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!

 

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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