Sunday, January 31, 2016

Aerobic base training

You may have gathered from my previous posts that I'm a bit of a nerd.  It's true, I like facts and figures, statistics, logic, science and technology.

This is one of the main reasons why Heart Rate Training appeals to me.  I like to know that whatever type of training session I am doing has a purpose, that there is logic to it, and that my fitness should improve if I stick to the plan.

There is an absolute wealth of information on the web on the subject of aerobic base training, all written by experts (or mostly by experts) with far more credibility than me.

All I want to do in this post is provide my own summary of what I have researched so far, and if you like what you read then I would encourage you to take some time and research it further.

You may be thinking "who does this guy think he is, Alberto Salazar (coaches Mo Farah) ?" or "that's waaaaay too complicated for me, I'm only walking to <insert Parish here> in the Parish."

All I would say is it makes absolutely no difference if you are starting from couch potato or if you have been walking/running for years, Aerobic base training will help you improve.  It also doesn't matter if your goal is to complete 5k, 50k, 85 miles or 100 miles, Aerobic base training will help get you there.

You may now be thinking "hang on a minute, I thought he was doing Heart Rate training but now he's waffling on about Aerobic base training!  What gives? "  Don't worry, read on and all should become clear.

Prior to Heart Rate Training I always believed that 'No pain no gain' was the only way to train.  If I didn't finish a training session completely out of breath, legs screaming at me full of lactic acid and then confined to the sofa for the rest of the day (after a long walk) then I felt I didn't try hard enough.

Now I know that's not true, and in fact it's quite the opposite and should be "No pain = no gain".

There are two basic forms of exercise: Aerobic and Anaerobic.

Wikipedia defines Aerobic exercise as "physical exercise of low to high intensity that depends primarily on the aerobic energy generating process. Aerobic literally means "relating to, involving, or requiring free oxygen", and refers to the use of oxygen to adequately meet energy demands during exercise via aerobic metabolism. Generally, light-to-moderate intensity activities that are sufficiently supported by aerobic metabolism can be performed for extended periods of time."

Compare this to the Anaerobic definition "physical exercise intense enough to cause lactate to form. It is used by athletes in non-endurance sports to promote strength, speed and power and by body builders to build muscle mass."

So, the best way to train for distance events such as the Parish walk is to ensure the majority of your training is Aerobic.  This will increase your aerobic base.  The key here is to ensure you stay out of the Anaerobic zone, and one such way to achieve this is by following a Heart Rate training method.

The other way is to train at a slower pace than you would race, but personally I don't like that method as I never seem to figure out what that slower pace should be as it seems too generic, e.g. "your long runs should be x minutes/mile slower than your best 10k race pace". 

Training to a lower heart rate will automatically give you that slower pace, but more importantly that lower rate is completely unique to you.

If your heart rate is low, you know your muscles have enough Oxygen to generate the energy you need to walk/run while also avoiding the production of the waste product of Anaerobic exercise - the dreaded lactic acid.

If you ever had legs full of lactic acid you will know how horrible it is. 

I'm not saying Anaerobic exercise is wrong and is to be avoided at all costs because that's not true.  There is a time and a place for it, but it should be avoided as much as possible while you are building your aerobic base.

If you have read my earlier posts on Heart Rate training you will recall that I use 4 zones:

Zone 1 = Easy/Recovery.      55-65%  My range is 125-135
Zone 2 = Endurance.             65-75%  My range is 135-145
Zone 3 = Stamina.                 75-85%  My range is 145-160
Zone 4 = Speed/Strength.      85%+     My range is 160+

Aerobic training takes place in Zone 1 and 2.  Anything less than Zone 1 and you aren't really going to improve your fitness a great deal.

Anaerobic takes place in Zone 4, and I know that's true due to the very quick build up of lactic acid whenever I'm in this zone.

Zone 3 is a grey area which I haven't quite figured out yet.  When I train in this zone I do get out of breath, and I do get a build up of lactic acid, but I can generally hold that zone for an hour or so before I start to struggle, so is a mix of both Aerobic and Anaerobic, but I'm not yet sure if it's a good zone to be in for training.  For races, at least for 20k and below, this is where I am.

You may have heard the phrase "train slower to race faster", and indeed there are several books on the subject, and that's exactly what training in the Aerobic zone is all about.

