Monday, 28 October 2013

Monday punishment

Monday is usually my day for circuit training, but today was the Great UK Storm so my circuit class was cancelled for safety reasons. I decided to do a Jillian Michaels fat burning workout in the evening.

My sister has got me onto fitness workouts via YouTube, I don't know why I've never thought of looking online for exercise videos before. Possibly because I'm not a fan of home workouts; I have a tendency to "rest" on the sofa while the tricky bits are worked through by the trainer, and I'm sure I don't push myself hard enough when I'm actually joining in. I'm also worried about injuring myself because I'm not doing the exercises correctly.

Anyway, here's the routine, in case you fancy it ;-)

My sister attempted this same workout and had to abandon it halfway through. It's a toughie. But I burnt 350 calories in less than an hour. That's equivalent to a 4 mile run! Definitely doing it again, because I'm a glutton for punishment. I need a bigger room though, I kicked the sofa several times. 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The next challenge: Milton Keynes Marathon

Today is exactly 1 year since I ran my first marathon, Preston Guild Marathon. Training had gone well for this race until I reached 18 miles and my knee decided to go on strike. Stupid joints. I never felt that I did my best during this race, so after a year of Pilates, strength work, and careful training, I feel ready to have another go. 

I didn't really think I'd be able to run a marathon in Spring 2014 (April is booked up!), but some googling revealed two possibles: Cambridge Boundary Run on March 2nd or Milton Keynes Marathon on May 5th (Bank Holiday Monday). The races are very different: Cambridge costs £8 to enter but is off-road, self-navigated, and not chip-timed; MK is £40 entry, flattish and on cycle paths or roads, and chip-timed (with a medal!). 

After some gentle persuasion, my husband agreed I could run MK. And so here I am, facing my second marathon, and a winter of cold, dark, long runs. I feel a lot more prepared this time round, and I'm confident I can get through the training without breaking myself too much. And the best thing is, at least one friend will be running the race too. I just need to persuade a few more :-)

Here's my Preston Marathon blog, from my old blog. Good memories!


It's over a week now since I ran Preston Guild marathon, my first marathon. Yes, I ran a marathon! All the way.

The race was the first weekend of school half term, so we travelled up to Preston after school on Friday evening, to stay with my parents. I packed about 4 different sets of running gear, just in case I felt uncomfortable in something on the day. I didn't pack a long sleeve top or a jacket though, because I'd not trained in one, but I would regret that decision!

The day before the race was dry but cold. I travelled to Preston with my family to attend the race expo, where I collected my race number and chip and received my souvenir T-shirt. I also met up with my schoolfriend Damian, who I was going to run the marathon with. We saw Liz McColgan and Helen Clitheroe at the event; apparently Liz McColgan was telling people she had to have a toe amputated. That's some reassuring running advice for you.

1130: sadly not the time I would be finished by!

Some friends had warned me SNOW was predicted for Sunday. Nooo! I didn't have any warm clothing to protect me from snow other than a pair of gloves and my hat. By Saturday evening I was resigned to the fact it was definitely going to rain. The weather forecast had a big blue patch over the whole of Lancashire for the whole day. But I decided rain would be OK because it would raise the temperature, so I wouldn't be cold! I finalised my kit, deciding to put in my gloves just in case it was cold first thing. I also sorted my food and drink, a bottle of an isotonic drink (not advisable to race with an untried food or drink, but I was worried after my Baldock Beast experience that I might need the energy) and three flapjack fingers that I'd originally bought for the kids' lunches!

Sunday morning, I was up at 5:30am for porridge. The clocks had gone back an hour overnight so I didn't feel too bad at the early start, plus I'd slept surprisingly well. By 7am I was on my way to Preston with my mum and dad (my husband and children were coming along for the finish, because of the cold weather and long wait between start and finish). It was FREEZING. Really cold. And it started to rain heavily just as we arrived in Preston. Marvellous. Inside Race HQ it was much warmer. I met up with Damian and we discussed whether we should wear jackets for the race. We decided not to because the rain had stopped and we would warm up as we ran.

My race number under my T-shirt makes me look podgy!

Heading to the start was exciting. So many other runners, probably similar to Standalone 10K in number but the noise was intense! We placed ourselves in the 4 hour group to avoid being passed by too many faster runners but to ensure we didn't have to pass lots of slower people. I had my phone in a bum bag tucked inside my running trousers, I had bought an app called MyWhereAbouts that was set up to tweet and post to Facebook every 1 mile, and I started this 5 minutes before the race start so I wasn't fiddling about. Garmin was ready to go, and then the crowd cheered and the gun fired and we were off!

