Tag Archives: training tips

Intuitive intervals: Using a heart rate monitor to pace your run/walk intervals

If you have a Garmin watch you can set it to alert you during workouts if your heart rate goes higher or lower than a given threshold… kind of like a built in speed limit monitor for your heart rate.

I tried this feature once and quickly disabled it. I wanted to just run at my own pace and found the alarms when I reached a moderate heart rate annoying.

After a long recent layoff, as I recently started ramping up training, I found basic runs to be a bit too difficult, and sure enough my heart rate would rocket into marathon pace and the lactate threshold. It’s one reason I started doing Galloway style intervals, run/walking the workouts in 2 minute run, 1 minute walk intervals.

Galloway Intervals kept my heart rate level on-average: Even if it spiked during the runs, the minute of walking would bring it back down, the overall average more closely resembling a typical easy run. And overall the effort on these runs didn’t feel terribly difficult.

I’ve since gone on actual full-length training runs of 30+ minutes, and this past weekend I ran a 10K (albeit at closer to regular training paces), so I’m now in condition to run at distance again.

But I want to improve the usage of my natural speed. Now that I track walks on my Garmin watch, I can track paces of not just my walks, but those moments when I run across streets and the pace of those brief, hurried sprints that have always been a part of Working Class Running.

I find those easy, brief sprints vary around a 5:00-7:30 pace without much difficulty. I have speed, but it’s hard to maintain that speed over anything beyond those random little sprints. Even in 400 meter repeats and other workouts I find it very tough.

Is there a way to develop my ability to use that speed at distance in a race?

I think there’s a way, and it goes back to that once-annoying Garmin alert feature.

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Adding mileage with bookended run/walk intervals

I recently made another accidental discovery while training.

After cutting back on running for a while, leaning instead on strength and cross training, I started training seriously again after getting roped into joining a couple of spring 10K’s in the Vegas Valley. With COVID restrictions fading back, races (at least on a smaller scale) are coming back to the area.

To see where I’m at and give me an easy, productive training schedule, I had Garmin set me up on a McMillan algorithmic plan. McMillan’s easy workouts are often flexible, e.g. you can run 20 minutes at an assigned pace, or have the option to extend that paced run up to 35 minutes before the cooldown. I wanted to have that option rather than have to run 3-5 miles at pace or bust.

Previously I had been doing runs Galloway-style, with a run-walk approach. I figured out how to program my Garmin Forerunner to give me run-walk alerts on basic runs, and set it to have me run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute, repeat.

This had actually worked quite well in that my cross training helped me maintain more than enough aerobic endurance, but neuromuscularly I was still struggling to run more than 15-20 minutes without sending my heart rate towards the lactate threshold. I was able to easily extend runs beyond 15-20 minutes with the walk breaks.

Still, I figured forcing myself in the short term to combine some 20+ minute runs with some speedwork and ample nutrition/recovery in a training plan would compel my body to catch up.

On one easy training run I was laboring and decided to cut the workout short at 20 minutes, but that after the cooldown and nominal end of the training session I would “Resume” the rest of the run at an easy pace to cover the distance I wanted.

I got to end of the workout, hit “Resume”, and continued running. Within seconds I was surprised to hear my watch chime and tell me it was time to Walk 1:00, just like on my default runs.

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Heart Rate Training Zones: A New Approach

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Heart Rate training zone systems take for granted that a fairly high level of sustained aerobic effort is comfortable or consistently sustainable for most people, which of course it’s not. Most runners just take for granted that it’s normal and never consider that what they consider “easy” or “recovery” is in fact still too hard.

One of the reasons a runner’s aerobic development improves more quickly than their neuromuscular development is because running itself is very demanding. On both fronts you’re being pushed very hard. However, your aerobic and hormonal capacities bounce back much more quickly than your muscles, bones and joints.

Still, it’s incredibly stressful on your body chemistry to go that hard that often, and the fatigue can snowball too quickly for you to be able to handle a high volume of that kind of aerobic training.

In my cross training, I find I need to go pretty hard to get to Zone 1 in most heart rate training zone systems… somewhat too hard for the purposes of whatever cross training I’m doing. The level of effort require would leave me rather tired and possibly sore. This supposed recovery exercise ends up not helping me recover much at all.

It’s not that most runners are just stronger. They just spend all their lives in this perpetual fatigue, physical and adrenal. The long term effects on their health are taken for granted as aging or wear and tear, when in actuality it’s probably preventable… without compromising your fitness or development.

My most recent heart rate zones of choice were a standard 50/60/70/80/90/100 split based on the Karvonen Formula, which uses heart rate reserve. This is a function of your resting and max heart rates, and the zones are proportioned against those rates. Zone 1 for example would be 50-60% of the gap between your resting and max heart rate (your “heart rate reserve (HRR)”), zone 2 60-70% of the HRR, etc.

