Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Low HR Training

So what I'm going to be writing about here is the training program that I have been using mostly on, but sometimes off over the past 28 years. What has brought me back here is my recent increasing fatigue, poor training and knee problems...let me explain how I began and came to this...

Back in 1978 I was training for my first marathon, the NYC marathon and did the training that it seemed everyone was doing. Run as much as you can fit in, but one thing this inexperienced runner didn't know was how to pace. I was running along the Charles River bike path back then and was running as hard as I could every day, figuring that my body would get used to this and eventually get even faster! Ha! It doesn't work this way... I ended up finishing the marathon, running it in 3:45. I felt great, I finished a marathon!

Well, of course now I want to run one faster and luckily I fell into the right training program by finding a small book published by Runner's World called "The Van Aaken Method" by Dr. Ernst Van Aaken. In his writing, Dr. Van Aaken mentioned of rarely going above a HR of 130-150 and possibly lower. Training at these low HR's built a large aerobic engine, which enabled you to go for miles burning fat, instead of sugar. He said that no more than 5% of your training miles should be faster than this pace.

I immediately began running to and from work at slow paces (HR monitors did not exist yet for the average person), running as many miles as I could on the weekend and included one 2.5 mile race every Saturday morning. I was running up and over 70 mpw, but almost all at a slow pace.
One year after my first marathon I ran 2:59 at the 1979 NYC marathon. Hey, this training works! 6 weeks later, most of which was recovering from NY and a few tune-up shorter races, I ran a 2:49:08 at the 1979 Cape Cod Marathon in December.

I was now on to something...soon more books went through my hands and eyes, one being Tom Osler's "Serious Runner's Handbook". This book was also an eye opener, as I learned about Ultrarunning and how Tom would run to the beach, some 50 miles away for training and meet his family there. Almost always running at a slow pace, Tom was another runner that was a champion and a low HR runner. You can read some of his material, which was the basis for his book here and here.

As the years went on I got more into Ultrarunning, but not until the late 90's...before that I had trouble ever getting another PB in the marathon (although I ran many 2:49's, because you had to, to run Boston). This is because I would continually return to the typical interval based training that most good runners use. My best year was 1981, when I was running to and from work, all slow, up to and some weeks beyond 100 mpw. With this I ran a couple of sub 2:50 marathons, a 16:32 5K and a 4:55 mile on the track....all on mostly slow running, but high mileage.

In 2002, I tripped at the Wasatch 100 and injured my back that I thought was my hamstring. In my research for answers on it, I found Phil Maffetone and the work he had been doing with low HR training. I dove in (again) and thoroughly enjoyed running again. I did have trouble running at his extremely low heart rates (this time I had a monitor) because it made me need to walk every hill I got near...but according to Maffetone, stick with it and you will get faster. I did and I did, but not as fast as I wanted. So I looked into it even more and after discussing with a coach who just so happens to be a pro-triathlete, his suggestion was to find my max and run at 70% of that for most of my running. I later found out that Maffetone's formula had me running more at 60%. I at the time thought this was too slow, but I continue to learn. Nate's max HR test, which I did several times over the course of a month had my max at 187, my resting was and still is around 48. So with all of that in order to train at 70%, I had to keep my HR under 141. Maffetone's formula had me at 133, so it's pretty close...

After reading Phil Maffetone's book, I found Stu Mittleman's "Slow Burn". Maffetone was Stu's coach when he was setting Ultrarunning records in the 100 mile and 6 day races. In Slow Burn, Stu said it was ok to go a little above Maffetone's formula numbers, but only by about 5....but he also said that you still gain a lot of endurance and the increased fat burning as fuel at even lower heart rates! Stu also in his book tried to describe how you should feel when fat burning or sugar burning. Fat burning you should feel like you are in a 3D world with sounds of birds and wind, you are very aware of your surroundings. Sugar burning you feel as if you are in a tunnel with the world painted on the walls, streaming by you as you try to fill your lungs with oxygen. I am now in the process of re-reading this book to bring me back to the world of freshness and restfulness. Sometimes I feel like I need to come back once in awhile and I feel the older I get the more I need to come back sooner and sooner.

Another of Phil Maffetone's athletes was the famous Triathlete, Mark Allen. Mark struggled to place in the Ironman until he hooked up with Maffetone, who showed him that his hard training was overtraining! Mark took on Phil's low HR training and had to suffer through slow miles for several months, but soon the 8.5 mpm that he was training at became 5.5mpm, all on slow running. Mark went on to win the Hawaii Ironman 6 times. Here is a great article by Mark. From what I understand another Triathlete, Mike Pigg could not beat Mark Allen....that is until HE started training with Phil Maffetone. ;-)

Ever since Hardrock of last year, which I trained for with a low HR training method, I wanted to see how fast I could get at the age of 57. So what did I did I do? I bought a copy of Peter Pfitzinger's "Advanced Marathoning" . I tried the best I could to implement Pete's training, even at his lower mileage which is about what I usually run, but it wore me down. I almost thought that maybe I was getting too finally happened, after 34 years, running was too much for me! I even failed at two marathon attempts....a year ago after doing nothing but easy training and some 5K's here and there, I cruised through a road marathon in 3:45, qualifying for Boston. After trying some harder training this year, I dropped out of my first marathon with a knee injury and then struggled through another in 3:51. What I learned was it was time to yet again return to what I knew worked for me and has been working for many years, Low HR Training.