Here are some of the benefits of training in this zone and improving your aerobic base:
  • Your body adapts to improve transport of oxygen to the working muscles;
  • Increases mitochondrial density.  Mitochondria are structures within muscle cells that produce energy from fat and carbohydrate oxidation.

    Think of them as tiny power cells for your muscles.  The more you have the better;
  • Reduces the amount of lactic acid produced by the muscles;
  • Increased storage of energy molecules such as fats and carbohydrates within the muscles, allowing for increased endurance;
  • Improving the ability of muscles to use fats during exercise, preserving intramuscular glycogen. 

    If you have heard the term 'hitting the wall' this occurs when your glycogen stores are depleted.  The brain's only source of fuel is glucose (which glycogen is) so when the stores are depleted and there is no more glucose available in the bloodstream the brain will start shutting down anything that is competing for the glucose, i.e. your muscles.

    'Carb loading' is a method used to ensure your glycogen stores are fully topped up before a big event, so if aerobic training makes you more efficient at using glycogen then it has to be good.

While training slower to race faster may be counter intuitive, over time you will soon find you are walking/running just as quick as you used to but are significantly more efficient at that pace, allowing you to maintain it for longer, and push harder/faster for longer too.

It really doesn't matter what distance you are training for either, although if you are a sprinter looking for a fast 100/200/400 metres you will probably spend most of your time Anaerobic training.

The chart below (from Sports Medicine Journal 2001) shows the split between aerobic and anaerobic at various distances:

Event            Aerobic %      Anaerobic %
Marathon            97.50                2.50
10k                     90.00                10.00 
5k                       84.00                16.00
1 mile                 80.00                20.00

So even if your target is a 5k, approx. 84% of that race is run aerobically so doesn't it make sense to spend most of your time training in that zone?

I have been following this Heart Rate approach consistently now for 4 weeks and I am definitely seeing results.  I will post more about that later, but for now I'd like to leave you with a great analogy involving a tube of toothpaste that I read somewhere about "training slower to get/race faster".

Imagine a full tube of toothpaste, and all of the toothpaste inside is your potential for improvement.

For a complete beginner that tube of toothpaste may be quite large, a "family sized" one for arguments sake, whereas for experienced walkers and runners who already follow this type of training it may be quite small, or a "travel sized" one.  For most people (which is where I think I am), it would just be a regular size.

The point is, everyone has a different potential for improvement.  According to studies, potential for improvement doesn't just depend on your current fitness level but is also genetic. 

One study suggests that 85% of people are 'normal' responders to a training plan, and 5% are 'super' responders. Unfortunately, this means 10% are supposedly 'non' responders so will not improve their performance no matter how much they train.  The analyst in me just had to call that point out, but let's be positive and ignore that study and just say we are all normal responders!

Anyway, back to the toothpaste.  The biggest mistake many runners/walkers make is training too fast, i.e. they are straight into the anaerobic zone.  In other words they are starting to squeeze the toothpaste from the middle/top of the tube.  Sure, they will see some quick results, but they are leaving all that potential behind.

Compare that to aerobic training, by slowing the pace/heart right down and slowly working through a training plan you are starting to squeeze the tube from the very bottom, releasing all of that potential for improvement.

I hope you found this interesting, and if you did I would encourage you to hit Google and do some more research.  It's a huge topic and I'm still learning.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Week 4 Progress

I only managed to get out 3 times last week:


Time Avg
Elev Gain
Elev Loss
Calories HR
22nd Jan Rest day
23rd Jan 13.50 21.73 02:43:10 12:05 5.0 369 348 1,539 2/3 146
24th Jan 7.00 11.27 01:21:54 11:42 5.1 183 224 688 1 131
25th Jan Rest day
26th Jan Rest day
27th Jan 11.00 17.70 02:06:52 11:32 5.2 254 259 1,301 2 142
28th Jan Rest day
Week 4 31.50 50.69 06:11:56 806 831 3,528
Week 3 36.50 58.74 06:58:54 873 825 4,390
Week 2 29.70 47.82 05:37:20 629 621 3,720
Week 1 30.00 48.28 05:51:27 629 580 3,633
TOTAL 127.70 205.53 1 day 00:39:37 2,937 2,857 15,271
To go   1,122.30 1,810.47

Even though I have just passed 10% of my challenge target in the first month there is still a very long way to go and anything can happen, so I' not getting too complacent.