With a max HR of around 184 beats per minute, this sets my minimum training heart rate around 120 (depending on what my resting heart rate is at that time), with zone 1 peaking at about 130-135. This is about where most heart rate zone systems would put zone 1, and is considered a “recovery” heart rate.

On the spin bike, even at a brisk but easy effort, my heart rate is around 105-110. On the ARC Trainer I can get to 125-130, but only with a more moderate effort. On the rowing machine, a concerted effort typically gets me to about 110-120.

However, when running, I rarely can cruise at a heart rate below 130, no matter how slow and easy I run. I basically have to stop and walk/run to average a zone 1 heart rate. This is not a product of lacking fitness: Even at my peak condition and training in Chicago, it took the right combination of circumstances for me to average 125-130 at an easy effort.


All of this is to say that maybe our view of heart rate zones and “recovery zones” is a bit warped and could use an adjustment.

This is especially true in our coronavirus circumstances, where if we go to the gym (and in many cases train outside) we need to wear a mask while while exercising. We can’t huff and puff at full volume and expect max results if a mask is filtering much of the air taken in or expelled. I’ve talked before about this being a long term training benefit, but in the present it makes the effort required for aerobic training a bit too much.

Bear in mind as well that, to maintain the typical intensity for a full volume of training, you have to consume a lot of carbohydrates, which can cause a variety of inflammatory health problems if consumed in the large amounts that most endurance athletes tend to require.

One of the reasons low-carb diets tend not to work well for endurance athletes is because they train at an intensity where they need a lot of glycogen, and that can only come from and be replenished from a carbohydrate rich diet.

Could it be possible to scale back carb consumption to a more (shall I say) human level, rely more on slower fat burning, and still be able to train, perform, and develop at a high level.

I say yes, and I say the key to doing so is combining (now-)traditional 80/20 training principles with a revised approach to heart rate zones.

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A Quick Cross Training Workout For The Spin Bike

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The following cross training will really challenge your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Definitely don’t do this cross training workout if you’re sore and recovering from some other hard lower-body workout.

I would save a workout like this for base training, if you’re coming off an easy workout, or you’re not actively training for a goal race in general.

The Workout: Start the spin bike at the lowest intensity, level 1.

Every time the minute counter turns over (e.g. at 1:00, 5:00, etc), adjust the level to match the number in the minute column. So at 2:00 you’ll set the level to 2, and you’ll increase the level by 1 every minute thereafter.

If the lowest spin bike levels feel too light and easy for you (for example you normally do easy spin bike sessions at level 4), you don’t have to start at or go down to level 1. If you generally bike easy at level 4, then for any level 4 and below you can just go at level 4. In this example, you do the first 4:59 at level 4, then at 5:00 you switch to level 5.

Once you get to a level that’s too tough, take it back down to a low, comfortable level. Then once the timer reaches 10:00, repeat the process by adding the digits in the minute column to determine the level, e.g. 11 –> 1 + 1 = Level 2… or in the level 4 example above, that person can just stay at level 4 for now.

If you can get to level 10 or higher without needing to slow down, great! You don’t have to add the digits at 11:00 or higher just yet. Just keep climbing levels until you need a break, then add the digits of the next minute to see how far down you can take the spin bike’s level. For example, say you get tired after 16:00 at level 16. Then at 17:00 you take it down to level 8 (17 –> 1 + 7 = Level 8).

If you’re a super strong cyclist and plan to go longer than 25 minutes, you may be able to reach the bike’s maximum level 25 (most spin bikes only have 25 intensity levels). If you get to 26:00 in this case, just take the spin bike back down to level 8 (26 –> 2 + 6 = Level 8… you must be super strong if that’s too easy for you; if so you can set the level higher to whatever level you prefer to cruise at). Then from there build the levels back up each minute. Do note that this workout method after you max out the bike won’t get you higher again than level 14 once you do so, so if maxing out is your goal and you can max out the bike then you may want to stick to 30 minutes or less.

Regardless of your abilities, you can repeat this level-up process until your spin bike workout is finished, whether it takes 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 3 hours, etc.

You could also do this workout on an elliptical, rowing machine, or ARC Trainer. But it can be very demanding to do more than recovery-level training on these devices. To do a workout like this on a machine like those may defeat the purpose of cross training unless you’re in an offseason, or are a triathlete or similar and this sort of demanding training is in line with your key workout needs.

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Block Scheduling: Aiding Recovery By Batching Runs

This scheduling trick was a so-called happy accident. I partially did it out of necessity, and then discovered it was a sound approach with my current schedule.

My current training plan requires 5 days of running per week. Once I added in 8-10 hour workdays, the required commutes, and all the outside logistics required in-between… getting these five workouts in became rather difficult.

