Choose a hill to die on

One of the key features of the 80/20 running programmes is that once a week, you get to run at full throttle with a speed session or hill repetitions run. After last week’s hill session, I was telling one of my kids about it. Her response indicated that she questioned the wisdom (and sanity) of ‘older’ runners doing speedwork. Maybe she has a point; I am on blood pressure medication after all. My reckoning is that the whole point of taking the meds is to enable me to train safely and keep fit; the consequences of not training are clear – definitely get fat, definitely lose vascular tone, definite reduction in cardiac muscle, definite reduction in cardiac output, definite increase in pulse rate and clear greater long term risks through increased likelihood of having what doctors drily call an ‘event’. Having been cleared (and encouraged) to run by a doctor last year, the consequences of pushing too hard are hopefully less likely, even if they are no less severe (having an ‘event’).

So, presented with an apparent ‘Catch-22’, what’s an old fart supposed to do? For me, the answer is simple: keep going. For me, running benefits my physical health and my mental health. Having witnessed the decline of elderly parents, there will definitely come a point at which I will lack the motor and/or cognitive function to run; it’s a matter of when, not if. Adopting the ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy and putting in the miles and the speed now will hopefully delay the inevitable, meaning that the extra years that I hope to live for, will be years of quality. F*** it – if I’m going to drop dead, better that it is on a run with the sun on my back, the wind in my hair and the sound of birdsong in my ears than bedbound, hooked up to an oxygen cylinder and rubber tubes inserted into various orifices.

I am about to become a grandparent, and the same daughter argued that I should not be running to avoid jeopardising the opportunity to be an active grandparent. Again, when her bump has transitioned to baby and toddler, would she prefer grandad to be the stereotypical inactive coffin-dodger with a questionable taste in knitwear and a penchant for throwing Werther’s originals around, or grandad ‘running shoes’ who is able to set the pace for his grandchild and be a positive role model?

I think part of the problem is this: when I think back to the 1970s, few if any of the adults I knew took any exercise apart from dogwalking or golf. Most of them were smokers, and many of them drank to excess, something that the NHS and today’s taxpayers are picking up the tab for. Skip back another generation or two and most people didn’t make old bones, by the time many people were my age, they were already dead! So it was always regarded as the norm that ‘old people don’t do phys’. This is a stereotype worth breaking, and is a hill that I am literally willing to die on.

Speaking of hills. A slight change in my schedule has meant that I run later in the morning and my usual ‘hill reps’ hill is now overrun with kids walking to school. This prompted me to find a new hill. There is a hill on the other side of town that I remembered as being quite long and steep from driving up it. When I got to that hill and began my planned session, I discovered that it was less steep than I remembered, which reminds me of another life lesson – you might be getting bored with the same routine, but the grass is not always greener on the other side – sometimes the best hill, is the one we are on!

80/20 Marathon Training: The First 4 Weeks

Almost straight off the back of my 10K time trial (I took a week’s rest) and I plunged straight into Matt Fitzgerald’s intermediate marathon programme. I should really have taken a bit more of a deliberate rest period after finishing the 10K programme, but patience has never been my strong point! I had itchy feet and with every day that passed, could almost feel my muscle fibres, lungs and heart start to wither (long experience has taught me that I decondition with alarming rapidity).

The first 4 weeks of base building are not dissimilar to the 10K programme that I have described elsewhere in my blog: Foundation Runs (mostly Zone 2, with a Zone 1 warm up and cool down), Fast Finish Runs, Speed Play Sessions (similar to interval training) and the weekly Zone 2 Long Run (8 miles, 9 miles, 6 miles, 10 miles). It looks like summer has finally arrived, which means that I am am having to be extra careful with hydration and good sleep hygiene; if I am dehydrated or have a rough night’s sleep, I find it more difficult to keep my heart rate within zones without running really slowly or taking more walking breaks than I would like. Sunday’s ten miler (which ended up being a ten-and-a-half miler) was torturous at times. On the plus side, summer has brought daylight to my early morning runs, lush greenery, pleasant birdsong and wildlife to look at: rabbits basking in the morning sun, and the occasional fleeting glimpse of roe deer bolting through the woodland near my home.