On Saturday I joined Mike Bonney and Adam Killip for a long walk.  We started at the Grandstand ( I walked down from Onchan) and then headed back through Onchan again, passed Whitebridge, left onto the Creg-ny-baa back road for a few miles before swinging a right down past Axnfell plantation towards Laxey main road and then back into Onchan.

One of the unfortunate downsides of Heart Rate Training is it's really difficult to do in a group, especially if you are out for a slower walk in zone 1 and 2.  I was comfortably within my Zone 2 range for the first couple of miles through Onchan, but on the climb out of Whitebridge I was quickly into zone 3 and stayed there for most of the walk, even touching into Zone 4 in a few places.

Rather than slow Mike and Adam down too much I just decided to make this a long Zone 3 session, and I certainly felt it in the legs the following day.  We alternated between pushing fast for a mile or so (usually up hill !) and then easing right back to recover, hence the overall pace of 12:05 minutes per mile.

Mike was telling me about his plans for the Continental Centurion race in Schiedam (Rotterdam) on May 14th/15th.  I did consider this a few weeks ago, but it's only 5 weeks before the Parish so not really enough time to recover if I want to hit the target Parish time I have in mind.  I have already entered the USA Centurion race in September, all travel and accommodation is booked, so the last thing I need it to burn myself out with a 100 mile race in May and 85 in June.

However... I didn't realise there were 50k, 100k, 50 mile and 100 mile options in Schiedam and, since having a go at the Continental Centurion is something I want to do in the next couple of years, then what better excuse to go over in May and recce the venue by taking part in one of the other distances!

So, I have now booked my travel and accommodation for Schiedam too!  I just need to decide if I should enter the 50k or 50 mile event now.  It's only 3 weeks after the Sara Killey 50k, so I''m really tempted to move it up a notch and go for 50 miles, but I'm also mindful it's 5 weeks before the Parish and I think 50 miles maybe a little too much.

Either way it should be a great weekend as there are quite a few Manx walkers taking part in the 100 miles so I will be there to help with support and cheer them on when I have finished my race. 

On Sunday I felt pretty good so decided to repeat the same 7 mile 'recovery' loop as the previous week (out past Groudle). 

In my last post I talked about how hard that 7 mile loop felt last week, and how I revised my heart rate zones down to reflect my walking max rather than running max.  This time it did feel more relaxed, but the interesting thing is I was only 37 seconds slower than the previous week with an average pace of 11:42 compared to 11:36 the previous week, yet a significantly lower average heart rate down to 131 from 137. 

My 11 mile loop on Wednesday was a repeat of the exact same loop from 2 weeks ago.  Again this was a zone 2 walk, so this time I used my lower Zone 2 range and was only 3 seconds slower than 2 weeks ago, with an average HR of 142 compared to 148 2 weeks ago !

So, 4 weeks into HR training and I'm definitely seeing results!  Roll on week 5!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Week 3 Progress

Week 3


Time Avg
Elev Gain
Elev Loss
Calories HR
15th Jan Rest day
16th Jan 14.50 23.34 02:51:57 11:50 5.1 443 440 1,667 2 143
17th Jan 7.00 11.27 01:21:17 11:36 5.2 167 205 780 1 137
18th Jan Rest day
19th Jan 6.50 10.46 01:10:44 10:53 5.5 96 98 832 4 153
20th Jan Rest day
21st Jan 8.5 13.68 01:34:56 11:10 5.4 167 82 1,111 3 154
Week 3 36.50 58.74 06:58:54 873 825 4,390
Week 2 29.70 47.82 05:37:20 629 621 3,720
Week 1 30.00 48.28 05:51:27 629 580 3,633
TOTAL 96.20 154.84 18:27:41 2,131 2,026 11,743
To go   1,153.80 1,861.16

I normally try to stick to the rule of not increasing weekly mileage by more than 10%, however the jump to 20% wasn't planned.  Sometimes you just need to go with the flow and see where you end up.

I needed to do something on Saturday morning which meant my 'long walk' route took me out along Douglas promenade rather than over my usual stomping grounds of Baldwin and Laxey. 

I joined the promenade just opposite the Queens pub at around 10:35am, right into the tail end of the new 5k prom run.  Despite the bitterly cold weather it certainly looked like everyone was enjoying it, and I regretted not entering myself.  Maybe next month!

