Our latest blog post article from Wolverson Ambassador, Personal Trainer and all round athlete Matt Shore. Matt’s kicked off 2016 by rediscovering his love of running, and here gives some insights into achieving whole new levels of endurance by paying more attention to your heart rate.
Running on Heart Rate
In 2016 I have set a number of serious endurance based challenges for myself which sees me moving in full circle again away from Strongman and predominantly strength training – I just love to mix things up and go wherever my soul desires!
Many years ago I started to get into running and didn’t bother with a heart rate monitor.
I found myself always trying to maintain a given pace, trying to beat my weekly run times and always seemed to be burnt out and carrying injuries.
That was until I spent some time with my great friend and Elite runner Julia Chi Taylor ( An international athlete in her past, who as Julia Gates ran 2.36.31 for the marathon off this type of training) who showed me the error of my ways.
Running on heart rate totally changed the way I trained for the better!
A Strong Cardiovascular System
For longer events and by this I mean 5k plus, the nature of running is that it relies heavily on the aerobic system – the heart, lungs and ability of blood to transport oxygen to the working muscles for energy production.
A strong, highly efficient cardiovascular system that can deliver large amounts of oxygen to working muscles offers significant advantage when it comes to performance of aerobic exercise such as running, cycling and swimming.
Contrary to what popular magazines would have you believe (remember their objective is to sell magazines – so things need to be kept varied and interesting!) for optimal aerobic development training intensities should be predominantly selected that promote development of the aerobic pathways.
This is the body’s ability to uptake and transfer oxygen to the blood, the amount of oxygen our blood can carry, the enzymes needed for generation of energy from substrate aerobically, and the capillarisation of the muscles to better receive oxygenated blood while flushing out by products.
Mo Farah reportedly runs circa 120 miles per week of which 80% of that is at 70% max heart rate. 70% max heart rate is actually pretty low and many beginners may find it hard to run at such a slow pace – some power walking may be required – leave the ego at home!
Long Slow Distance
Running at this intensity is often called Long Slow Distance (LSD) miles. In some circles they have been called Junk Miles, but in my own experience the more LSD miles I do, the better runner I become – so hardly junk, at least in my case!
Running at lower intensities is also great for training your body how to use fat more effectively as fuel. A body that can burn more fat has the capacity to spare carbohydrate stores which are limited and crucial in endurance events – especially the longer distances.
The remaining 10-20% of my total training volume is then be used for interval training to build speed over distance.
A Useful Formula
Personally I like to use the Maffetone Formula which is 180HR – your age to calculate roughly my maximum aerobic training heart rate.
There are a number of factors that affect what your final number will be (see link above.)
For me this means my long steady runs are aimed at keeping my heart rate below 145 beats per minute – admittedly this feels slow but that’s the idea!
My pace today averaged at 9 minute 15 sec miles for 12 muddy miles off road and in strong winds.
80-90% of my weekly training volume will be done at this level.
The remaining 10-20% will be completed at interval/race pace.
My events this year will be a minimum of 10k and most substantially longer.
I like intervals that last between 2 and 10 minutes performed at race pace – which for me is around 87-90% max heart rate or 160 to 175 HR.
Make no mistake – intervals done right are hard. I still have to psyche myself up for a strong interval session and always go into such sessions following an easy run day or rest day.
Long intervals are used to prepare the body and mind for sustained hard effort while training the body to process and tolerate lactic acid. Notably shorter intervals are run at slightly higher intensities than longer intervals.
Use the Right Intensity for the Job in Hand.
In my experience I avoid middle ground heart rate zones as I found consistent training in the heart rates of 78 to 85% max HR don’t really deliver much in terms of aerobic development or lactate tolerance – Aerobic training is better done at low intensities, race pace efforts should be hard in the higher percentages. The middle ground tends to just create more fatigue without improving either optimally.
Our body can only do what it can do on a given day. One of the arguments against heart rate training is that it can be affected my many variables such as hydration status, temperature, fatigue, recovery status and stress levels – however it is still one of the best tools as runners we have.
Running on Pace
The problem with trying to run at a given pace in training is that pace/time is an external factor from our being. As such it can be negatively affected by terrain and environmental factors. Trying to maintain a given pace into a strong head wind may see a runners exercise intensity climb out of the intended zone potentially leading to a harder session that was scheduled.
The Early Days of Injury and Burnout
I have witnessed in my own early days of running that constantly training to pace without use of heart rate, chasing times and personal bests every week, lead me to increased rates of injury and burnout with reduced progressions in performance.
In short – Long Steady Distance circa 70% Heart Rate or less can effectively be used to develop the “engine” our heart, lungs, capillarisation of muscle. I perform this for 80-90% of my training.
87%+ Heart rate race pace efforts to add the speed, lactate tolerance and resilience. This forms 10-20% of my weekly mileage.
Thus on a week of running 50 miles – 45 miles would be LSD running with 5 miles total covered at interval pace (based on 90/10% split.)
In my experience 1 interval session is generally enough for beginners/intermediates – 2 in more advanced runners.
Thanks for reading.