The downside of going straight back the marathon programme is the length of the plan; I have cracked 4 weeks, but still have another 8 weeks of base bulding to go and the low intensity workouts can feel monotononous. Instead of intervals, I now have a month of weekly hill reps sessions to look forward to which should be fun in a hideous ‘beat yourself over the head and feel happy when it’s stopped’ kind of way. This week’s long run jumps up to 12 miles, a distance that I haven’t walked in years let alone run. In training for a marathon at this stage in life, most of my family question my sanity. In quieter moments, I question my own sanity. The only person who has blind faith in my ability to do this is the boy. His running journey continues, with him managing a PB of 2:08 in the 800 metres at a recent event, ranking him in the top 200 runners for his age in the country; an achievement that I never came close to in my prime. Long may our running journeys continue!

When Life Gets in the Way

One of the pitfalls of being an amateur runner, is that we have other commitments, unless we’re fortunate enough to have a passive income, we all have to go out and work to keep a roof over our head and put food on the table. We have loved ones that need our help and support, and we might have other hobbies and interests that take up our time. Two of my fitness heroes have very different views on this, and neither is necessarily wrong. David Goggins says ‘F—- balance’ and advocates taking things to the extreme to achieve excellence. Fitness YouTuber Mark Lewis acknowledges that few of us have the time, effort and energy to commit to achieving true excellence, and advocates instead for striving to be above average. Let’s face it, for a lot of us, just the act of pulling on a pair of running shoes and heading outside for a training run puts us in the ‘above average’ bracket compared with most of the population.

I have struggled with balancing work, home and fitness in the last few weeks, often due to circumstances beyond my control. A work trip meant leaving at 5:00am to get a morning flight, followed by onward travel, an afternoon of meetings, an evening social and a welcome seven hours of sleep before getting the return flight home to an full inbox and skype meetings. I had planned to get super early to run before the flight, but some family stuff the night before made for a very late bedtime (after midnight). My other cunning plan was to take running kit with me and run the next day before my return flight; sadly, having decided to travel light, I could not fit my running kit in my carry-on bag, and I was too tired to run that evening. The net result was that I missed out on two runs. I made up for some of the missing mileage by running longer at the weekend, but I still ended up about 5km short of my goal mileage.

Cut to the following week and travel for a long-planned wedding meant that as well as missing a recovery run, I spent much of the weekend sitting in a car, and having more to drink than usual. I took my running kit, but the area we were staying in was not ideal for running and besides, a was too hungover to run on what turned into a hot day. I delayed my 10 mile run until the evening and concentrated on rehydration, but the heat of the day and the previous day’s booze made it difficult to maintain both a decent pace while staying in the correct Heart Rate Zone, but by getting out and getting it done, I beat Mr Average, who was no doubt lying on a sofa eating a McDonald’s!

Running that evening messed up my routine. To get back on track, I needed to run late afternoon the next day, and on the third day, got myself back on track by running on tired legs just twelve hours later. Balance is now restored, and I feel able to get back on track. The last couple of months have seen me struggle with disturbed sleep and dehydration, meaning that my performance has not been as good as I would have liked. I hope that I am past this phase now and look forward to improving my performance over the coming weeks.

If your life is getting in the way of your running, just remember these 5 tips:

  1. Plan your life to minimise disruption to your routine (I run early to avoid the snowball effect later in the day).
  2. Be honest with yourself – don’t use a busy life as a ‘go to’ excuse to consistently skip training.
  3. If you are comfortable breaking your routine to do something fun, do it. If that involves alcohol and partying, accept that there will be a price to pay and enjoy it; then when it is safe to do so, pick up the training and work it off.
  4. Be kind to yourself, don’t beat yourself up about it. S— happens!
  5. If you miss too many sessions, maybe drop back a week in your training programme to ensure your training remains progressive and doesn’t overstretch you.

