Sunday, January 25, 2009

Week 4: Review

It was another pretty hostile week weather-wise, although not nearly as bad as last week. While there was some cold to deal with, there wasn't too much snow so it was just a matter of wearing the appropriate clothes and fighting through it. Further, as the temperature rose above freezing this week it helped to melt away a lot of the snow we've accumulated over the last few weeks. As such, I was able to execute all of my running sessions this week at the correct pace. This was especially important on Tuesday, as four of the days eight miles were at a tempo pace that would have been difficult to maintain on snow-covered paths.

In addition, today's 14 miler went quite well (completed in 1:51:38) as the weather cooperated for a change. Temperatures were relatively comfortable in the -11C range, there was little to no wind and the roads and sidewalks were mostly clear. To add the extra mile, I worked in another decent sized hill (about 600m/5% up and ~300m/-9% down) along with a few other minor modifications to fill in the difference. As this was new ground, I was very careful to control my speed; managing a 4:57/km pace and an average heart rate of 151bpm (65% HRR). Mixed with the favourable weather, this translated into a relatively comfortable run.

As for cycling and walking, scheduling was again a little complicated this week so I failed in get all of the scheduled sessions in. With that said, I did push a little harder on my cycling sessions this week to try and make up for the lost mileage. I will naturally have to focus on getting them all in this week, but we'll have to see how reality lines up on that front ;)

Weekly Totals:
Running: 64.3km (40mi)
Walking: 15.4km (10mi)
Cycling: 60km (37mi)
Total: 140km (87mi)

Year to Date:
Running: 261.9km (162.8mi)
Walking: 85.4km (53.5mi)
Cycling: 335.0km (207.9mi)
Total: 682.6km (424.2mi)

This upcoming week is a modest increase, with an extra mile on Wednesday and again on Sunday. While I was a bit concerned about how well I'd deal with the mileage increase, things went quite well this week so the 15 miler next week shouldn't be too challenging. The one thing I will have to start worrying about is the nutrition aspect, as my mileage is beginning to get to the point where it will be necessary to take in fuel during the race.

Upcoming Week:
Mon 50K Cycle
Tue 8mi (12.9K) w/10x100m
Wed 30K Cycle + 5mi (8K) Recovery
Thurs 10mi (16.1K) Steady
Fri 50K Cycle
Sat 4mi (6.4K) Recovery
Sun 15mi (24.2K) LSD

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Heart Rate Training

I was asked by one of the instructors at my local Running Room shop to give a talk on heart rate training, and I delivered it on Tuesday. I began using a heart rate monitor about 16 months ago when I was still in my power walking regime, so I've made heavy use of this technology for the duration of my running career. Being a technically minded individual, I've dug up all of the information that I can on this topic and figured that this would be a good opportunity to share what I've learned. As I did the work to compile this information, I figured that I'd upload a copy of my notes and the handout to this blog in case someone else might find the information handy.

Running is naturally an aerobic sport, and performance is primarily governed by your body’s ability to move oxygen from the air and get it to your muscles. Heart rate monitors are tools designed to allow you to objectively monitor the performance of the systems responsible for this task. This, in turn, allows you to make sure you are getting the most out of your training.

There are three basic variables that control the quantity of oxygen that your cardiovascular system can transport. Firstly, the composition of your blood determines how much oxygen it can carry in a given volume. Secondly, your stroke volume determines the amount of blood that your heart moves in each beat. Finally, your heart rate determines the number of beats per minute.

The first two parameters are basically fixed in nature. With sustained training, they will improve, but that process occurs over the period of weeks and months. As such, your heart rate is the only mechanism that your body has to adapt to short-term demands. By monitoring this value, like watching the tachometer in your car, you can objectively determine your training intensity at any given time.

Unlike a car, however, the human body can adjust itself to deal with changing demands. When your systems are repeatedly put under stress, they will make adaptations to better deal with those stressors in the future. Training programs, such as the one that you are following now, stress your body in a controlled manner in order to trigger a specific set of adaptations suited to the target race.