Just before the start. Happy and relaxed. And no rain!

The first mile was crazy. Loads of people around us all settling into their stride. The route was downhill for the first few miles, so we were quite quick. We soon settled down into a good pace. The first water station at mile 3 had water and gels available. I took both to make sure I was hydrated and I was still worrying about any potential lack of energy.

3 miles in. Copyright R&R Photos

I had gloves on at this point, but by the time we got back to Preston at 5 miles I was hot. I saw my mum and dad again and handed them over. I regretted that decision about 10 minutes later, when the rain started. A downpour. And not just rain, but wind. Cold wind. Unfriendly weather.

Now, you all know about my knee troubles in the weeks before this event. My physio had advised me to carry painkillers and use them at the first sign of pain. At about mile 10 I started to feel a niggle in my knee, nothing massively painful, but I wanted to be safe, so I took my painkillers and felt good. Unfortunately, less than a mile later, Damian suddenly said he had to walk, his foot was really hurting. I didn't mind a walk at that point, gave me a chance to eat something. But bloody hell Damian! It was supposed to be me not you getting injured!

We continued running and walking for another 10 miles. It was a good strategy really. Meant I was not too tired, well hydrated, and full of energy gel. We kept passing and being passed by the same couples of runners. That was quite nice really because we struck up some good banter and made the experience even more fun and enjoyable. Everyone enjoys a moan about the weather. I was also happy to hear my phone beeping every mile or so, knowing that it probably meant another tweet had been sent and someone was wishing me luck. Those random beeps really kept my spirits high, it's a self-centered thing to say, but I felt happy knowing people were thinking about me.

I should say something now about the marshals, before I forget. They were simply brilliant. It was pouring down, really heavy rain. We were soaked through, but we were moving. These guys were stood for several hours providing support. They were drenched, cold, but never miserable. They always had something cheerful to say to us. And the spectators too were great. I made a point of chatting to as many people as I could, thanking them for coming out in the rain. And the little children too, they were so happy to be shouting at random people!

Anyway, now we are passed mile 20. The time is 4 hours; I'm getting cold and really want to be finished within 5 hours. Damian suddenly tells me he has to stop because he's not feeling great, and I decide now is the time we're going to have to run alone. I felt very very bad for leaving him, especially because he didn't look good. But it was definitely the right time (don't worry, he was fine!). I felt rested, surprisingly, and full of energy. I ran the next mile in less than 10 minutes I think! I eventually settled down into a steady pace. Just kept pushing myself on, telling myself I had 10K to run, then 5K, then 1 mile. I was also enjoying passing all the runners who had passed us earlier. I do like picking people off. I have no compassion.

I wasn't exactly sure how much farther I had to run. My Garmin didn't seem to accord with the mile markers. As I passed the mile 26 marker, we turned onto an off ramp from the bypass. It took us down and under the road. What goes down must come up. The final uphill stretch was so steep, my knee finally decided it had had enough and started to be very painful. I did shout a lot at that point. I was running so fast too. I could sense the end, and my watch said 4:58:00. I was going to make sub 5 hours! As I rounded a corner into the finish straight I was struck by two things: the clock said 4:59:30, and my children, husband, niece and nephew, sister, brother-in-law, and my parents were all there cheering me. I completely lost it.

Me, blubbing like a baby

As I crossed the line I heard the commentator say "And ladies and gentlemen a big cheer to this lady who is the last runner to finish under 5 hours", and I did get a big cheer. I was a bit shocked. I started to hyperventilate a bit. Needed to calm down! I received my medal and stood in a bit of a daze for a minute until I saw my family again. I then most importantly stopped the app on my phone, glanced at it quickly to take in the extent of the messages I'd received, WOW! I had 100 mentions in total. You guys are great x

Mouth full of flapjack, soaked to the skin, phone in hand
Post-race changing is always a bit tricky. I was cold and wet, but very thankful I'd packed warm dry clothes to change into. Not so happy about having to walk up two flights of stairs to get changed. We met up with Damian again (he finished in 5:17) and enjoyed a pint in the dodgiest pub in Preston before heading home for a bath and some food.

Tired and a bit achey, but very pleased

I don't think I'll ever run another marathon. The training was so hard and the event is very tough. Perhaps I had a poorer experience than other people because of my knee trouble and the bad weather on the day. If I do run another it'll have to be a special one!

Stevenage half training: last long run

On Saturday afternoon I ran my last long run before Stevenage half next Sunday. I was trying to avoid the wind and rain forecast for Sunday but ended up completely drenched. Serves me right I guess.