At the end of the promenade I headed out onto the old Castletown road, turned down the narrow road towards Port Soderick, took a left along Marine Drive, down onto the quay, back along the promenade and back up into Onchan. 

I only planned on doing 12 miles rather than 14.5, but it would have been a waste to stop the watch and slowly walk the last  2.5 miles home.  It was cold too, so I wanted to keep moving at a good pace.

Sunday was meant to be an easy recovery walk but, as I mentioned in my previous post, it was far from it!  I felt fine at the start, just a little tightness in the hamstrings from the previous day, but I found I was having to push really hard to get my heart rate up to around 135.  An average pace of 11m:36s miles for what's meant to be a recovery walk is pretty quick for me.

This walk took me out on the Onchan coast road towards Groudle, following the MER tracks all the way to Liverpool arms and then left back into Onchan.  It was a dark and misty morning and because I knew I would be walking on roads (there is no pavement from Groudle up to Liverpool Arms, or on the descent towards Whitebridge in Onchan) I was wearing Hi Viz clothes.

Almost every car that I saw had their lights on as the visibility, particularly between the Liverpool arms and Onchan, was only a few hundred yards. 

I'm going to get on my soapbox now. 

Despite the dismal conditions I saw 2 cyclists out training on this road, or at least I assumed they were training because they were wearing full lycra.  What astonished me the most was their lycra was a black/grey colour, they had no lights and absolutely no high viz.  No sooner had they past me and I turned around (more of a double take), they had disappeared into the mist.

I don't really know why I was surprised because I see this every day.  Maybe it's because I wasn't in my car so had a higher appreciation for the poor visibility.  Why is it that for some reason almost all cyclists on our roads like to wear the same colour as the tarmac no matter what the weather is like?  Does it make you go faster?  Does it look cool?  Or is it just that the Lycra companies don't make them in whites, reds, yellows, oranges etc?

I admit, I don't always wear high viz or bright colours, but whenever I know my route will take me off the pavements and onto the road I do.  

As a case in point, I have just this minute (15:20 on Saturday afternoon, so turning quite grey now)  come back from dropping my wife down into Douglas town centre.  I must have passed at least 10 walkers, dog walkers and runners.  All of them were on the pavement and all were wearing either yellow, pink or orange high viz jackets, or white or orange T-Shirts.  I also passed 3 cyclists.  2 were on the roads, dressed in black, with no lights, and the 3rd was actually over on Douglas promenade, away from the road, but wearing Hi Viz!

I don't have a problem with cyclists, they have as much right to be on the roads and out training as  anyone, I just wish they would stop for a moment and think if dressing all in black is really the smartest thing to do. 

Please, and this isn't just aimed at cyclists but to all walkers and runners too, "Be safe... Be Seen", especially if you are on the roads.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now.

As I was saying, the easy walk on Sunday was far from easy, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't hit my max heart rate of 187 on Tuesday.  This made me realise I needed to set my zones based on my walking max heart rate, not my running max.

I also want to clarify that during Tuesday's hill session I wasn't intending to go all out to hit my max.  That's not the objective of a 'Zone 4' session, and is not something you should try and do every week.  In this zone you should be looking to just get above 85% for a few minutes at a time rather than to  hit 100% !

For my final session of the week on Thursday I finally plucked up the courage to meet up with some fellow Parish Walk addicts who are much quicker walkers than me. 

I do often train with others at the weekend when the distance is longer and the pace is a little slower, but I have always avoided the quicker mid week sessions for fear of holding everyone back, or having to run / develop bad technique just to keep up. 

It's often said that to walk quicker, you have to train with quicker walkers, so thanks to Jock, Dave, Andy, James and Ray for letting me tag along.  It was a good session so I'll be back for more!

That's all for week 3.  I hope everyone else's training is going to plan too!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What's your max heart rate?

The last few times I have followed a heart rate approach to training have been for running rather than walking, with the last sustained period being this time last year while training for the London Marathon. 

On each occasion I have determined my max heart rate by running as hard as I could up the hill from the old Summerland site to Port Jack chip shop, jogging back down, and repeating twice more.  I was then hitting my max heart rate of 187 on the 3rd attempt.

