it at a 7:19 pace, finishing in 1:59:00. On the bright side, the post-race meal was awesome, thanks to Aunt Catfish’s.

LLoop food

Breakfast: an orange, cooked apples, omelets, sausage, OJ, and Bud light!

This race was hard for me to take not only because I missed my goal miserably, but because I missed last year’s time on this same course by over ten minutes. Last year I was hoping for a sub-2:00 time and finished in 1:48. I feel like I have so much that my legs are capable of accomplishing, but I can’t keep my heart rate down long enough to do it. My next race is a full marathon and it’s less than 5 weeks away. That race is going to be run with a better plan than this one was.

LLoop1