Add in the limited time before work to run, and a 45-60 minute morning workout that requires you be awake and ready to run by 5:00 am most days, and I realized keeping my daily morning run schedule would too often be impractical, if not a sleep-deprivation and burnout risk.

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How I Hydrate (Especially Around Hot Desert Runs)

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Since I now live in the desert, the higher altitude fringe of the Las Vegas Valley, I’ve gained a lot of experience in running in these hot and dry conditions. To do well running in these conditions, i obviously had to learn how to hydrate effectively.

Workout hydration is a delicate balance. You need to hydrate to avoid the performance (and possibly health) damaging effects of dehydration. But if you consume more fluid than you need, you’re simply going to end up needing the restroom/toilet too often too soon to be worth the trouble.

Over my years of running I have through trial and error developed a useful approach to hydration that running in the hot Vegas desert has helped me fine tune into a reliable methodology.

It is worth noting that training with some degree of very mild dehydration can be useful for developing aerobic fitness. The line between useful and detrimental is very fine, not to mention the line between proper hydration and needlessly overloading your kidneys and bladder. You also must bear in mind that carrying hydration adds weight to your body and will to some subtle degree slow you down on your run.

Thus I don’t mind being a little “dry” during a training run, whether it’s an easy run, a harder speed workout, or a long run. However, I want to avoid tipping over the edge into performance loss from dehydration.

So, my objective is to go into a training session with a rudimentary amount of pre-run hydration, then hydrate as needed during or after the workout.

My Keys to Hydrating Workouts:

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10+ Thoughts on Building Training Breaks Into Strength And Endurance Training

Runners typically train for a race through 8-24 weeks of focused, progressive training, then take a break of either reduced or no running for some time afterward.

It just occurred to me that:

  1. People who primarily strength train as their exercise never train like this.
  2. Many who strength training typically see their development and progress hyperbolically slow after training for some time, and take for granted that this is normal.
  3. Serious runners also see their progress hyperbolically slow after years of mostly continuous hard training for some time, and take for granted that this is normal.
  4. Except for a weeks/months long “offseason” where they basically don’t train at all, most serious runners train continuously for their entire season with few, often brief planned breaks
  5. Runners could benefit from peak-and-valleying their training season in the style of a 12 month grade school. Basically, you ramp training around recurring goal races, with the plan to downscale training in the week(s) following those periodic goal races.
  6. Strength trainees may see more progress if they were to build regular periodic training breaks or “de-loads” into their training. Basically, progress training as usual for 8-24 weeks, then take a week or more where training stops and/or volume (whether reps, weight, frequency, or all of the above) are substantially, pointedly reduced. You rebuild, re-load energy and drive, then resume training a few days/weeks later really to attack the weights/road/water/bike/etc.

6a. Unplanned breaks like injuries and other life emergencies don’t count. Your body and mind are taxed and have to heal in other ways during breaks like these, and aren’t as fully available to rebuild and heal the way they do during a conscious, planned break in training. Sure, some recovery can happen, but imagine how you feel after a very stressful vacation. Are you “refreshed” and 100% when you go back to work or school?

  1. I imagine a lot of the stalled progress in muscle growth and other “GAINZ” most strength trainees experience would cease to stall if they consciously built to a scheduled peak over weeks/months, then made a point to take a 1-2 week break afterward before resuming.

7a. Fitness loss is minimal during a 1-2 week extended break. As distance running’s Hanson Brothers have attested, the body tends to reap direct benefits from a key workout (and conversely, experiences a loss of fitness from a lack thereof) after 8-12 days. You can probably take a week off before resuming training and experience little to no loss in strength/fitness from where you left off. Two weeks off, and the loss would be very slight, to the point where after a couple weeks of gradually resumed training you’d be back to where you had left off.

  1. So now, I’m looking at you, runners. Many of you have the right idea, where you start training mainly to run a goal race, train hard for that 8-24 weeks, then run your goal race and take it easy for a few days/weeks. There are certainly many things you could do better, but you have the right idea.

8a. And then there are some of you who continiously train, and train hard every week. You don’t take many planned breaks, maybe after a marathon or a longer race, but otherwise you’re doing high intensity workouts and/or high volume almost every week. And then you’re wondering why you get injured or you constantly have nagging injuries.

8b. Some of you call them “niggles”. I call them red alarm signals that you need to take a few days off.

  1. This doesn’t mean don’t run unless you’re training for a goal race. This means your training should more consciously ebb and flow, at the very least follow a 3-5 week continuous cycle of gradually increasing volume to a peak before a week of lighter training. But what could benefit you most is longer 8-16 week cycles of gradually progressing volume, then or preceding gradually increasing intensity, before tapering and/or a goal race, followed by a 1-2 week period of reduced or eliminated training at a substantially lower intensity.
  2. Plan breaks into your training before life makes you take unplanned breaks from training.
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