The catch, however, is that the adaptations that the body makes are very specific to the stresses that are applied. Each of the different types of runs in your schedule has different objectives, so it is critical that they are done at the correct intensity. If they are done too hard or too easily, they will trigger different adaptations than intended and leave you improperly prepared when it comes to race day.

The tricky part of this is that it is often difficult to figure out exactly what the correct intensity is. Trying to tie it down to a specific pace is problematic as the mapping between intensity and pace is dependent on a number of variables. Further complicating this, as your fitness improves you will be able to run at faster paces at a given intensity.

Naturally, this is exactly the reason why heart rate monitors were created. By targeting specific heart rates during your runs, you will be able to precisely target the correct intensity and trigger the intended adaptations. As you get stronger, your heart rate for a given pace will become lower, allowing you to see when you need to step things up a bit to keep the stressor in place.

To simplify this process, physiologists have developed a structure composed of five different heart rate zones. Each zone encompasses a range of heart rates, and carries with it specific training characteristics. Nearly all modern HRMs provide tools to determine which zone you are in, as well as to analyze how much time is spent in each. Naturally, depending on what you are trying to achieve, the importance of each zone to your training program will vary.

The lowest zone on this scale, zone 1, is for extremely low intensity work such as a light walk or slow jog. Naturally, it produces little stress on your body, and therefore produces little to no training benefit in and of itself. With that said, it does serve to get the blood flowing and helps to warm up your tissues prior to heavier work. Similarly, at the end of the workout it is also potentially useful for clearing excess lactate from muscle tissues. As such, this zone is primarily used for the warmup and cooldown segments of your workouts.

The next step up the ladder is zone 2, which generally represents the bottom edge of what is considered aerobic exercise. For most people, running in this zone will require a conscious effort to slow yourself down and is basically akin to the long-slow distance runs that you do on Sundays. Due to this, it is often the most under-appreciated zone despite its critical role in improving a runner’s efficiency.

The energy that your body needs is provided from two primary sources – carbohydrates and fats. The former is naturally the ideal fuel; however your body can only store a maximum of about 2500 Calories in this form at any given time. The later, on the other hand, provides energy at a much slower rate; however each pound of fat can provide about 3500 Calories. If you are carrying 30 lbs of fat, for instance, that translates into a store of 105,000 Calories at your disposal. As such, when it comes to long distance running your ability to make use of that energy becomes critical to your success.

Whenever you run, your body burns a mixture of these two fuels. The higher your heart rate, the larger the percentage of carbohydrates you will consume. In zone 2, the majority of your energy is drawn from your fat stores. Because of this, spending time in this zone stresses the metabolic pathways responsible for burning fat. Over time, this will improve the efficiency of these systems and, in turn, allow a larger percentage of your energy to be drawn from your fat stores even at higher intensities.

For endurance sports, this is a critical adaptation as significant depletion of your carbohydrate stores becomes more and more likely as the length of your runs get longer. While complete depletion is unlikely in the half-marathon distance, it takes some time to regenerate those supplies between training sessions so it can negatively affect your ability to train properly. Every Calorie of energy that comes from fat is a Calorie that remains in your carbohydrate reserves, allowing you to recover for the next session faster.

Moving up another level, zone 3 is generally the range where people will naturally run without any conscious effort to control pace. This relates to the steady runs in your training schedule and will generally provide the bulk of the mileage that you rack up on a weekly basis. Running in this zone begins to stress the cardiovascular system, and triggers the body to make a number of changes to improve the transport of oxygen to the muscles. Primarily, it increases the density of capillaries in the muscles responsible for running, making it easier to get oxygenated blood to your muscle fibers. Secondly, it builds the strength of your heart muscles; thereby increasing the amount of blood it can pump with each beat (the stroke volume, mentioned above). This, in turn, means that your heart rate can run at lower levels for a given output level – allowing you to run faster in each of the zones covered here. As such, these adaptations are critical to pretty much every type of running and form an important part of any training plan.