I wasn't sure how far to run, after running 12 miles last week I could either cut back to 10 but run nearer race pace or run longer (14 miles). I decided to run longer, to heart rate, so headed out on the Letchworth Greenway (which is about 14 miles). 

As I received my drenching, just as I crossed the road at Letchworth Gate, I decided to cut out the Hitchin part of the Greenway and run on the road to Willian, in an attempt to cut back onto the A505 halfway down. (I want to "learn" the roads around south Letchworth.) Anyway, I got lost and 2 miles later ended up back at Letchworth Gate. So I just ran home the way I'd come, resolving to check a map when I got home!

12.5 miles in total, my fastest long run over the past 3 weeks of heart rate training. So perhaps it's starting to work. 

Next week is my last week of training before the race. Not much I can do really to get any faster, but I'll do the club runs and perhaps my long tempo run on Wednesday if work goes OK. And continue with my diet and strength work (I've lost 2 lb in 2 weeks so far).

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Strava Segment run

Tonight I ran my Strava segment run again, it's my new Wednesday tradition (a 2 week tradition). First 2 miles are slow, third mile is as fast as I can run from Fairfield Park to Standalone Farm, fourth mile and a bit is slow again, fifth mile is as fast as I can from Fairfield Park back to Stotfold, then a nice slow cool down mile. Just over 6 miles, a perfect tempo run (in my opinion).

The two fast miles were about 7:40, which I'm happy with. Heart rate was in the right places at the right times too. I could probably have run faster, but I'd eaten my tea an hour earlier, and I was thinking about stuff (as you do), and I kept looking at the sky (very starry tonight). So yeah, good.

Apart from when I noticed my heart rate had gone a bit weird at the start of the run (170). So I started fiddling while running. And broke the damn thing. So had to remove the strap and fix and reattach it. For those who don't know, the strap goes under my sports bra... At least it wasn't a club night. 

Other stuff this week...

Monday I went to circuits. That was hard. Pete had this new structure of 6 sets of 20 second exercise, with 10 seconds rest in between. Once you finished the 6 sets you moved onto the next exercise. I started on the TRX doing inverted row, I always start on the TRX because next to press ups they are my least favourite exercise. Anyway, lunges and squats and ab curls and cardio. And 2 days later my legs still ache. 

Beginners club run on Tuesday, 4 K around town, then Pilates to stretch out my aching bits. And make more aching bits...

Tomorrow is a rest day, yes? No. Club runs. *Yay*

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Why I started running: a series of challenges

I've been helping at Stotfold Runners for over a year now. I enjoy the club, it's good to meet new people who want to run. Everyone has a different background, they come along for so many different reasons: to run with other people; to have fun; to lose weight; to run 5K, 10K, a marathon. This post is for the new beginners at Stotfold Runners, who have just met me and aren't aware of my running history.

I started running with Stotfold Runners in January 2011; I gave in and joined the club after about 3 months of gentle persuasion by friends to give running a go. My reasons for running were to lose weight (I weighed more than 14 stone) and improve my fitness. The last time I'd run before 2011 was cross-country at school, back in 1994 I think. 15 years of inactivity. Terrible... but I'm sure a lot of us are guilty of that, finishing school and just stopping all exercise.

January 1st, 2011
For my first session I was run-walking at 5 minute intervals, and I covered about 2.5 miles. There was no Stotfold Runners beginners group in 2011. The beginners now who are allowed to run for 1 minute then walk for a minute are LUCKY! I ran with the club every Tuesday and then again on my own at the weekend. After a month I was running three times a week, for a couple of miles each time; after 2 months I could run 4 miles. I'd also lost about 2 stone in weight, through cutting alcohol and bread, not snacking, eating smaller portions, and I'd changed my hair colour several times! I decided to set myself a challenge, to run in a 10K race, the Flitwick 10K in April 2011.

April 2011, before Flitwick 10K

On race day I was so excited; the atmosphere was amazing, the buzz beforehand and the noise from spectators and other runners at the start gave me such a good feeling; I just loved the whole event. I was completely hooked on racing! I finished that race and immediately wanted to run another one! I began to train again, this time for a half marathon.

I ended 2011 having raced in three 10Ks and two half marathons. I was also at my lowest weight ever (a never-to-be-seen-again 8 stone 12; I lost 50 lb in weight in 2011). I didn't want to stop running ever!

In 2012, I ran two other half marathons (I set my current half PB of 1:46:30 during the Greenway Challenge) and Flitwick 10K again (setting my current 10K PB of 48:16), and I ran an amazing 22:42 5K at Marston Forest in June (I don't think I'll ever run that fast again!). I also attended Run England's Leadership in Running Fitness course, and became qualified to lead sessions at Stotfold Runners. Around this time the Stotfold Runners beginners group started.

