Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Seven Phases of Heart-Rate Training


So you've decided to start heart-rate training (HRT). Congratulations! Or you've been training and you've hit a rough patch, and need a little encouragement. Since I discovered it through the work of Dr. Phil Maffetone several years ago I have enjoyed great success with it, and I've seen others also enjoy the benefits.

But, HRT can be a bit challenging. The key to HRT is that most of your workouts are, well, easy. But the mental part of it can be tough, especially if you're a hard-charging Type A personality.  Extremely challenging!

So I thought I'd lay out the seven phases of HR training to help those who might think they're the only ones feeling that way, and help them get through the tough parts. (This is written from a beginner's perspective, a world-record athlete like Zach Bitter may jump directly to Horror, as he already has a base.)

1. Anticipation

You've read about the amazing success that some athlete (Mark Allen, etc.) has achieved on the Maffetone Method, and you're raring to go. You've probably done your first run or two, and you're thinking to yourself, this is easy! It's great! I can totally do this, I'll be setting a Personal Record (PR) in no time! Enjoy it while it lasts, because what comes quickly after is:

2. Hatred

"You've got to be kidding me!", you say as your HR monitor (HRM) goes off for the umpteenth time on that run or ride, telling you you're going too fast, and you need to slow down. You already thought you were going slow! And now you have to slow down even more? This is insane! My most clear memory of hating the Method and Dr. Maffetone personally was when I was going up a 21-degree grade, and I literally could not walk slowly enough to keep my HR under the target I was using. "The heck with Dr. Phil, I need to get home!" Take this as consolation: if you're doing it right, you will hate it at the beginning. So it's a good sign.

3. Resignation

This is, without a doubt, the toughest part. If you're going to bail from HR training, you're going to do it here. You'll have thoughts that this was a mistake, and you'll go re-read the material on the Method to make sure that you're doing it correctly. You are. It's not that hard, you really can't mess it up. You just need to resign yourself that it, well, sucks, at the beginning.

4. Acceptance

If you can accept that this is how it should be, and accept the notion that what you've discovered in 2 and 3 is that your engine is broken, and this is how you fix it, you'll make it through. You'll also begin to enjoy the easy pace, and begin to anticipate your HR readings. You'll start walking before the HRM goes off when you reach a hill. You'll love the fact that you can train every day, and that you won't suffer any problems from training. You'll miss your friends you used to train with, but you'll be seeing some gains, and you'll be in it for the long haul.

5. Horror

Yes, Horror. After you've come to accept and even enjoy the slow and easy pace, the moment will come when you're walking up a hill and your HRM alert will go off. You'll look down, as you're surprised that you've gone over your HR target, as you'd become pretty adept at anticipating it. But you're not over the target, you're below the bottom of the range. You have to speed up. Soon you'll notice that you have to speed up going down hills, as you've gone through the bottom of the range. You'll find you have to start running going up hills! Then you'll find that you're pushing the pace to stay in the range.  Yes, this is what you hoped for, but you'll realize that you've strapped a coach to your wrist, and he's starting to crack the whip. The easy times are beginning to end, your legs are beginning to get sore at the end of runs, and you're working! Egads!

6. Exhilaration

My moment of exhilaration came when I ran a race during my first year of HR training. I'd done some good times, PRs, and was quite happy. But I came down sick during the last race, and had to walk back to the finish line. It was pretty disappointing. I'd already paid for this race, and wasn't sure if I was over the bug. But I figured I'd run it anyway, so I ran at an easy pace, and just enjoyed the trails. But when I got to the finish line, I had PR'ed! Without even trying! This was fantastic!

7. Success

I had many successes, as during that first year I ran 9 races, was sick for two and didn't finish, but PR'ed in the other 7, breaking all my records. I was pretty stoked. This was the last race of the season for me, a half-marathon on a hilly course in my home town. The last two miles were uphill! At the beginning I ran with a friend who was a good bit faster than me, and as I was pacing myself, he slowed down so we could chat. When we got to the hills and I slowed down he dropped me and headed out of sight. Oh well. The halfway mark was at the bottom of a long downhill stretch, and I caught back up to my friend. We again ran together for a little bit, and this time I dropped him. Over the second half of the course, I gained 10 minutes, and finished with a PR, eclipsing my PR from a 1/2 four months earlier on a flat course. Not only had I beaten my fast friend by 10 minutes, but it was the easiest race I'd ever run. I was so well fat-adapted at this point that I had my end-of-race coffee, and then forgot to eat for four hours.

Needless to say, after that first year I've stuck with heart-rate training. My consistency has wavered, affecting my pace, but I know that I have a solid recipe for success for whenever I need it. It turned me from a reluctant runner for health reasons into a runner who runs because he loves to. It's been a real gift!

The most valuable lesson has been that when I waver from using HR as a guide, that's when I get myself into trouble. But that's another post.

Enjoy, and stick it out. It will be worth it!

P.S. Since the question was asked, I use a Garmin Forerunner 225, original model. It's fine as a running watch, the main feature I wanted was the wrist-based HRM. I'll never go back to the chest strap!