Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Making progress

After crossing the finish line in Dublin I was actually in a conundrum. For at least a year I had known perfectly well that I was capable of running 3:30, and I knew that if I trained hard enough, I would reach that goal sooner or later. The problem therefore was, what next? Would I be able to continue improving? Or had I reach a plateau from where I would slowly degrade as I’m dragging my ageing body from race to race? But I’m not one to mull around, and after two weeks break I got stuck into training once more. I made a few changes, and now, 5 weeks later, I can already see some benefits.

I’m getting close to my mileage target, and this week has three runs with double-digit mileage. Thus I dragged myself out of bed excruciatingly early on Monday morning for a recovery 10 mile run. If you’ve ever followed the Pfitzinger plan you know that recovery runs are short (4-6 miles) runs that are run very slowly (9:30-ish for me). Lydiard does things differently; his recovery runs are much longer. I remember once querying Mike in disbelief about an 18-mile recovery run he had just finished. I’m not at that mileage yet, but Monday’s 10-mile recovery run was definitely by far the longest “recovery” I’ve ever attempted. I was unsure how fast I should run. I just concentrated on striding relaxed and easy. I knew that I was quite a bit faster than on the old Pfitzinger-style recovery run, but at no time did I feel that I was going faster than I should.

When I got home, I checked my HR and blurted out “bloody hell!”. A heart rate of 142 might not be very low for the likes of Andrew, but I certainly have never even come close to such a low rate for a run at faster than 9:00 pace. This is a remarkable jump (fall?) in my HR in only 5 weeks of training. I attribute it to the 7-days running week, but I’m definitely surprised at the apparently rapid progress I seem to be making.

Today was a different kind of run, faster and shorter. I opted for the water witch loop, but ran it clockwise rather than the counter-clockwise loop that I’ve done on every occasion so far. This meant that the mile-long climb was from mile 3.5 to 4.5, rather than from mile 1.5 to 2.5. It was so foggy that I initially struggled to make out the road and had to concentrate on not running off into the bog by mistake. It was also rather cold, maybe 3C/37F, but if you take the wind chill into account it felt a good bit colder than that. I should have worn pants rather than shorts, and a second layer on top, because I felt uncomfortably cold for most of the run, apart from the climb, when I really had to put in some effort. I checked my HR again when I came home, and in marked contrast to yesterday was slightly dismayed at the low reading. Only 154? I thought I worked harder than that! Running at sub-8:00 pace on such a hilly route does require some effort from me, and I would have expected a HR of around 160 for this. Maybe I’m really getting fitter, but maybe it also means I should push myself harder and harder?

Yet more to ponder.

18 Dec: 10 miles, 1:26, 8:36 pace, avg. HR 142
19 Dec: 6.75 miles, 53:29, 7:55 pace, avg. HR 154


  1. Thomas,

    I don't know your max HR but if that's my HR with that pace. That's very speedy for me :).

    Congrats....so i guess u haven't reach the plateau yet.

  2. I see I was tagged - I'll do it.

    I don't know what to think about the HR thing. It is said that you can train by how you feel - how hard you worked. If you felt like you worked hard and your HR is lower than expected, then maybe you are getting fitter. On the other hand, maybe your HR is telling you you can do more. It is hard to know, isn't it? Did you have more to give?

  3. My 39 cents:

    A rapid HR drop is the surprise lurking for distance runners. You are fitter - which basically means the heart is gathering more oxygen per stroke than before. Thus it doesn't need to beat as fast for the same level of effort. You should now ask yourself exactly what has physically occurred to allow more oxygen delivery? It's not magic.

    So it follows that when you run efficiently, it takes less effort for the heart to deliver the required O2 to burn the molecules of fat and glycogen at a given pace. And... since your max HR hasn't dropped (at least we assume it has not) then yes, there must be more 'room' for harder efforts now that you've freed up some pumping capacity. "Ha!" You exclaim. "Now I can pump even more O2 to the legs to burn even more fuel and go even faster." Yes...

    This is where training at faster paces (3x per week perhaps) becomes more important the more you improve. While you can gain benefits from running at the lower and lower heart rates, you won't realize all of your potential unless you train to become just as efficient at the 160 bpm as you are at 154 bpm. You'll see what I mean when you go to do a 10 miler at 160 bpm.

    So bringing up the effort to match the old training HR seems like a good idea - and it is. Except the first thing that happens is we realize:

    1. It's no fun running at low fuel economy paces (it wears me out)
    2. The rest of my body doesn't seem to be 'improving' at the same rate as my heart - and is now complaining (foot, quads, calves, shins, fatigue, etc.)

    But you can't turn back now. The first stage is done. The HR is dropping, opportunity knocks.

    And above all, keep those miles up! ha ha!

    PS. A better word for 'recovery' in the Lydiard world would be 'balance'. So says Running Times and I think it fits.

  4. I was tagged--got it! It's amzing that your heart rate dropped like that! Good training.

  5. That does it. I definitely want to get a heart rate monitor. I've never used one.
    It sounds like your plan is working perfectly, Thomas. Seven days is tough for some but obviously not for you.

  6. I think you are far from peaking Thomas. Keep up the great running. I imagine we will be reading about many pr's in the future.

  7. As misery loves company, you’ll be happy to know that I’m on the we(s)t coast of Canada and enjoying a barrage of Pacific storms delivering a variety of snow, wind and… rain. The last storm knocked out power to 200,000 homes.

    Keep up the running and be happy knowing that you’re one step ahead of those who decide to stay indoors.

  8. bloody hell is right! and a 10-mile recovery run! yikes!

  9. way to go on the HR training, that rocks.

  10. Thomas ... you are not yet entitled to use the phrase, " ... I’m dragging my ageing body from race to race ... ". You are a long way away from being aged and your readership includes the likes of Mike in Canada and myself who still view you as a young guy. As tired as you may be after a 20 miler, you know nothing about "aging bodies".

    Also, there is no danger of you being anywhere close to a performance plateau. You've got at least 20 years of improvement in you. I watched you go through the Pfitz plan and followed along right behind you. You've done a remarkable job getting below 3:30 and I suspect you'll just continue to improve as you mature as a runner. You just keep getting better and better. Thanks for taking us along for the ride.

    Sorry about screwing up this comment on the first attempt.

  11. Wow, what a progress!!! Gawd, I need to start been more scientific! I keep promising to take my husband to keep me honest...man! Run on! I am psyched for you!