Heart Rate Training and Racing, Hard To Beat!
Posted on May 11 2021
There is a lot to be said about training and racing by making reference to your hear rate. A systematic approach can help bring sustained improvement to your training and help you manage your way through a difficult race like a Marathon.
We first of all asked our "Getting into Running" session leader, Elliot, how he explains the approach and benefits to people who join his group. We then go on to talk about how running on heart rate can be used in a race.
When we first get into running, we almost always run before we learn to walk! A bit confusing? Indeed! Because, as much as we think running fast will improve our fitness, instead, it will almost certainly lead us to over exertion, or worse, injury.
If you are new to running, you may not have heard of Heart Rate Training Zones.
They compartmentalize your heart rate efforts into 5 boxes. Though there are different formulas to calculate your training zones, for simplicity, let’s use 220 – your age.
Once you have your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR), you can figure out your Heart Rate according to the zones below.
1. Zone 1. Very Easy. 50-60% of your MHR.
2. Zone 2. Easy. 60-70% of your MHR.
3. Zone 3. Moderate. 70-80% of your MHR.
4. Zone 4. Hard. 80-90% of your MHR.
5. Zone 5. Very Hard. 90-100% of your MHR.
Now, of all 5 zones, 80% of your running should be done in Zone 2, aka, “you can hold a conversation” zone.
If you do the math… the first thing that comes to mind is: This can’t be right??
Well, since I am not a coach, nor a doctor, and far from a man of science, I thought it’d be best you heard from my coach and ultra-running professional Casey Morgan, about what training in Zone 2 actually means!:
“Zone 2 requires patience and the ability to put your ego to one side. If you can be really disciplined in the initial stages the benefits will come, your pace will increase at your zone 2 effort and you'll be a stronger, more efficient runner. It's important to remember that you're not only improving in zone 2, with a bigger aerobic engine you're also going to be faster at higher intensities as you become more efficient at utilising oxygen. Stay patient people!” Casey Morgan – Coach Trainingfortrail (He is also part of our Gone Runners Training Staff and you can check out his training offers HERE: http://bit.ly/GRTrainingAndCoaching)
So, this should be great news. We don’t need to run fast to reap the benefits, and yet, for most of us, we train well above the Z2 limits which are simply unsustainable.
This reminds me of this runner I knew. He was running 70km+ a week, of which were flat moderate to hard runs, or hilly hard to very hard runs, 5-6 days a week. He always looked tired, and he finally got injured.
Now that same runner clocks 120+kms a week, of which 100kms are easy runs, and 20kms are hard to very hard runs, hilly or flat, running in average of 6-7 days a week. He looks far less tired and adds in core exercises 3-4 times a week for good measure.
And that runner is me.
So, though everybody is different, and the point of this blog is not to have you running 100+kms a week, if you learn to walk (zone 2 training) before you run, you will find yourself running stronger and faster in the long run.
.... So what about using heart rate for Racing?
For many years I ran marathons and grew increasingly frustrated with my performance and so finally I brought on a coach (Mark Sharp) who got me into a more scientific way of thinking about marathon running.
My problem always was, the same as for many marathon runners, a complete disintegration from around 30k onwards. It wasn't pleasant, it was always painful and while I wanted to break 3 hours the closer I got the more difficult it seemed.
"You are hitting the wall"..... "start off slower"..... yes of course but how and how slow is slow and is that the only reason?. Lots of questions.
Mark got me thinking about the way I consumed available energy in my body, the stored glycogen in particular that we all have at the start of a race. This is the most accessible and easily converted form of energy. When that is used up, your body will look for fat to convert, which is much harder.
Crossing that boundary can be felt and it is what a lot of marathon runners experience as "hitting the wall".
The challenge for marathon running is that you really are looking to push the enveloped to the absolute extreme and finish the race totally depleted of your fast and easily accessible energy source which you need to maintain your pace at close to your aerobic threshold. Unlike Ultrarunning, which is all about not reaching that level of depletion, in a marathon you are much closer to the edge.
This energy source of course can be measured in calories and most references will say that the human body can hold around 2600 to 3000 calories in the form of glycogen. If you have prepared well, this is what you should have available on the start line. When this is depleted, the body switches as mentioned.
Most modern GPS watches will also give you and estimate at any given time how many calories your training run has consumed. This is calculated mostly from your heart rate. For me at the time I established that 11 heart beats equated to 1 calorie.
Fairly logically then the available energy source will fuel so many heart beats and the faster your heart beats, the more calories consumed.
But how to "manage" this ?.
First of all I could actually see that this was true when I looked back at my past marathons and related time, heart rate and calculated the energy consumption. My pace always deteriorated as predicted when these calories were done.
Secondly, your heart rate relative to pace is determined by your training. The fitter you are, the faster (and further) you can run for the same amount of heart beats/calories consumed.
There are a couple of other dimensions too though.
For me, we determined that to maintain a steady pace over a marathon distance it was necessary for my heart rate to increase. We determined this by running 20 laps of a track at a steady heart rate and monitoring the deterioration in pace. This was pretty much a straight line.
We also determined that climatic conditions altered the pace produced for a given heart rate. Anyone who has trained in a HK summer will know the impact high heat and humidity has on pace.
This lead to a few conclusions and guidelines for running a marathon.
1. If you want to maintain a steady pace you will need to let your heart rate increase steadily throughout the race. Through trial and error we determined that to be a 2bpm increase per 5km throughout the marathon.
2. From the analysis in training we did know what a realistically usable max heart rate would be and if that was to be the HR in say the last 5km of the marathon that meant working back to calculate the HR to start off at. For me that was 150bpm to finish close to 178 bpm at the end of the marathon.
3. While there is a limit to what you can do to extend the available calories, a specific gel plan can help you slow down the depletion of your easily accessible glycogen. Each gel roughly delivers 100 calories of easily accessible energy so by adding 1 gel every 5km after 10k meant 500 extra calories to get to the finish line!
So this became my marathon execution plan and at my very next marathon (Seoul) I finished in 2:56!. and felt pretty damn fresh.
Over the next few marathons I gradually refined the plan and grew more and more confident until in 2009 I ran the Berlin Marathon in perfect, cool conditions. Following my heart rate plan meticulously I was shocked to see I was well ahead of my target time at half way. If I hadn't had the heart rate plan for reference I would have been very concerned.
I soldiered on and finished in 2:43, very even splits and while tired, certainly not broken. All at the ripe old age of 49.
I ran many times under 3 hours after that and realised that even if the conditions were poor through heat or humidity, I could have faith in the heart rate plan and the pace would be what it would be.
Of course this is only my personal experience and everyone is different but consequently I am a huge fan of using heart rate in training and in racing. See if some of these things work for you!.
If you are interested to get into Heart Rate training and racing we are making you a special offer. Buy any COROS GPS and HR Watch and we will give you $100 hkd off a Heart Rate Chest Strap. While wrist based measurements are good, a chest strap is more accurate.
Check out the COROS selection HERE:-