I’ve begun to explore the art and science of heart rate- based training. I like what I’ve seen so far- so much so, in fact, that I’m going to use it to prepare for both of my spring races (the Sarasota Half Marathon on March 17, 2013 and the Mississauga Half on May 5, 2013).
Why the new training model, when the one I used to prepare for the Scotiabank Toronto Marathon worked so well?
First, there’s always the discovery of a new tool, and the desire to make it part of the ongoing “experiment of one. ” That’s something that’s always excited me, and something that’ll always be part of my journey.
Second, there’s the Garmin Forerunner 210 I acquired a while ago. It’s a great little peice of technology, and I’m already seeing how analysis of the data it provides about my runs – particularly over an extended period of time – will inform and enhance my training.
And last, well, I’ve become hooked into wondering how much I can push the performance parameters of my half marathon races. As I’ve said before, the half is my favourite race distance, so it’ll be interesting to use heart training training to explore the distance’s potential. If I can improve my PBs to any significant degree, then I’ve learned something important about my body, how it works, and what it’s capable of doing.
OK, enough of the backstory. Now, more about heart rate training…
“The beauty of heart rate training is that it relies on a system (your cardio-vascular system) that reflects your overall state of stress 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It reflects when you’re tired, overtrained, sick, cold, or hot, and therefore can guide you in making changes to your plan. More important from an exercise point of view, it provides immediate and consistent feedback about your stress level, intensity level, and rate of adaptation in terms of overall fitness. “
So say Roy Benson and Declan Connolly, authors of Heart Rate Training. In the book, Benson and Connolly show how to determine deficiencies in training and performance, create targeted programs to increase endurance, raise lactate threshold, increase speed and power, and monitor recovery between workouts. The book’s sample programs allow the manipulation of heart rate training components to design an individualized long-term training plan.
Now I’ve got two excellent tools – my own heart and a nifty gadget that allows me to see what my heart is up to!
And the timing for all this is working well. With the Scotiabank Toronto Marathon all done, I’m in a transtion/base-building period until I start training for those two spring half marathons. At the end of a season, I usually dither for a while before settling into a new routine. I “play run” for a while, get in a few treadmill runs as the weather gets cooler, and get my head squared away for a winter of training. That means a lot of treadmill runs, some outdoor runs (once or twice a week, until the snow comes, anyway), and regular sessions in the gravel bucket. This time, I’m doing my runs – most of them outdoors, because the weather’s been good – at a slow and easy MAF (Most Aerobic Functioning) pace. That means I’m running at under 20% of my maximum heart rate, for whatever distances I happen to run. The point of the exercise is to build aerobic fitness, not to build speed or strength. Those will come later.
Here’s where the Garmin comes in. On each of those runs, I wear the Garmin and an HR monitor chest belt, and set the Garmin to show my heart rate. I always run at my target HR (which happens to be ~120 bpm), and I can already see, after only three weeks of following this regime, that my aerobic fitness has improved.
How do I know that? Because when I started, running at a steady 120 bpm HR meant I was running at a 7:30 min/km or so pace. This morning, I ran 8K at an average HR of 120 bpm, at a 7:03 pace. I’m getting faster while my heart’s working at the same calm, easy rate. That’s building an aerobic base, and is the foundation upon which I’ll later lay on speed and strength workouts, all of them targeted at specific heart rate zones.
This is fun! It’s got data (which I love), slow running (which I excel at), and the promise of steady improvement, all based on solid and demonstrable science. That’s going to make following the winter training program, which I’ll start in early December, both doable and enjoyable. Have to like it when things works out that way!
Do you follow a heart rate-based training plan? If you do, tell me about it. If you don’t, would you like to? Tell me why!