If that sounds like too much hard work, there are many formulas that you can use to estimate your max, with 220-age being a common one. 

During the first 2 weeks of my challenge I had no problem walking hard/fast enough to get my HR up into the right zone, but in this 3rd week I have been struggling.

As your fitness improves it's only natural that you have to walk/run faster to get the heart rate up. 

This is a good indication that it's working.

I really noticed this on Sunday during a 7 mile recovery (zone 1) walk where my target range is 127-140.  I was really having to walk hard to get my HR into the middle of that range.  Even though my breathing felt fine (I could hold a conversation) I could feel the legs burning and it just didn't feel like a recovery walk at all.

Last night I did a hill session.  Starting from the very end of the promenade by Summerland all the way to the "no entry" sign by the old White City is 0.33 miles, so I did 6 of these as fast as I could.  This gives a total of 2 miles up and 2 miles back down.  This was preceded by a 1.5 mile warm up along the promenade, and a 1 mile warm down to give 6.5 miles in total.

On each of the 6 climbs I walked as hard as possible, really pumping the arms and trying to maintain a good technique.  Each climb took approx 3 minutes, so an ideal duration for short bursts of high intensity training.  Here are my max heart rates at the very top of each climb:

  1. 175
  2. 177
  3. 178
  4. 180
  5. 177
  6. 180
I honestly don't think I could have pushed the 4th and last climb any harder, yet I was still 7 bpm off what I thought was my max heart rate.

That's when it occurred to me that the reason I have been pushing extra hard to get my heart rate up is because my zones are based on my max heart rate for running, not for walking. 

Sure enough, after some more research on the heart rate reserve method I am following, I confirmed the max heart rate, and therefore the zones, should be based on the sport you are training for.  If we take a triathlete for example, they would most likely have 3 different max heart rate values for running, swimming and cycling and therefore the zones they train in would differ for each sport.

So, my max running heart rate may be 187, but my max walking heart rate is 180.  Those 7 bpm make a huge difference to my zones:

Zone 1 (easy/recovery) drops from 127-140 down to 122-135 (average down from 133 to 129)
Zone 2 (endurance) drops from 140-154 down to 135-148 (average down from 146-142)
Zone 3 (Stamina) drops from 154-167 down to 148-161 (average down from 160 to 155)
Zone 4 (Hills/Intervals) drops from 167+ down to 160+

I will now start using these zones and see what difference it makes, but I'm hopeful it will make zone 1 and 2 feel slightly easier but still challenging.

In conclusion, if you are following this approach to training, it's essential that you calculate your zones using your own maximum heart rates for the sport you are doing and avoid using any of the estimated calculations such as 220 - age.

It doesn't take long to find a decent hill (not too steep) that takes 2-3 minutes to walk up and repeat 3 or 4 times, but make sure you really "give it the beans" on each climb, especially the last one.  If you can talk when you get to the top you didn't try hard enough !

Good luck !

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Week 2 Progress

Another week done.

Date Challenge
Time Avg
Elev Gain
Elev Loss
Calories HR
8th Jan 5.00 8.05 00:58:39 11:43 5.1 50 53 583 1 142
9th Jan Rest day
10th Jan 6.20 10.00 01:03:01 09:52 6.1 129 129 835 3 164
11th Jan 7.5 12.07 01:28:51 11:51 5.1 168 162 917 1 140
12th Jan Rest day
13th Jan 11.00 17.70 02:06:49 11:31 5.2 282 277 1,385 2 148
14th Jan Rest day
Week 2 29.70 47.82 05:37:20 629 621 3,720
Week 1 30.00 48.28 05:51:27 629 580 3,633
TOTAL 59.70 96.10 11:28:47 1,258 1,201 7,353
To go   1,190.30 1,919.90

Slightly ahead of the 24 miles per week average I need, but there are still 50 weeks left to go and anything can happen!

As with week 1 I can definitely say I wouldn't have braved some of the cold, rain and wind we have had this week if it wasn't for this challenge.   

Sunday saw round 4 of the Winter Walking League at Ronaldsway in, surprisingly, cold and very windy conditions. 

In previous years I tend to get slightly quicker each round but this year I have been getting slower!

Round 1 - NSC               60:38
Round 2 - Andreas          Man flu
Round 3 - St Johns         62:36
Round 4 - Ronaldsway   63:01

Not quite sure what's happening here but I think too much beer & food over December could be to  blame. 