80/20 Running on (Time) Trial

The verdict is in

Okay, as planned, and in the absence of a race to participate in, today I completed a best-effort 10km time trial as the culmination of following Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running programme. Whilst I did not achieve an age PB, I managed a creditable 58:54 minutes over a course that had a few cheeky hills. Last time I ran a PB, I managed 55:31 on a fast, flat course in a post-lockdown road race. Considering this was a solo effort, with no mid-race mini contests, nobody to chase and nothing for distraction save for my own breath and my Garmin watch, I think a race would have been mentally easier. All was not perfect and I started at a pace that was comfortably fast (I felt like an unstoppable running monster), but became more challenging after the first main hill and the 5km point, and was barely sustainable after 7.5km and the second significant hill. The last 2 km were finished with gritted teeth, some short walking breaks and the ‘old skool’ trick of getting a song in my head (something I wished I had thought of sooner)!

Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower? So how does 80/20 running measure up; did the programme deliver on its core promises of ‘run stronger and race faster’? Despite not getting a PB, the more undulating nature of this course would inevitably mean that I was at risk of running slower on some stretches, and so it proved. My fastest split was 5:34, with an overall average pace of 5:53 for the whole course. My time was dragged down by some slower splits on the hills and toward the end of the run (5:55, 6:04, 6:33 and 6:11). On balance, I feel that the results are broadly commensurate, and had I not misjudged my initial pace, I might have got a faster time. Verdict: 80/20 Running Lives Up to its core promise.

Split times for my 10km time trial

Less Fatigue, Fewer Injuries. As I sit and write this post, I have a strong sense of deja vu; my legs are stiff and I feel tired. That’s a good thing, it means that I put in maximum effort, over the next couple of days, the discomfort will ease and I will be back to running. But the sense of deja vu does not only come from racing, it comes from how I used to feel after most of my runs. Before 80/20, I was a product of the ‘no pain, no gain’ approach to training that was drummed into me in my youth. I used to dread some runs, bacause I was starting them with more fatigue and stiffness than I would like. I also had fairly frequent interruptions to my training as a result of picking up silly little injuries – pulling my back when loading the car, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, the occasional knee twinge. I can honestly say that I have managed this programme and the volume of training that it presents with no issues whatsoever. If you had told me twelve months ago, that I would be training daily in blocks of 20 days, I would not have believed you. Even at my fittest as a young man, I would always need at least one day off per week. The predominance of easy running in this programme has kept my legs fresh and injury free. Verdict: Using 80/20 Running, I have had fewer injuries and experienced less fatigue than taking a traditional approach to training.

Developing the energy systems. One criticism of low intensity training is born out of the long held view that ‘long slow running creates long slow runners’. I have certainly heard this said about MAF training (another system of low intensity training). 80/20 counters this through the provision of regular speed work and ‘fast finish runs’. Looking at the data for the last three months, My pace has improved at all Heart Rate Zones since starting the programme. Running in Zone 1 (warmup and recovery pace) I can see that my average pace has improved from 11:34 mins per km in January to 9:40 mins per km. In Zone 2, I have progressed from running an average of 8:50 mins per km to around 7:50. The improvements at Zone 4 and Zone 5 are less dramatic, but they are clearly evident. The few speedwork sessions (one per week in the base and taper phases, two per week in the peak phases) have done a good job of developing my ability to sustain work at pace as evidenced by the amount of yellow (Zone 4) and red (Zone 5) that is visible on the MyZone summary for my time trial (in contrast to the dominance of blue (Zone 2) and green (Zone 3) that is apparent in my typical ‘Foundation’ and ‘Fast Finish’ runs that make up the bulk (80-90% of the weekly training load. In fact, I am bowled over by how long I was able to sustain faster paced running before the lactic acid kicked in. Verdict: 80/20 Running delivers on its promise to develop fitness across all Heart Rate Zones

