Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Monday, November 5, 2012
As noticed before, I'm not a certified coach nor a personal trainer so take this advice at your own risk.
It is a known fact for people who train a lot, that is easier for a person that has never ran a marathon to become fit for that marathon than for somebody that is fit to improve his or her time on the same marathon. And there is a simple explanation for that. We are used to keep a certain routine, and since most of us train on our own, we follow things that have worked for us before. We have a training plan and we tend to stick to it. That plan gives us results, it works and works and works. Except when you reach a plateau in your condition and you stop improving. Training is and act of faith. We don't know the results until we prove ourselves, but in order to test that we need to train first. So, we believe in our training plan and because of that we stick to something known. And that's when we get stuck on the same things and we do not improve our times.
There are signs that tell us when it is time to introduce variations in our training. One of them is when it gets hard to reach a very high heart rate. You might be running fast and long, and yet your heart rate stays under control. You might be spinning like a madman and yet your heart rate stays under control, unless you start using ridiculous loads, which most likely are going to lead to injuries or overload. And then the season will be over before you know it. So what to do? That is when qualitative training comes to rescue. We are usually so focused on heart rate and interval duration that we forget to listen to our body. Not everybody was born to be a super athlete. Most of us are never going to be in the Olympics, so it is unreasonable to think that we will manage that level of training (specially when there is the job thing and the family thing thrown in the mixture). Training is not only following the hard facts, there is a lot of soft facts that will help you improve. Today I want to talk about the "Rate of Perceived Exertion" or RPE. RPE is just a scale that scores the level of training based on how hard the exercise feels on the body, not on your pulse. You can of course keep track of certain thresholds by correlating RPE with your pulse, but the point is that RPE is about how you feel the exercise. The most common RPE scale goes from 1 to 10, where 1 is a very light walk and 10 is something that cannot be hold for very long. Using RPE you can graduate the level of your training. Specially at this time of the year when most people start to feel panic because they realize that no matter what, their heart rate does not go up as it used to be, or because they just keep running and they do not drink all the water in the bottle as they used to (congratulations, you have reached a good level of fitness btw).
With this I want to say, that now it is time to focus on the feeling. After all, when the big day comes, it does not matter if your pulse was above or below your average. It is the time after crossing the finish line that really matters (and of course the fact that you crossed the line by your own means). At this time of the year is when you should start focusing on finding the "right" tempo, the tempo at which you feel that you can keep going the whole distance of your event. You are fit by now, so now the fine tuning starts.
How to do it? Well, start by having more sessions with long intervals and short periods of recovery. My favourite are 12 minutes work and 3 minutes recovery. Try to make sure that during those 12 minutes you reach the level where it is both comfortable to be in yet still challenging. You will probably reach that level without reaching and incredible high pulse and that is okay. Throw in at least one session of really hard intervals. Usually short ones, such as one minute really hard work and one minute relaxation. I have my personal favorite which is to run for one kilometer using poles and as fast as I can uphill, and then having a three minutes rest. The key point here is to find a level where you really feel challenged. It might be that you reach a very high pulse or you might not, however it is the feeling that matters.
You should still keep track of your pulse, but use it as an afterthought and not as the driving force behind your training.
Remember, now it is time to find the tempo that will make you a winner. And that is something that you do by finding something that "feels" right, not something that your heart rate monitor tells you that is right.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Saturday, June 30, 2012
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Monday, June 4, 2012
My last post was meant to be an overview of the training season and the key points you need to consider when planning your year. In this post I will go in more details about the building period, which is the period where you "build" your condition.
As mentioned before, the idea of this period is to get used to exercise and to build endurance. It is typical that in this period you train considerably more than in other periods. Not because you stop training after this period, but because in this period most of the trainings should be long and easy. For instance, in my plan I have two over 1 hour runs per week. One is a 12 kilometer run, that goes across the forest and hilly terrain to a train station in between my job and my home, and the other one is running from my current job to my home (app 17.5 kilometers). I also try to include one day of cycling to work, at least once every two weeks, since that gives me and additional three hours of very easy training.
Many people think that long and easy means no variations during the whole exercise. That is not true, you should try to find a terrain that forces you to work harder sometimes and then have long easy periods. I have the advantage that I live right next to the forest and there is a hill chain between my home and my work, so I can just use nature to train. I am one of the lucky ones, but many people live in either too hilly or too flat terrain, so what to do in those cases? The answer is simple, resort to interval training!
The type of intervals you should aim for, is long and easy ones, not short and hard ones. For instance, something that has given me very good results is intervals of 12 minutes in zone three and then 3 minutes of recovery in zone two or even one. You can change the duration but the key to keep in mind is that you work 4 times longer as your recovery period, and your work in in zone three or high zone two. Try to avoid going to zone four, because you will start accumulating lactic acid (yes I know, is not the lactic acid that produces the burning sensation, it is the ionification afterward). This intervals are meant to be long, so going over to zone four early in the process is a bad idea because your body will burn because of the ionification produced by the lactic acid accumulation. This kind of intervals are hard, not only because they require you to work at a pace where you need to make an effort, but also because they are long and the recovery is comparatively short. I rarely do this kind of intervals running, it is hard for me to find a terrain that is easy enough to keep such a pace without going into the higher pulse zones. What I usually do is to use a spinning bicycle at my gym and program my heart rate monitor to keep track of the time for me (it is one of the advantages of the Polar RS800CX, you can program very detailed exercises and let the bookkeeping to the watch while you exercise).
One last thing, intervals are not only time based or pulse zone based. There is something called "natural" intervals, which in essence consists in keeping a pace no matter what the terrain brings to you. This type of interval are a very good addition to any training plan! My advice is to use them after the first month of training and in a terrain that you are already familiar with. Remember, the trick is to keep the pace at all times so if there is a hard uphill, you have to keep going and pray that it will end soon.