On the positive side my St Johns and Ronaldsway times are less than a minute slower than my best for those venues despite being quite a few pounds heavier , so once I address that issue I should be back on track. 

I am now 2 weeks into Heart Rate Training and I think it's going well but it's a little early to draw any conclusions just yet.  I will leave it another couple of weeks until I have more data before I share my experiences. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Week 1 Progress

I can't believe that's the first week of 2016 gone already!

A few people have asked if my challenge was meant to be 2,016 miles rather than 2,016 kilometres (1,250 miles). 

"It's not that big of a challenge for you surely?  You are always out walking and running so must cover that distance every year anyway?"

They are fair comments I suppose, so after analysing my Garmin history here are the numbers:

Year     Miles Walked      Miles Run       Total
2012            763                      68                   831
2013            670                    195                   865
2014            740                    227                   967
2015            504                    436                   940

In 2015 I was lucky enough to get a place in the London Marathon through Manx Harriers, so for the first 4 months of the year most of my training was running rather than walking.  

As mentioned at the start of my blog the challenge will only include training/racing miles walked, not casual dog walks, walks to/from work or any running, so as you can see that's over double my distance of 2015, and just over 500 miles more than 2014.

Yes, I could have set myself a 2,016 mile challenge but then I would just be out there putting in mile after mile for the sake of it.  Not only would that increase my risk of burnout or injury but I would most likely start to resent walking and become very de-motivated.  Exactly the opposite of why I started the challenge, and this blog, in the first place !

I also want to make sure I do quality training rather than just quantity.

My 2 primary targets this year are the 85 mile Parish Walk and 100 mile Centurion in New York.  

I have attempted both of these distances (in the same year) twice before.  In 2013 I completed the Parish Walk with a PB of 18:36:28, and then 8 weeks later successfully completed the 100 mile walk at the NSC in just over 23 hours. 

I can't recall my exact time (about 23:11) because I carried on for the full 24 hours to walk 103 miles , 246 yards to become 2013 National 24 Hour Champion!  In fact, I don't think there was a 24 hour challenge during the 2014 Centurion race at Southend, and there wasn't one in the Isle of Man in 2015 so technically I am still 24 hour champ ;-)

In 2015 I completed the Parish in a slower time of 19:20:56, and then retired from the 100 mile walk in Castletown after 54 miles.

There are many reasons why my 2015 events didn't work out as planned, and looking at my stats the lower walking mileage of 504 could be one of them.

Interestingly, in 2014 where my walking and total mileage were the highest I ended up retiring from the Parish Walk at Maughold, so more miles certainly doesn't mean a better chance of finishing.

So, for now my challenge remains to walk 2,016 kilometres, or 1,250 miles.  Hopefully my numbers now show that this is still a pretty significant increase from previous years for me, but hopefully not so big that I over train and fail to achieve one or, even worse, both of my goals.

Okay, so on to progress so far.  Lots of stats here for those that are interested:

Date + Route Challenge
Time Average
Elevation Gain
Elevation Loss
Calories HR
1st Jan Unplanned rest day on account of drinking far too much on new years eve.
2nd Jan
11.00 17.70 0.00 02:11:28 11:57 5.0 319 290 1,304 2 149
3rd Jan Rest day
4th Jan
5.50 8.85 0.00 01:01:20 11:09 5.4 137 126 720 3 158
5th Jan
7.50 12.07 0.00 01:31:59 12:16 4.9 169 160 868 1 138
6th Jan Rest day
7th Jan
6.00 9.66 0.00 01:06:40 11:06 5.4 4 4 741 2 149
Week 1 30.00 48.28 0.00 05:51:27 629 580 3,633
TOTAL 30.00 48.28 0.00 05:51:27 629 580 3,633
Remaining 1,220 1,968

So a good start to the challenge so far, more than I would normally do in the first week of January so hopefully that's a good thing!

If you are wondering how I gained more elevation than I lost, it's because I don't start/stop my Garmin in exactly the same place.  I thought it would be useful to show these elevation numbers to illustrate how the average pace/speed changes in order to maintain constant heart rate. 

I did 2 sessions in Zone 2 (Endurance) and managed an average HR of 149 for both, but the ups and downs around Baldwin resulted in a much slower pace than the flat NSC.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Your pace or mine? Follow your heart!