HR Zones for my 10km time trial
Typical 80/20 Foundation Run HR Zone Profile

What would I do differently next time? Like many coaches, Fitzgerald advocates cross training and strength training. Although Fitzgerald advises older runners to swap out some of the runs for cross training, I did not do this as a rule (at least until the last week, when a hotel stay meant that I did a machine-based CV workout instead of a run). I like the idea of running 6-7 days a week, so occasionally cross training is alien to me, but something that I know I should do. Despite understanding its value, I do not routinely do strength training – this is largely due to time pressures – if I have limited time and a choice of running or doing a strength workout, I will choose the run, every time. After the second hill this morning, I could feel that my glutes were waving little white flags and surrendering, leading to reliance on other muscles and a loss of form. Now that I am getting fitter, I make a commitment here and now, that I will incorporate strength training into my next training cycle. There are some great resources online for this, Running YouTuber and physiotherapist James Dunne has an excellent video on strength training for runners here. And South African Comrades Marathon Coach Lindsey Parry has some excellent free (and paid) resources available on his website. Please note that I do not gain anything from recommending Coach Parry or James Dunne, I just really like their content and the support that they provide to runners.

Ticking Away at the Taper

I can’t quite believe that I’m already nearing the end of the 80:20 Running 10K programme. The last time I posted about this, I had just entered the Peak Phase. The step up from base training to peak was challenging at first – the addition of a second speedwork session was tiring but just about manageable. At the end of the toughest session, I felt as though I could have done with running one less rep, but the next morning, my legs felt refreshed and ready to go again. In the second half of the peak phase, there was greater emphasis on long intervals in Zone 3 and Zone 4, some Mixed Intervals which incorporated a variety of paces and distances and the merging of the weekly Long Run with the speed play sessions that are typical of the 80:20 Plan.

The Long Run with Speed Play was a ten miler which consisted of a warm up of 0.5 miles in Zone 1 and 1 mile in Zone 2 before moving on to 8 x reps of 1 mile, broken down as 0.25 miles Zone 3 and 0.75 miles Zone 2, ending with a 0.5 mile Zone 1 cool down. Our spring weather has been very mixed so far and on the day that I ran this session, the temperature was -6C at the start, and 12 degrees warmer at the finish. My one regret was setting off wearing winter kit at the start and being a little over-heated at the end! I can’t remember the last time I ran ten miles. In my head it was about 12 years ago, but on reflection, I think it was closer to 14 years ago. I didn’t feel so bad when a chat with my older brother revealed that he reckoned he hadn’t run that far in 30 years! My mileage for the final week of the peak was 50km (younger, faster runners will no doubt exceed this).

So here I am, in the final week of the training programme and I am working my way through the taper period. I am still running almost every day, and although there is still speedwork and easy runs, the sessions are getting shorter, which rightly ot wrongly, I am finding frustrating. I have a mental number that I always like to achieve in weekly mileage; for me, the magic number is 30km. I just scraped through in the first week, but I don’t think I will manage that this week, even with the 10km time trial on Sunday. I get that the whole point is to rest and recover, but I just feel lazy. I have coined a word for this: frustraining. But, as with anything on this plan, I have to remind myself to trust the science and go with the flow.

So with only three sessions to go before the 10km time trial, I will sign off now and give a full review of my experience with 80/20 running next time.

In the meantime, if you want to check out Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running, click the image below.

Learning to Love Discomfort

This is not a post about stoicism, nope, not at all. As much as I love them, you won’t find a single Marcus Aurelius quote in the blog post. I have blogged before about some of the benefits or toughening the mind to help your fitness journey, including taking a leaf out of David Goggins’ book with techniques such as reaching into the cookie jar. And no, I’m not about to cite a load of Goggins quotes about carrying the boats or staying hard either.

