Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Your Heart is Your Run Engine: iRunfar Article, My Maffetone Experience, Some Heart Rate Gear

My friend Bryon Powell at iRunFar has published a great article by Joe Uhan a superb physical therapist, coach, and runner whose writings are about the best on injuries, form, and run science The comments after the article, from every day runners and elites is very informative as well
From the iRun Far article:

"Heart-rate data has two primary uses:
  • To ensure one is running easy enough on aerobic (and recovery) runs; and
  • To ensure one is running hard enough in workouts and races.
Without delving too deeply into exercise science, aerobic running is required to enhance fat metabolism and aid recovery, while high-intensity running is crucial for strength development and race-specific adaptation.

Seems pretty simple, so why use a heart-rate monitor? We are creatures of habit. Humans crave routine and consistency, and too often runners unknowingly run neither easy nor hard. Instead we naturally run somewhere in between. Unfortunately, when we spend to much time in this “gray zone,” we don’t get the proper aerobic fat-burning fitness or recovery, and we don’t run hard enough to maximize strength."

The last part of the quote is spot on. I have often trained in that gray zone and believe many if most of us tend to as well.
A couple months ago based on seeing the incredible results that New Hampshire native Larisa Dannis  (2nd Western States 100, 2:44 Boston, fastest US road 100K in 20 years) has achieved with a modified Maffetone Method (MAF) I decided to look in into this approach. I am lucky enough to be testing all manner of tech wearables I decided to start closely monitoring heart rate instead of just pace during workouts and races.  
I have tried some heart rate zone based training in the past but found it quite complex. So here is a simpler and I think more effective way to listen and learn from your engine 
I now run approximately 80% at my MAF heart rate or 180-age +5 beats or 127 bpm.  This is my maximum aerobic heart rate or the top of what is often called Zone 2.  My sense is that for younger runners even in good shape the resulting pace at that heart rate may be a bit fast day in day out and there is nothing wrong running at a lower heart rate.  In fact Larisa Dannis does much of her training well below her MAF of 158. Larisa tells me she races ultras as well as normal runs below her MAF and marathons at her MAF plus 5-8 beats per minute. 
How to calculate your MAF 
Start with 180-Age as your base MAF rate, then:
I have been using my MAF of 127 for most of my training, reserving the remaining 20% for one fast workout per week and/or a race. I started Maffetone about 2 months ago and it is neat. I often run the same loop and have progressed from a 10:00 per mile at 127bpm to 9:44 in that time. I strictly try to keep as close to 127 as possible. This means easing off a bit on the very few uphills on that course and picking up the pace on the downhill to maintain 127. I have found it fascinating to see variations in pace at a given heart rate of 127. Some days I have it, others not and I am not just talking about race recovery. The pace is a bit of an effort not jogging not tempo and I feel fresh every day and ready to go. While I have been racing a lot in that period, more on that in a bit, my sense is as others have commented that my mileage can increase with good recovery every day. 
Now the racing during that period. I ran three half marathons the last month, each faster than the last, approximately 1 minute faster each from a 1:40.29 on a course measuring GPS long at 13.3 getting  down to an official 1:38.48 on a course that GPS also found long by 0.2 miles due to not being able to run tangents so a 1:37.20 or so. I recovered between races with only MAF based runs with the exception of one faster 5 miler. 
During the races I focused as much heart rate as pace for the first time and believe me I was not dragging along at 127 bpm MAF, that's for smart training not racing!  I knew I could hold about 164-166 for the entire race and that is what I did on my last one. I experimented at Mount Desert with easing off on the uphills to keep my heart rate below 170 and bombed the downhills to keep it at 165. Worked like a charm.  Unlike Mount Desert where I ran the first flat 2 miles with the 7:30 pace group, I had a faster start at my last half the Seacoast Half a mistake, as at Seacoast the downhill 1st mile plus my monitor running goofy high had me faster than I should have been.  My average heart rate was remarkably consistent after that at 164, see below. Interestingly I think in retrospect I didn't taper enough as while I know I could have gotten my heart rate higher on average  but my legs weren't quite there. 
I am going to keep at the Maffetone. I will mix in speed, hills, and tempo for the 20% of running I am not in the "MAF Zone". 
For the last month my goto for the races has been the Suunto Ambit3 Run with a comfortable (for a change) Suunto heart rate strap, notice how small the pod is in the picture above. It tends to race heart rate fast for the first 10 minutes or so, then settles in. Most heart rate monitors seem to have this goofy first minutes issue when the air is dry and cool. It is a fine very solid watch of impeccable build quality.  Made in Finland with many training and recovery features including ascent per minute, GPS altitude, zone based training, intervals training, smart phone notifications, and track back. Available from Running Warehouse here $350 with heart rate strap, $300 without.
A new GPS heart rate set up or an add on heart rate monitor  is a great holiday gift ideas as the technology has evolved in recent years beyond just GPS distance and pace. 
The Wearable Tech Gift Guide I penned for Competitor Magazine is on line here. The TomTom Cardio Runner (on sale at Running Warehouse here) is a fine GPS plus heart rate watch.  If you use a phone fitness app consider the Bluetooth Smart based  FitBit Charge HR or Mio Alpha 2 wrist based straps.  They can also serve as a second screen in parallel with your GPS watch to keep an eye on heart rate. Elites such as Michael Wardian world 50K treadmill record holder and Michael Gray, many time US Mountain champion, work it this way and I am too.  Focusing my eyes on heart rate and worrying less about pace, on the other screen a good thing.
If you already have a Garmin you will need a heart rate sensor that is compatible with ANT+ as Garmin does not use Bluetooth for sensors, only ANT+. Garmin own chest straps (see Running Warehouse here)  The Garmin VivoSmart HR fitness band (confirming),  the Wahoo TICKR chest strap, or the Life-Beam hat or visor are choices. The Wahoo and Life-Beam work with either Bluetooth or ANT+ based systems. I have the Life Beam hat and as a rule it has been a more consistent performer than any chest straps or wrist bands as it measures on the forehead with infra red instead of visible light. The head has more consistent blood flow than the wrists. I have not tested it in cold yet, a potential weaker performing situation.
What are your experiences with heart rate based training or Maffetone if you have tried it?


midpackbiped said...

I just ran my first ultra keeping my max rate no more than 15% (135 -> 155) of my MAF. My avg HR during the race was 150. I felt great at the end, was able to find a little gas in the tank in the last third of the 50K. I'm a believer.

Used the Vivosmart HR for the entire race, plenty of battery left after 6 hours. I think it would easily last for a 50 miler or a 100K in HR broadcast mode, not sure if it would make it for 24 hours in that mode.

ntyhurst said...

what i find confusing about strictly heart rate based training is how to deal with 'heart rate drift'. i can see from your Strava upload that your GAP appears to be trending up over the course of the race. do you just accept the fact that as your race/training run wears on that you will start slowing down at the target heart rate? so every run is a positive split?

sam winebaum said...

ntyhurst, thanks for your question. I am new to the HR training and racing but am focusing on my MAF during most of my training and a rough target during racing. In the Strava from the race I know I went out to fast even though downhill first miles. One thing I have focused on in races is keeping my HR around that 164 on the uphills, trying not to have it drift too high say 168 for me in a half. I also felt I didn't taper quite enough for this race as I would have expected that in the last 3 miles or so and even the whole race I could have held a bit higher average HR. At a 5 miler this summer, the last 3 miles I was above 170. In this half I did not have much of a strong kick. Still a work in progress but liking the focus on HR>