Monthly Archives: August 2013

Maximum Heart Rate Test, or How to Make Your Chest Explode.

Hopefully your chest will not explode, but a good piece of advice that is missing from many of the sites that describe doing a maximum heart rate test is to ensure that there are other people around. You know, just in case you push yourself too hard.

My plan was to do this test today and ideally to be completely rested, well hydrated and warmed up. Last night was ‘date night’ with the missis (we went to see “The World’s End” which is brilliant!) so I had a couple of beers and was slightly later than usual to bed, but I felt okay this morning once I dragged myself away from the eider.

I chose to do my test at the track as it is easy to see where you should start different pieces of the test.

Firstly get your HR strap in place, synced and checked before you start. You don’t want to have to start messing with this once you are mid-test.

I did one lap as a walk/jog to clear the track’s inside lane; the grounds people had cut the grass yesterday and left the benches and bins on the track lanes.

I did two laps of warm up at a casual pace. The one lap at moderate pace. Next I dropped back to a casual pace then did an all out lap. Then four laps at an easy recovery pace and, finally, another all out effort. Then I did three laps to cool down after I had sat for a minute to recover my breath.

I believe the key to the test is that you build up your heart rate to the maximum without prematurely reaching your VO2 max threshold and starving your muscles. You need to be coaxing your heart rate up with minimal muscle fatigue because you don’t want to have to stop running due to your muscles being tired before you peak at your max HR.

The above seemed to work well for me as I am comfortable doing sprint laps at the track.

Here’s a shot of my results.

20130830-101024.jpgYou can see from the graph the gradual build up of my heart rate with the warm up laps. It starts to kick in with the moderate lap. The recovery lap that follows keeps my heart rate in the same range but allowed my legs to recover a little so that my HR peaks during my all out lap. Then you can see my recovery laps and a final kick at the end where I reach the same level as earlier. I think this successfully demonstrates my HRmax level for running.

So there we have it. An HRmax of 189 which is higher than all the formulae predicted but just about within the range of their stated accuracy. Most calculations estimated it at around 178. The Runner’s World calculation was closest at 184.

At the end I felt quite exhausted but had earned my traditional Friday breakfast of pancakes and strawberries. Hurrah.

I have updated my HR formulae chart to show actuals so that I can familiarise myself with the various training zones.


Benefits of a Rest Day and a Good Meal

Yesterday I took the day off running. I think that officially it was only my third day off this month as I tend to squeeze some other activity or cross-training into any gaps I have.

I’m glad I did it for several reasons: firstly, I really needed a day off as I was exhausted from upping my mileage and riding to work on Monday and Tuesday. Secondly, it rained all day and if I had ridden my bike I would have been soaked through. Finally, it gave me space to think about why I was so tired.

Why was I so tired? (So nice of you to ask). I have a couple if thoughts on this.

Really rest on a rest day. Doing cross training is okay on some of the rest days, especially if you isolate the muscles and work on different sets, but I think sometimes your body needs a complete day off. Listen to your body. I hadn’t done this for a while.

Diet is the other thing I was ignoring. All the activities I was doing each day required extra fuel and I hadn’t been doing that. Theoretically I need to take on 1000 calories more each day when I run and bike to maintain my weight.

I was totally ignoring this and guess this contributed significantly to my tiredness. So it is time to power up my “Lose it” app in ‘maintain mode’ and track my calories for a while until I get back into the correct eating patterns.

Of course I need to make those calories good ones that will contribute to my fitness rather than just stuffing in candy, but that’s a whole other conversation…

My run today with fresh legs was still in the 7:51 pace range but I managed to keep my heart rate in the right zone for much more of the run, only really popping out of it within the last half mile as I saw the lights of home.

Tomorrow is track day and I will try to do a test to find my actual maximum heart rate. Should be interesting…

Legs of Lead

My body did not want to run today. I guess I haven’t had a proper day off for a while as looking at my workout calendar it shows only three days off this month, and I know two of those were actually playground training days that I don’t put in my tracker.

After yesterday’s run I cycled to and from work, albeit slowly, and today I could feel it in my calves. The additional ballast could be due to increasing the distance from two miles to three, I suppose.

Today felt like a trudge for the first mile while my legs got going and that was reflected in my pace of 7:56. However, I did keep my heart rate mainly in the right zone. I did enjoy the run but only after I’d warmed up.

20130827-060232.jpgI think I need to plan in a rest day and see how that helps my legs, so I’ll probably do that tomorrow. Today I want to ride to the office again because it is such a nice way to start the working day; riding through Valley Forge Historical National Park is stunning at any time of day but is more magical in the early morning.

