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!