Knowing what pace to train at is something I always struggle with.  

I will start a training session with a target pace in mind, but after a few miles the plan goes out of the window and I’m just pushing as hard as I can.  

I have the same problem with races too, starting too fast and then suffering later on.  You can sometimes get away with this over the shorter distances (5 to 10k), with the faster start countering the slower finish, but it’s much harder to get away with this over longer distances.  

The ideal race strategy is a "negative split" where the second half is slightly quicker than the first, something I have never managed to achieve!  The longer the distance, the harder it is to achieve.

I always try to follow a hard/easy approach, pushing hard one day, and easy the next, but then I start to panic that my easy pace is too easy and before I know it I’m pushing hard again!

Too much hard training and not enough recovery just leads to burnout and is a fast path towards injury.  It can also be very de-motivating as no matter how hard you push you can’t seem to go any quicker and often just get slower.

As the saying goes, you don’t improve your fitness from the act of training itself but rather the recovery afterwards as your muscles repair, adapting and growing stronger and more resilient.

Heart Rate Training (HRT) is something I have tried a few times over the years, and I really enjoy it.  It brings real focus to a training session, ensuring you always train at a pace that’s right for you rather than following a generic ‘cookie cutter’ plan.

I think the science and theory behind it is solid and I do see my fitness improve over just a few short weeks of following it, but then for some reason I drift back into my old ways, the monitor stays at home and I’m back out pushing as hard as I can.

There are many types of HRT methods, and the one that I have always followed is based on Heart Rate Reserve rather than Maximum Heart Rate, so I’m going to start following that method again.  

Before diving into the detail I just want to say that I am no expert on heart rate training and I can't say if my method is the best one to use, but I have used it before, I have seen good results, so I'll stick with what I know.

The approach is simple.  You try to maintain a constant/steady Target Heart Rate (THR) during each training session.  With the reserve method, the THR is a percentage of your heart rate reserve, which is calculated as the difference between your max heart rate (MHR) and your resting heart rate (RHR).  You then add your resting heart rate back on again:

THR = ((MHR-RHR) * Percentage) + RHR

As an example, my MHR is 187 and my RHR is 52, so if I want to train at 60% my THR is ((187-52) * 0.6) + 52 = 133 bpm.  I then try to stay as close to that for the session.

There are many different theories on ‘Zones’ too, but the ones I follow are:

Zone 1 (Easy, e.g. recovery walks)                                    = 60%        i.e. 133 bpm
Zone 2 (Endurance, e.g. long walks)                                 = 70%        i.e. 146 bpm
Zone 3 (Stamina, e.g. Lactate Threshold/Tempo walks)   = 80%        i.e. 160 bpm
Zone 4 (Strength/Speed, e.g. Hills/Intervals)                    = 85%+      i.e. 167+

My Zones are actually +/- 5%, so Zone 1 is actually 55-65%, Zone 2 is 65-75% and Zone 3 is 75% to 85%, but I find it easier just to remember the 4 numbers above and then allow myself to go +/- 5 or 6 bpm either side.

It may look complicated, but once you have calculated those 4 numbers based on your own max and resting heart rate you just need to remember them.  You don’t need to calculate them every time you go out for a training session.  Just write them down and stick them to the fridge door!

It is worth monitoring your resting heart rate every few weeks though as this should come down as your fitness improves, but your max heart rate shouldn’t really change (although it will generally decrease with age).

The aim is to ensure you spend most of your session in the right zone.  This can be very frustrating with the number of hills we have here, and quite often I have to back right off going uphill to keep the HR down, or push extra hard downhill to get my HR up.

You shouldn't aim for an average heart rate over a session either, and by that I mean doing a mile at 130 bpm and another mile at 160 bpm to give an average of 145.  You should look for a constant 145 over the 2 miles.

Now it’s just a case of building a training schedule around these 4 zones.  If you are training for long distance, such as the Parish, most of your training should be Zone 1 and 2.   

It's spending time on your feet that's more important for long distance walking, so don't worry too much about zones 3 and 4 for now.

As your fitness improves you should find you can walk quicker and/or for longer for the same level of effort (heart rate).

I will keep you updated how things progress over the coming months, but in the meantime if you are in the same position and struggle to know what pace to train at then why not give Heart Rate Training a go!