Next up is zone 4, which is likely one of the most important zones for the half marathon distance. Running in this zone will typically require you to push yourself to maintain the pace; however it is slow enough that you can sustain it for significant distances. As such, this is the level that you will typically run races longer than 10K (including the half marathon). With that said runs in this zone take a lot out of you and will require significant recovery time, so there are limits to how much mileage you can accumulate in it.

This zone represents the level at which you begin to reach the limits of your ability to supply sufficient oxygen to your muscles. When this happens, your body must rely on its anaerobic pathways. This produces a byproduct called lactate that will accumulate as long as the oxygen deficit persists. When it builds up to a sufficient concentration, it causes pain and will begin to negatively affect the ability of your muscles to produce power.

Fortunately, your body is capable of clearing this substance from your blood in parallel with its production allowing you to push a little harder than you would otherwise be capable of. As such, there is a point within this zone called the lactate threshold where the rate at which lactate is produced exceeds the capacity of your body to clear it out of your system. When you run at or below this level, you will be able to sustain it for an extended period. If, however, you exceed this threshold, lactate will build up and eventually force you to slow down. The further you go beyond the threshold, the faster that this will become an issue.

As with the other zones, training at this threshold triggers a number of adaptations that will help to improve your ability to run at race pace. Primarily, it stresses the metabolic pathways responsible for processing lactate in your bloodstream. This, in turn, results in improvements in these systems that allow you to clear it faster and more efficiently – pushing the threshold to higher intensity levels. Secondly, repeated exposure to significant concentrations of lactate will trigger your tissues to develop a tolerance to it. This, in turn, will increase the concentrations necessary to cause problems and allow you to run beyond the threshold for a longer period of time.

Your lactate threshold is the primary physiological characteristic that will determine how fast you will be able to run long distance races like the half marathon. As such, training sessions focused on working in this zone, such as your tempo runs, are critical to getting the most out of your goal race. While they don’t represent a huge portion of your weekly mileage, it is important that you focus on running them at the correct intensity.

Finally, we come to zone 5, which represents maximal effort exercise such as speedwork and hill training. At these intensities, you will accumulate blood lactate very quickly so you cannot sustain it for very long. Exercise in this zone will increase the maximum volume of oxygen (VO2Max) that your body can transport, and it helps to trigger a number of adaptations that increase your maximum speed. Working out in this zone is critical for short distance races like the 5K and 10K (as this is the zone you will race them in), however its utility is somewhat limited for endurance distances like the marathon and half marathon so I won’t go into any further details.

With the basics covered, I’ll move along to the equipment itself. Heart rate monitors operate by using a simplified electrocardiogram device that wraps around your chest. Two small sensor pads capture the electrical activity within your heart, and a small microprocessor then processes that data. The resulting information is then relayed to a wrist unit, which provides a real-time readout of this value, allowing you to use this value as feedback to adjust your training.

With all but the most basic units, this data is also recorded in on-board memory and can often be uploaded into a computer for post-run analysis. Further, higher-end models also possess the ability to monitor other parameters such as pace, distance and elevation providing the heart rate plots with critical context. These capabilities are nearly as important as the real-time displays, as it allows you to look back at your runs and evaluate what you did right and what you did wrong. In addition, it allows you to precisely monitor your progress over the long term and determine the effectiveness of your training regime.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Week 3: Review

The weather this week was pretty nasty, with ambient temperatures staying down in the -20C range. While there wasn't a lot of snow until last night, the road salt used around here becomes ineffective below -16C so the roads and sidewalks were in pretty bad condition. Fortunately, the wind wasn't too bad on most of the days so the windchill only got down to about -25C - cold, but not as bad as some of the days in December. With that said, I skipped a few of my scheduled walks on account of the cold as it's more difficult to stay warm at lower intensity levels.