Here is a link to a friend of mine's FAQ on Low HR training....lots of good stuff in there...

More links on Low HR training or just HR training...

Hadd who says to train at about 50 bpm below your max.

Matt Carpenter learned that HR training is the way to go...
(Matt is an Olympic Trails marathoner and world class ultramarathoner)


Letsrun discussion on Van Aaken ...
and another

Also here is a good Low HR training discussion forum that I started a couple of years ago on Running Ahead.

I guess that's it for this time....if I think of anything else, I will add it, but this is something that is very debatable in the running circles, but for me it works better than beating myself up. I think if it meant that I could not be competitive anymore, I would still stick with this type of training.
The nice thing about Low HR training is when you're done running you don't feel like you've done anything...which in turn makes you run more, which in turn helps you improve with increased mileage. I've never been one to like things that are instant and Low HR training takes time. Mark Allen in his three months of very Low HR training every year, calls it his patience phase. Try it, you might like it! If you have any questions about it, you can email me at ultrastevep at gmail dot com.

Til next time!
My training log

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spring is in the air?

OK, let's imagine that the last post didn't happen....with time I have been able to think a lot and do know that ultra trail running is my thing, is where I belong and I will participate in this until the day I die. Most of what has been going on with me started with not getting into Hardrock, then Deb talking about not going out to the race (she's in the starting field), which means I will most likely not be going to Silverton this year for the first time (other than the fire year of 2002) since 2000 when I first went out and paced Sue Johnston, all the while cursing Charlie Thorn and John Cappis for the extreme course. Little did I know I would fall in love with the course that weekend and want to be there every year! I went home and told Deb that she just HAD to come out the next year and see this beautiful place...we did and announced our engagement during the race at the Virginius aid station.

This is the photo of us toasting our engagement with chicken soup in styrofoam cups, we were offered a stronger beverage, but had a long way to go so declined.

Well, there's a reason for not going out this year and as hard as it will be to not make the drive to Silverton, as I have been doing every Summer for all of the 2000's, there is a reason and Deb makes all the sense in the world...but I will miss being at Hardrock, Camp Hardrock, the Potlick, The Avon, John and Charlie's long course briefing, the course marking days and all the friends that we have made over the past 9 years.

Our goal is to sell our house this year and move back to New Mexico, which is a good thing because it will get us to within 4.5 hours of Silverton year round! We need to stay here to maintain the house, it's garden and lawn to make it as attractive a house as we can make it. Leaving mid Summer would mean long uncut, brown grass and dead flowers out I still have a lot of work to do on it to make it a worthy purchase.

So back to the real reason for writing this post....yeah I will still run 100's and yeah I will enter Hardrock again next year. A lot of my decisions this year are based on the fact that I really do not enjoy running ultras in the East after running a year of ultras in the West. In 2006 we ran some of the most beautiful races in the world, Zane Gray 50, San Juan Solstice 50, Jemez Mountain Runs, Hardrock and many other smaller local events that are run on a weekly basis. Races like the Massanutten 100 no longer interest me and I knew that after running a good part of the Reverse Ring on the MMT trail, mentioned in the last post. I knew that even though my feet were on the nice and rugged Massanutten trails, my heart is in the Rockies. I will be at MMT doing much of the course marking with Kevin Bligan, course director and saying goodbye to those mountains that I spent so much time on.

Don't even talk about New England! There is nothing here because the weather window is only a few months, so they are all crammed in. I think possibly the best ultra in New England is the MMD 50K in August up in the White Mountains.

This is looking down into King's Ravine on the MMD 50k course

So, let's just say that 2009 is a time out of time...a little rest while we prepare to move to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. I liken nothern NM to Colorado without all the snow. Winter is generally from around late December to early March, unlike here in New England where it can be anywhere from sometime in October until sometime in May. I want to go back and I'm going to put all of my energy into this effort, rather than train for and be away at ultra events.

Who knows, maybe the house will sell early and we can salvage some of our year in New Mexico :-)

...until the next time...


This is a photo of near where we lived in the beautiful Jemez Mountains...this photo was the one Deb used to paint the Jemez Mountain Trail Runs painting for the poster and is of Chicoma Mountain, which you see during the 50 miler.