For about seven days, I have been practicing the Wim Hof Method (WHM) which involves a combination of breathwork, cold showers, exercises and meditation. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few year, Hof is known for seemingly superhuman exploits such as running a barefooted half marathon in the arctic, climbing Mount Everest wearing a pair of shorts and conducting a 66 metre breathholding dive under polar ice. Interestingly, Hof insists that such abilities are within everybody’s ability, but that humanity has forgotten how to live in the natural world, and that as a result, we our out of touch with our environment, and out of touch with our bodies. Under such circumstances, our immune systems are weakened and we are prone to dis-ease.

Hof claims that breathwork, exercise and cold showers can help prevent and reverse a range of physical and mental ailments. (I am not a doctor, and am not recommending that anyone does this, if you do decide to follow the WHM and you have any chronic illnesses, particularly cardiovascular illnesses, I strongly recommend that you consult your physician before literally taking the plunge). Anyway, I was sufficiently intrigued to give this a go.

I will not go into massive detail on the breathwork here and would steer you toward Wim’s excellent video based mini class to learn the basics. Instead I will concentrate on the cold shower technique. I had heard of the benefits of taking cold showers before taking the mini class and jumped right in. It was hard, but (just) manageable. On the first day, I managed about one minute, and maybe 90 seconds on the second day. I did this through sheer willpower and determination. By the time day three came around, I had watched Wim’s cold shower video class, and learned that I had been doing it wrong (guess what ‘manning up’ and ‘taking the pain’ actually does more harm than good – not the first time in my life that I have started doing something before actually reading the instructions).

Anyway, after seven days of following the correct technique, I am loving it. I sing and dance my way through ten minutes of cold water showers with a smile on my face. It’s so invigorating and I feel great for hours afterwards. Physically I feel great, but I have found that my mood is raised and I am happy. When taking a cold shower I feel perfectly in tune with my body and I get a buzz from knowing that I have faced what is likely to be the most uncomfortable aspect of my day with a smile.

I run almost every day, so the early morning routine of WHM breathing techniques, followed by exercise and hot shower-cold shower works well for me. I have been enjoying the cold shower and breathing exercises so much that I have just downloaded the app to do the full programme (available for iPhone and Android) and will be sharing my progress from here onwards. I am really looking forward to seeing what improvements I can make as a result!

Polarisation and Periodisation

No, not that kind of polarisation!

I had a great conversation with two other older runners the other day. We were chatting about our training over a cup of coffee. Whilst I was sharing all of my positive experiences with 80/20 running and Heart Rate Zone training, my friends confessed that they still the same way as they did in their twenties: start hard, stay hard and keep pushing on to the grim end. Every session. Week in, week out. No doubt, this approach is almost hard-wired into their mindset. I know this, because that was my mindset until a few months ago. Hard sessions were hard, ‘moderate’ sessions were only a little less hard and even ‘easy’ sessions were rather faster than they should be.

Last year I was training in 3 day blocks and would stagger from one session to the next and if a three day block fell on a Friday-Sunday weekend, I would have the joy of a hard session on the Friday, a moderate session on the Saturday and a long (not so) ‘easy’ run on a Sunday. I told myself that I was getting fit, but in reality I was struggling to maintain the momentum and suffering from fatigue. I wrote about it here. After dialing back the training, I was able to pull a 10K age-PB out of the bag a couple of months later.

I have learned the hard way, and through reading about training methods, that the way I used to train (and the way a lot of my friends still do train) is counterproductive. There are two key techniques that I am now going to use: polarisation and periodisation. Lets look at each of these in turn.

Polarisation. Polarisation is the essence of 80/20 running. Hard runs should be hard, easy runs should be easy and ‘moderate’ runs should be very few in number. Matt Fitzgerald reckons that most amateur runners spend too much time in the ‘moderate to hard’ zones and too little time in the ‘easy’ zones. The 80/20 plans tend to only have one ‘moderate’ run per week, and even then it is tacked on to the the end of an easy run and consitutes a miniscule percentage of the weekly training time. For me, polarisation is supported by the ‘hard-easy’ principle, which means that there is always an easy run on the day after a hard run.