Things did warm up significantly last night, however along with the increased temperatures came a huge load of snow. While the forecasts were only calling for about 10-15cm, we got a little over a foot of snow up here. Mix in drifting and material plowed off of the roads (and onto the sidewalks), and significant portions of my trails had much more. This naturally made my 13 mile long run quite difficult this morning, as pretty much all of my route was pretty slushy and I had to charge through 3' of snow for a 4km stretch (couldn't safely switch to the road due to the 80km/h speed limit in that section).

As such, I forgot about trying to maintain a set pace and simply ran by heart rate. Naturally, this meant that I was going slower than usual. My overall pace was a pretty sluggish 5:46/km, and I only averaged a 6:49/km pace through that 4km section. Either way, my average heart rate was about 155bpm (67.5% HRR) which put me in about the right area for this type of run. Given that I usually average about a 4:50-5:00/km pace at this intensity, however, that gives you an idea of the conditions of the roads ;)

Regardless of the weather, I managed to get in all of my runs including an extra session on Wednesday as I wanted to get in a run with the group. While I had intended to do a 4mi recovery run, the showing wasn't quite as good as usual so we joined another group doing hill repeats (7x400m@7%). Fortunately, the higher intensity didn't seem to hurt and it was likely good preparation for the Around the Bay race anyway ;)

With respect to the cycling sessions, I had to shorten a couple of them (Mon 50->30km, Wed 30->20km) due to time constraints, however it's likely a good thing as it allowed me to ease back into the mileage on that front. I'll have to focus on getting these miles in as much as possible, as with the weather getting more and more hostile the utility of this training will likely become more significant (especially if I have to miss some running sessions).

Weekly Totals:
Running: 65km (40mi)
Walking: 12km (7mi)
Cycling: 100km (62mi)
Total: 177km (110mi)

Year to Date:
Running: 197.6km (122.8mi)
Walking: 70.0km (43.5mi)
Cycling: 275.0km (170.9mi)
Total: 542.6km (337.2mi)

The weather for the upcoming week is likely to be much warmer, however we're likely going to get a good deal more snow. Fortunately, it should be spread out enough that the city can keep things reasonably clean (assuming the forecasts are correct this time). Either way, not much that can be done other than simply deal with what mother nature throws at us ;)

Aside from that, this week is also going to be breaking new ground as it calls for a 14 mile LSD run on Sunday. Up until this week the longest distance that I've run has been a half-marathon (21.1km/13.1mi), so this signals the beginning of escalating my mileage once again. I've made a good deal of progress over the last few months getting myself prepared for sustained high mileage, however it is good to be exploring new territory once again ;)

Upcoming Week:
Mon 50K Cycle
Tue 8mi (12.9K) w/4mi (6.4K) @ 15K pace
Wed 30K Cycle + 4mi (6.4K) Recovery
Thurs 10mi (16.1K) Steady
Fri 50K Cycle
Sat 4mi (6.4K) Recovery
Sun 14mi (22.5K) LSD

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Week 2: Review

The schedule this week was a little more complicated than expected, which caused me to miss a few of my planned sessions. Naturally, I still managed to perform all of the planned running sessions but my cycling and walking mileage is way down from what was intended. I'll have to focus on getting back into that routine this week, as hopefully things will begin to wind down again soon.

This week also marks the official start to my training for the Mississauga Marathon, using the Pfitzinger-Douglas 18 week/55 mile program. The mileage for the first couple of weeks is a bit lower than I've been doing over the last month or so, meaning that this week was a bit of a step back. With that said, that mileage is spread over fewer runs so most of my individual sessions were longer than I'm used to. Fortunately, everything worked out well this time around so it's just a matter of getting used to the new schedule.

Weather wise, a couple of storms rolled through this week which did make the pathways a bit icy and slowed down some of my runs. Fortunately, I got the speed session in on Tuesday when it wasn't too bad, and the moderation of my pace was likely a good thing as I do have a tendency to do slower sessions a bit faster than I should.

