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Training For the Half Marathon
In this article, I want to serve up the meat and potatoes of using heart rate as the primary training guide for a half marathon. For the past 15 years, I have desperately tried to “skew” the explanation for the physical adaptations that occur when heart rate is consistently used in training. I am reminded over and over again to use the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle when I try to explain these concepts to my clients. Here, finally, I think we have succeeded in achieving this goal.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, we need two things; first, is a reliable heart rate monitor. I am personally invested in Polar. They have the widest variety of monitors on the market. My favorite model for serious racers is the RS800sd. The reason I prefer this monitor is because of the very detailed information it can provide such as speed, distance, cadence, stride rate and of course all heart rate related data. This monitor is a little pricey, selling for around $499.00 retail. If that’s a bit too much for your budget, my next best bet is the RS400sd which provides all of the aforementioned details minus the cadence and stride speed. Other cheaper monitors are available as you lose some functionality and the price drops significantly. A word of warning; Don’t mess around with these valuable features, once you get used to using heart rate while you train you’ll become addicted to feedback, the more the better. As they say “it’s better to spend a little more than you planned than a little less than you should”.
Next, we need to establish some basic parameters, namely your anaerobic threshold and your maximum heart rate. Your anaerobic threshold is the line in the sand so to speak, between your body’s energy systems. Further called your “AT”, the point that defines when you have stopped accessing your fat stores and are now completely drawing down your sugar stores for energy. This information is essential as it defines the intensity of your overall workout.
In a perfect world, to arrive at this invaluable information, you need a VO2 max test. We perform these tests daily in our lab for runners, triathletes, and fitness enthusiasts interested in weight management. This approach is highly recommended. On the other hand, if your budget is tight, the best approach is to use predictive metrics. Unfortunately, a multitude of variables can affect accuracy, but it’s easy and costs you nothing.
The formula I would suggest goes like this; simply subtract your age from 180 to arrive at a baseline heart rate threshold and infuse more or less 5 beats per minute depending on your current fitness level, for example:
- If you are new to running and this is your first long event, do not accumulate or subtract points.
- If you missed training or recovered from a virus, subtract 5 points.
- If you have been running and healthy for 6 months, add 5 points.
Your newly created “AT” serves as the core of your training plan. Once you have that value, you now need to lay down a one mile “AT” time trial. To do this, simply go to your local track, warm up and run until you reach your “AT” heart rate and start timing yourself at that heart rate for exactly one mile. This test is important because it will serve as a progress report throughout your training.
Once this is done, it is a good time to also determine a maximum heart rate. This can be done by running to your maximum effort, recovering for about thirty seconds and repeating this process about 3-4 times. The highest attainable heart rate is a fairly close indication of your maximum heart rate.
Now that we’re empowered to manage heart rate responses, it’s time to apply them to the four main training stimuli.
Example:Sally is 40 years old and healthy and has been training for a year. She subtracts 180-40 = 140bpm, would add 5bpm for her fitness level and arrive at an AT of 145bpm
Then Sally did a field test and found that she could not exceed a maximum heart rate of 180 bpm with this information, we can now start creating the correct intensity for each training stimulus.
- A B -135-145bpm “aerobic base training” performed for a long duration below the anaerobic threshold.
- TMS– 110-170 bpm “motor skill development” interval training that focuses on improving economy at speed.
- LT– Training at 140-160 bpm “lactate tolerance” which is analogous to running pace efforts with controlled recovery.
- AR– 120-130 bpm “active recovery” low intensity workout that promotes recovery and readiness to return to training soon.
Getting these training components right will prepare you for almost any endurance event. It’s not rocket science, varying the intensity and duration is nothing new. However, as they say “the devil is in the details”. Instead of using pace, distance and time to govern your training, you are now using critical feedback from your body’s pump (the heart) to dictate the intensity, duration and recovery timing of your efforts. . Keep in mind that your central nervous system is the boss; it regulates bodily functions to protect and serve. Trying to follow a program that ignores this bio-feedback will never be as effective.
Arrange the schedule according to my level of aptitude
The primary concept of an endurance program is to gradually build “resistance to fatigue”. Our model ensures that all relevant elements of your training are incorporated into your daily, weekly and monthly schedule.
Once you understand and can conceptualize what I have done here, you are able to adjust workloads, days off, etc. depending on your lifestyle and responsibilities.
How do I assess my level of experience?
With running, it’s always better to go wrong with less than more mileage in your planning. After all, you can always increase your mileage, but if you do too much too soon, you risk injury.
The following training mileage/duration recommendations should adequately place most runners in a pattern that works well for a successful outcome. Keep in mind that in our training, your main concern is the amount of time committed to each specific element of training NOT to mileage. Your mileage increases in proportion to your improvements over time.
Beginner 3.0-4.5 hours per week (about 18-25 miles per week)
Intermediate 4.5-6.0 hours per week (approximately 25-40 miles per week)
Advanced 6.0-8.0+ hours per week (about 40-60+ miles per week)
BE CONSERVATIVE Do not take on more work than you are physically ready to do. You can always add mileage, but you cannot subtract injury or overtraining once it occurs.
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