Periodisation. By breaking training up into periods, or blocks of time, runners are able to get some well earned rest in. I have never done this (thanks Army!). Even when I was on Annual Leave, I would use the time to ramp up the training in order to be fitter when I returned to work. Unfortunately, my body would sooner or later get the rest it desperately needed through picking up an injury or getting ill! So now I intend to pre empt those mini-crises by planning a couple of weeks’ rest every few months.

Within each training block, a defined cycle of base building, peak training and tapering should be evident. My current programme is a 12 week plan consisting of 6 weeks’ base training, 4 weeks’ peak training and 2 weeks’ pre race taper. Using the 80/20 approach, the training is only 10-11% high intensity during the base phase and 22% during the peak phase. During the taper phase, the mileage is reduced, but the 80/20 principle is still in play. My current training ends in mid-April, which will see me have a good spell of rest before starting back with an 18 week block of marathon training in early May. That will take me through to September and another block of rest before I look at a spell of shorter distance work to get my 5km run time down.

Paradoxically, while I am working on increasing my mileage, the boy is making the switch from winter cross country races to training for the track season. For this, we will be basing his training on the approach adopted by US Olympian Nick Symmonds. Funnily enough, despite training for the 800m, and no mention of Heart Rate Zones, Symmonds’ training is quite close to 80/20 – lots of easy work, a long run once a week, and some quality hard track sessions, along with some strength/conditioning work. Two runners, one in his 50s, one in his teens, each using the same principles to achieve their (very different) goals.

Peak Freak

So after what seems like years of base training (it’s actually only been six weeks, but in that time I have done 40 runs), this week sees the start of the peak phase of my 10K programme. Although last week was an easy week, I have started the week feeling a little more tired than usual. The good news is that I am really seeing some progress and starting to do something more than an easy jog on my Zone 2 runs, this translates directly into increased weekly mileage as well.

Moving in to the peak phase means that I will be adding an extra high intensity run each week and swapping my long easy run for longer fast finish runs. Up until now, about 90% of my training has been at lower intensity, this now drops to around 80%. Having found the lower intensity running to be a little dull at times, I now find myself a little concerned at the prospect of doubling my speed sessions – I am not as young as I used to be, and only now do I appreciate why Matt Fitzgerald recommends that older runners swap out one or two runs with cross training sessions. If I had a bike, or access to a gym that opens at 5:00a.m. I would be seriously considering this, but I don’t. Therefore I’m afraid it’s a case of pushing through the next 28 days and hoping that I get to the tapering phased in one piece!

If you haven’t checked it out yet, please have a look at the ‘my kit’ page. You will see that I train using a MyZone MZ3 belt. I am very happy with this product and was somewhat confused at the negative reviews that it attracts on Amazon. I imagine that the negative reviews come from people who did not bother to read the small instruction sheet that comes in the box. Before using for the first time, the MZ3, it is necessary to fully charge it using the USB cable that it comes with. Like the Garmin watch, it is best to charge this via a PC USB port and not through a plug socket – I imagine the higher voltage fries the electronic wizardry inside the device. A lot of the reviewers comment that they cannot pick up a trace, that the signal is erratic, or the device switches itself off. I had a couple of issues with this, but a quick google search revealed that the recommended fix is to make sure the chest strap fits correctly and, if necessary, to move the chest strap around so that the transmitter and electrodes are over the left side of the chest – this is particularly useful for those of is blessed or cursed with hairy chests who can struggle to get a good connection. Since trying this fix, I have seldom had a problem apart from one or two short periods of display freeze on my Garmin watch, which was likely due to ‘cadence lock’, in which the device displays your step rate rather than your heart rate. When I managed to accidentally drown my old Garmin watch, the fact that I could synch the MZ3 to my phone and my antique polar watch was a Godsend.