Weekly Totals:
Running: 51.5km (32mi)
Walking: 24km (15mi)
Cycling: 50km (31mi)
Total: 125.5km (78mi)

The weather for the upcoming week looks like it's going to be on the chilly side, but fortunately it doesn't look like there will be too much snow or wind so aside from having to bundle up a little better than usual it shouldn't be too bad. The Pfitzinger schedule calls for about 36 mi this week, although I might throw in an extra recovery session on Wednesday as it's been a while since I've run with the group. As noted above, I'm also going to focus on trying to make sure that I get all of my cycling and walking mileage in this week as I've been slacking off a bit on that lately ;)

Upcoming Week:
Mon 50K Cycle
Tue 8mi (12.9K) w/10x100m
Wed 30K Cycle (4mi Recovery?)
Thurs 10mi (16.1K) Steady
Fri 50K Cycle
Sat 5mi (8K) Recovery
Sun 13mi (20.9K) LSD

Looking ahead, I'm going to have to make a few modifications to the schedule to properly prepare for the Around the Bay race. Primarily, the Pfitzinger program doesn't have any explicit hill repeats, so I'm going to have to work something in to prepare for the hills near the end of this race. I've been working hills into my long runs for a while now, but I'll have to play around with some variations to see what works best on this front. Secondly, I'll likely want to do some tapering prior to the ATB, which may require some small adjustments to the schedule.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

21.1K LSD

As noted in my post yesterday, I'm moving to a Monday-Sunday week from this point on so today's run isn't going to fit into the normal weekly reports. As such, I'm making a separate post for this session in order to keep a proper record of it.

The weather today was a bit cold, but there was little to no wind and no precipitation so with the appropriate clothing it was actually quite nice. The only caveat was that large portions of the route still had a good deal of snow on the ground, and there were a few icy patches that I had to work around. As such, my pace was a good deal slower than I normally do these runs, although it's probably closer to the pace that I should be doing them at.

Other than that, not a whole lot to report. Overall results are as follows:
Total Distance: 21.1km
Total Time: 1:46:15
Average Pace: 5:02/km
Average Heart Rate: 153bpm (63% HRR)

Full Telemetry:

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Week 1: Review

With the holidays rolling down, I was able to get in most of the sessions that were planned so my mileage is back up. The weather this week was a bit unpredictable, and snowcover did slow down a few of my runs, but overall it wasn't too bad. It is obvious that I'm going to need to get some form of ice cleats to deal with the tempo runs during the winter, however, as it has been getting more and more difficult to maintain speed on nasty winter days.

Weekly Totals:
Running: 60km (37.3mi)
Walking: 34km (21.1mi)
Cycling: 125km (77.7mi)
Total: 219km (136.1mi)

I'll be formally starting my training program this week, so my schedule will drop back a little this week (from 37mi to 32mi). Starting on Monday, I will be using the 18 week 55 mile Pfitzinger marathon plan targeting the Mississauga Marathon on May 10th. As this program uses a Monday-Sunday week rather than the Sunday-Saturday scheme I've been using here, I'll be posting a separate review of my long run tomorrow and then begin doing weekly reports with the new weekly structure next Sunday.

The other tricky part with this plan is that it uses imperial measures instead of metric, so I'll have to figure out how to handle that. In the short term, I'll likely stick with metric units and simply create programmed exercises for my Polar with the units manually converted. Longer term, however, I'll have to work on getting myself familiar with imperial measurements when running (ie getting a feel for min/mi vs. min/km).

Upcoming Week:
Sun 21.1K LSD
Mon 50K Cycle
Tue 7mi (11.25K) w/10x100m
Wed (AM/PM) 30K Cycle
Thurs 9mi (14.5K) Steady
Fri 50K Cycle
Sat 4mi (6.5K) Recovery
Sun 12mi (19.25K) LSD

Either way, I'll begin increasing mileage on a weekly basis very soon and will be exploring new ground over the next little while. Up to this point, the longest run that I've ever done has been about 1h48m (21.1km) and over the coming weeks I will be going well beyond that limit. Hopefully my work over the last couple of months has built up a good base to prepare me for this task ;)