Heart Rate Zone Training

After a weekend of lighter cross-training (basic body weight lifts, pulls and pushes, monkey climbing, etc. at the playground, and a 42 mile intense Buke ride) it was time to consider my approach for this next few weeks.

Firstly I need to start increasing my distance from two miles. For the next few weeks I’ll work at three mile runs.

Secondly, I want to start noticing and training within the correct heart rate zones otherwise it will be very difficult to increase my mileage significantly.

My wife found another formula for calculating max heart rate on the Runner’s World website that they have tested so I’m going to use that until I calculate my own specific max.

Their formula for men over 40 is 205 -(.5 x age). This gives me an estimated 184 which seems closer to numbers I have observed over the last few weeks. I will add this to my HR formulae table here.

For the run today I tried to stay in the 80-90% HRmax range which equates to 147-165. For my first attempt at this I feel I was quite successful, but at the cost of my speed which fell to a 7:44 pace. I think this was because I was concentrating on HR and not focussing on pushing backwards or lifting legs. I also stopped my metronome partway because trying to keep on that beat pushed my HR up too high. I think my general form was good though.

I did spike out if the range once but only briefly. At the end of the run I didn’t feel over stressed and recovered very quickly.

On the Right Track?

Now it is time to start varying my workouts. One of my favourites is going to the local high school track and running intervals.

I tend to target just over a 5k run (3.25 miles). That’s 13 laps and generally find that my first lap out from cold is my fastest. I would run hard, over-reaching strides with heel landings that were sometimes sub-six minutes, followed with intervals at my normal 8:30 pace.

For my visit today I was keen to ensure that I didn’t slip into any of my old bad habits, so I ran four laps (1 mile) as a warm up around my current favourite pace of 7:03. Then I did a fast lap ensuring that I didn’t let my form slip. I clocked a solid 6:32 then switched back to the slower pace of 7:07 for a recovery lap. The next fast lap was at 6:42 so slightly slower, but still not too bad. Another recovery lap and then a fast lap clocking a 6:39 pace. By this point I was burnt out so I chose to do a walking recovery for the next lap. The walk was a 12:32 pace which isn’t exactly slow but was a very welcome break. It was then time to kick it back up and I got a 6:29. One more recovery lap at 7:49 (too slow) and then the final lap. This was a go for it lap and I pulled a 6:15 out of the bag! Very happy.

My technical focus during the run was on foot strike, pushing my legs backwards and trying to increase my stride length without over-reaching. I could actually feel the difference from the techniques I’ve been using and I noticed that rotating my hips forward and leading with my belly also made a big difference to the feel for the fast laps.

Running at a track is a good place to work on technique and on intervals because it is really easy to see when you need to start and stop the different sections, and you can see what’s coming up and focus on your finish lines. Using the lines on the track to mark when you should accelerate a little more to try and keep your lap average high is also useful. Using a simple app to track your lap count is also a good idea and one less thing to try and keep track of.

I really am enjoying this new running style and my new level of engagement with my runs. It is good to feel so involved and not like I am just a passenger along for the ride.

Plus, it was a beautiful morning today so I took a quick snap on the walk into the track.

Follow Your Heart

Here are the results of my investigations into heart rate calculations.20130904-065943.jpg

Note that these are the formulae for men. All of these come with blurry lines around what the max really is, even when measured in a consistent population (men of same age, same fitness level, same sports team, can have wildly different HRmax values). These formulae are based on average populations but that’s the best guide you can have without getting your own custom ratings.

For my age and weight these all give pretty consistent numbers across the key ranges.

It is also clear that my general HR numbers from recent runs are way too high. My two mile runs are generally in the 85-100% range which would be very difficult to maintain over distance.



updated info: Note that I update this set of calculations as I find more info. The Measured HRMax and Heart Rate Reserve columns came from later research and testing. Follow the links for more info on those.

Come Together, Right Now.

I managed to ignore the Blue Moon today and concentrate on my run from the outset. It all came together.

I’ve found that my new running style now feels quite natural and that I don’t have to concentrate on all of the components the whole time. I increased my strides per minute from 188 spm to 190 spm as yesterday I found that I was keeping the cadence easily. I was able to cope with this small change without a problem. I found that my mid foot strike was very natural and that my arms were moving correctly throughout.

This allowed me to start to think about pushing back with my feet, pulling forward with my thighs and increasing my stride length a little, while maintaining the cadence. I think I still need to do some more exercises to build these muscles more, but I’m pretty happy with how I was performing.

My pace for today was 7:01 and two of the half mile segments were at 6:33, so clearly I can still improve.