Heart Rate Zones and Heart Rate Training

I have been posting recently about my running training using Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running system. I am following the 10K plan using the level 2 (intermediate) programme, but there are also options for beginners and experienced racers alike. This book is more than a plan; it is a comprehensive guide and details the history of low intensity training as well as guides on how to train using 80/20 running regardless of your age and fitness level.

If you have been reading my posts, you may be wondering what Heart Rate Zones are. Biology 101: your heart rate is the number of times that your heart beats each minute and is measured in beats per minute. Generally speaking, the fitter you are, the stronger your heart muscle is and your heart rate will be lower and the heart will pump more blood around the body with each beat (stroke volume). There are five key Heart Rate Zones for training, with Zone 1 being the lowest and Zone 5 the highest.

If you are considering training using Heart Rate Zones, it is essential to remember that most methods of Heart Rate Zone calculation take a generic formula and apply it to the masses; in this respect, it’s a little like taking a 42″ suit and expecting it to fit everyone.

There are various methods for calculating your Heart Rate Zones. Among the best known is the Theoretical Maximum Heart Rate (TMHR) method. TMHR is calculated by subtracting your age from 220. A fifty year old would have a TMHR of 170, whereas a 28 year old would have a TMHR of 198. The Heart Rate Zones are calculated as a range of percentages of TMHR. I have encountered a few variations on the theme and to explain them fully would need more than a relatively short blog post. The example below details the Zones that Garmin Connect currently uses based on TMHR. These are the zones that I currently use for training.

Zone % of TMHRDescriptionAge 50 exampleAge 30 example
150-60%Walking pace / very light jog. Able to hold a full conversation.85-10295-114
260-70%Easy running pace. Able to hold a conversation.102-119114-133
370-80%Steady running pace. Unable to speak in full sentences.119-136133-152
480-90%Fast running pace. One word responses.136-153152-171
590-100%Flat out sprint. Unable to speak.153-170171-190

Another method is for a runner to estimate their Lactate Threshold Heart Rate. This seeks to gauge the point at which a runner moves from aerobic work to anaerobic work. This will typically be in the upper reaches of Zone 4. Runners know that they are working anaerobically when their legs begin to feel heavy with lactic acid and breathing is hard. Serious and elite athletes will often get their lactate threshold assessed in a lab with a combination of treadmill running, heart rate monitoring and bloodwork. This is time consuming, costly and not really necessary for most of us lesser mortals, but it is the gold standard. Thankfully, less accurate, cheaper methods available. The first is the 30 minute test. This requires you to run as fast as you can for 30 minutes while wearing a Heart Rate Monitor. Your average Heart Rate for the last 10 minutes will give you an approximation of your lactate threshold heart rate. The main downsides of this method are that running hard for 30 minutes is beyond the ability of most beginner runners and also that it is quite an unpleasant test to do (the main reason that I chose not to employ this method). A more complicated, but less painful method is the talk test. While wearing a Heart Rate Monitor, the runner starts at a slow jog and increases their pace gradually at one minute intervals. Fitzgerald recommends reciting the United States’ Pledge of Allegiance. Non-Americans can opt to count aloud from 120 to 125, or perhaps recite the nursery rhyme ‘Humpty Dumpty’ instead. Runners should carry out the test until they reach the point at which talking is uncomfortable and note the previous speed at which talking was comfortable: Heart Rate at this previous speed is the runner’s lactate threshold heart rate. Fitzgerald notes that ‘comfortable’ means talking with a mild sense of oxygen deficit or dyspnoea. Fitzgerald’s five Heart Rate Zones are based on percentage of Lactate Threshold Heart Rate:

Zone% of Lactate Threshold HRZone Name
175-80%Low Aerobic
281-89%Moderate Aerobic
396-100%Threshold
4102-105%VO2 Max
5>106%Speed
80/20 Heart Rate Zones (Fitzgerald)

Whichever method you use to train with HR Zones, it is worth remembering the principle that most of your training should be done in the lower HR Zones. I have found in training that I tend to train in the higher reaches of the Max HR Zones, occasionally crossing the line into the lower reaches of the next Zone. Considering the generic nature of the method I am using, I might be training at slightly too easy a pace. I balance this with RPE, and not being too precise about my HR as long as I am no more than 5 bpm above the maximum for the zone. I have also realised that, on reflection I am using a slightly modified version of Fitzgerald’s training and that when I finish this block of training, I should perhaps be more disciplined in my adherence.

It is worth remembering that your Heart Rate is a moving target. As you get fitter, your zones will change. It is worth conducting a talk test or max effort test every couple of months, particularly when you move between training blocks. Also, your Heart Rate is affected by many variables: hydration, electrolyte balance, caffeine intake, stress, illness, sleep and smoking to name but a few. Taking control of as many as these variables as possible through positive lifestyle actions will help keep your heart rate consistent. If your resting Heart Rate is more than 10 bpm higher than usual, it might be a sign that you are unwell, fatigued or dehydrated – take action to correct these before training, and if you are ill, stressed, or fatigued, take a rest day.

Quicker Slows and Faster Finishes

This week, I have mostly learned that the programme is working and I will be successful!

After Sunday’s Long Run, the week began with a 45 minute Recovery Run (all Zone 1) followed by a Fast Finish Run and two ‘Foundation Runs’. Friday was another Hill Rep session, and at the time of writing, I have another 45 minute Recovery Run and a 9 mile Long Run to do until I get a well-deserved rest day. If you have been following the last couple of posts, you might have worked out that I am coming to the end of a 20 day block of running every day, something that I have never done before, and couldn’t consider if I was training at higher intensities. The Recovery Run is purely aimed at allowing the body to recover from a harder session while being active. The Fast Finish Run aims to continue to build the aerobic engine with a Zone 1 warm up jog followed by a moderate distance Zone 2 Run which builds to a final segment in Zone 3. In this fifth week of the 80/20 Running 10km programme, the Fast Finish Run consists of 35 minutes of Zone 2 running, followed by 15 minutes in Zone 3. Combined with the Zone 1 warm up, this makes for a 55 minute workout. Sticking to the hard/easy principle, the next two days were Foundation Runs of 35 minutes in Zone 2 with 5 minutes of Zone 1 to warm up and cool down.

This week, I have found that across all of my timed runs, I was running further for each HR Zone. On Thursday’s Foundation Run, I managed to run 300 metres further than on my first attempt a couple of weeks ago. The Fast Finish Run was great, staying comfortably in Zone 3, even on a long uphill stretch that would previously have seen my HR spiking up into Zone 4. All of this tells me that the programme is working. On the downside, this morning’s Hill Rep session was quite hideous: the jump from 30 second efforts to 60 second efforts really stretched me, but I survived, and reminded myself that ‘today’s pain is tomorrow’s victory’. At least there is not a hard session like that for another week!

Some of my blog posts have been about father-son running. I have managed to persuade ‘the boy’ to try out the 80/20 approach to training. He now incorporates long runs into his programme, and as the cross country season draws to a close, he has found that his speed sessions are faster than ever and his racing is comfortable, because he has more running under his belt and does not cross the start line in a fatigued state. The boy will be running for his county in the National Schools Inter-County Cross Country championships in March, and I have started him on a slightly amended version of the 80/20 Level 3 (advanced) 5km plan to prepare him, so I hope to be able to share some really good news next month.

I have added a page about my favourite running gear. Whilst I was tempted to do some reviews, I am not running with top of the range or new kit, so I don’t think I will add much value in doing so, as there will be lots of reviews out there on YouTube. The gear works for me and I like it, so I thought I would share.

In my next post I wil be sharing some thoughts on calculating Heart Rate Zones and what these mean to me.