I think now that I need to start paying attention to stride length and reducing my heart rate. I have been monitoring my HR for a week now during my runs and it is quite high and I suspect would be unsustainable for a longer distance run. It is easily in the max range for most of the run. I hope that increasing the stride length slightly (while ensuring I don’t slip back to a heel strike) will allow me to get to a lower heart rate. Part of this will also be about conditioning and increasing the distance a little may help here.

Let the experiments begin…

Staying in the Moment

With the quiet patter of the metronome tickling the darkness you set foot on another day, gradually winding your legs up to pace and rounding the first corner. Look at that. The orange moon is sitting in the sky between the trees that line the boulevard and you strike out towards it; a small step for man…

Then the voice on your arm cuts in with “Wake up, kiddo. You are running at 7:45 pace…”.

Gaa. Distracted again. Goodnight moon.

Think about all the things that you need to do. Foot strike is correctly mid foot. Arms are swinging straight and held correctly. Breathing is all over the shop. Push back with your feet and pull up with your thighs. Bring on the power. Check your steps are in time with the metronome. It all seems pretty good. Recheck again.

When next the voice chirrups my average pace is back in the zone @7:17. Turn around and charge back up the little hill to the main street and think about the day ahead.

Snap. “Your pace is 7:17…”. Another segment passes at a constant pace. But where was I focusing? It is like a scene from Momento; what is my reality?

Now to focus for the last section. Recheck all movements and they are good and smooth. Breathing is still a mess. Lets wrap this up. Count the beeps and done.

Looking at my segment times you can clearly see when I was in the game and when I was off with the fairies. But those segments were fast and that makes me want to do it again. Tomorrow. But first today….


Perception of Time

It’s dark now when I go out in the morning. Truly, properly dark. I had to use my flashlight to see the road ahead of me. Time flies by when you are having fun…

And that is the point of this post today. When I went out I felt fast, smooth, coordinated and like I was moving really well. I didn’t quite hear the stats that my phone read to me at the half mile marker, so I carried on. Still feeling strong and engaged. Then it came to the turn around point and the little voice chirps up a pace of 7:34.

What? How I can I be moving that slowly? It feels like everything is coming together. Sure the GPS is off by a few metres here and there, but I am surprised. Time to redouble my efforts for the return section which starts with a slight uphill.

So, I run harder ensuring more pushing back with my feet and pulling through with thighs. Trying to make sure my hip position is correct, etc. In the end my pace measures 7:28 so I managed to pull it back in some, but it is interesting to see how your perception of your performance may differ from what you are actually recording. Interestingly, when I look at the graph of my heart rate I can clearly see the point where I increased my efforts.

Now it’s time for the excuses: A long ride yesterday with rain all through it. I started at 7am and we were done at 2:30ish. Replaced 3 tubes, one of which was a slow puncture, found one broken cleat on my friends shoe, another friend fell off twice due to new pedal clips, one lost bottle holder and one broken reflector… But a great time was had by all despite what the weather threw at us. My legs are a little tight from being in the saddle for so long yesterday, but in honesty, they aren’t affecting me that much.

Tomorrow is another day.

Spontaneous Direction

Some days you wake up with a plan for where you are going to run, how far you will go and how that will fit into your day, and this is good. Sometimes you have to do whatever it takes to drag your butt out of bed and move (like the morning after a wedding party, for example). Sometimes if you think to hard before you run you can persuade yourself out of it. Life gets in your head and bars the door.

But you must not allow yourself to get trapped into a particular route or run. Be flexible. Go somewhere new.

Today I was all set for a walk up to Central Park and then to run around it, but en route I found that NYC had closed down Park Avenue to cars and were policing it for runners and riders as a part of their Summer Steets campaign. Awesome. This is one of the prettiest streets in NYC and they closed it from Brooklyn Bridge to 72nd St. So I chose a direction and started running.

Again I found myself wishing I was further through my ‘unlearn’ process so that I could put in a few more miles but I don’t want to undo my good work or injure myself, so I did a little over two miles in Park Avenue Canyon with cyclists and a light stream of other runners. This gave plenty of opportunity for watching the various running styles and speeds of the participants; some were clearly in training while others were pottering along with friends catching up on gossip and talking about upcoming events. When it comes to running I think all is good. You just have to be out there doing it. It makes me happy to see so many other people doing the thing I get so much pleasure from.

It looks like the GPS on my phone was a bit wonky today (probably due to the tall buildings) so I don’t believe the two miles @ 6:59 pace it is quoting for a second. It was a fairly leisurely run so that just can’t be right.

Thanks NYC. Now I have to get showered and back home to PA to prepare for a Metric century ride out in East Lancaster with friends tomorrow.