My next challenge began soon after; I started to train for my first marathon in October 2012, the Preston Guild marathon, which is every 20 years (very special indeed!).

After Preston Guild marathon

Don't ever think that running a marathon is easy "because so many people do it". The training is long and hard and tiring and painful. I'm not sure I ever want to go through it again. I picked up a bad knee injury that forced me to physiotherapy, made me miss running Standalone 10K, and has resulted in me doing Pilates once a week ever since and leg and core strength work most days. But it did teach me how to become a "better" runner, about foot striking (toe vs heel), cadence (number of steps per minute, 180 is best), posture (upright and tall, not slouched!), and to concentrate.

After the marathon was over I didn't run for several weeks, apart from a few beginner club nights. I just didn't really feel like I wanted to run anymore, because of my knee problems mainly, but I'd also lost a lot of speed (perceived at the time as loss of "fitness", I was disenchanted). But some long, hilly, slow runs around Lancashire with my sister over the Christmas period got my mojo back and in 2013 I was ready to start over again.

This year I've been focusing mainly on getting faster again. I'm still plagued by leg and knee problems; I've had two periods of non-running from knee and shin problems, and a sore heel that comes and goes. But in a way that's been good; because I wasn't running I started to swim more and to cycle. I took part in an aquathlon in August, and I loved the challenge of a dual discipline event. I've also started to refocus my training, concentrating on heart rate, making sure my training plans incorporate speedwork and long slow runs, ensuring every run is a quality run.

It's been really good to help out at Stotfold Runners these past 2 years, to coach "non-runners" to become runners. I don't want to push advice at people, but I am happy to chat if asked. And I'm always ready to explain why it's important we do speedwork! It makes me incredibly proud to see friends now running 5K and 10K and training to run their first half marathon. 2014 is going to be amazing!

Now to think of my next challenge.

Stevenage half training: 12 mile long run

This week's long run was a bit tricky to fit in, I had to run on Saturday morning, in between helping set up the Scout's Jumble Sale and cooking for a dinner party in the evening. I had 2 hours in which to run, never a good idea to give yourself a time limit!

The weather was much warmer than last Saturday, when I ran 11 miles. Fortunately I had an over-sized drinks bottle full of cold water to keep me company (although it really annoyed me after a few miles). Unfortunately I dressed for last week's weather, so I was too hot for the whole run, despite the water. I also needed a wee almost immediately after I set off (I did contemplate weeing in a bush).

I spent the first two miles weighing up the options of running two 6 mile runs (Standalone 10K route), so I could go home to drop my drinks bottle off and have a wee, but I decided I would never go out for the second lap. After that decision was made, I then couldn't decide whether to run last week's route with a bit added on at the end, or the full Greenway route (which would be a 14 mile run in total). The time limit I'd given myself was bothering me though, so I decided the 12 mile route was the best idea.

As I did last week, I kept my heart rate below 140 for the whole run, walking when it got too high. It got high a lot this week, possibly because of the heat rather than anything else, although I kept a closer eye on it and it never rose above 146, so perhaps I was a bit too keen. (When I checked my stats on FetchEveryone later, it said my 70% recovery was 146, so I think I've been walking unnecessarily...)

I felt a lot more tired around 9 miles, I ran past an elderly couple on Radwell Meadows, and said hello and "I don't feel like I'm moving at all!" Plod plod plod. But as soon as I got back to Stotfold for my extra mile I felt much better. I think next week I might add the extra distance on at the beginning rather than the end, because running near my home, only to turn back for another 2 miles, is quite hard.

So this run was quite tough, I had a lot to think about! But I did it, and finished in 2 hours and 9 minutes. Not massively over my self-imposed limit. And the rest of the day ran to military precision.

Next training run will be an interval session. Time to get my heart rate high and my legs moving fast :-)

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Training to heart rate: week one progress

Low and slow

Last Saturday I ran 11 miles as part of training for the Stevenage half marathon. The aim was to keep my heart rate low, under 140 bpm, throughout. This strategy helps to increase endurance because at this HR level your body burns fat (that we have plenty of) rather than glycogen (that runs out after a time). It's all about building new muscle fibres of the "correct" type. See my previous blog on this subject!

I had to take several walk breaks to keep HR low, mainly when I was halfway up a hill, but not as many as I thought I might. And my average pace wasn't as "slow" as I feared either, a respectable 10:30 min/mile. I hit a lovely flat section through Letchworth, and HR fell so much I was able to speed up.

I noticed some knee, ankle, and shin niggles while running, but these went as soon as I corrected my posture, cadence, and foot strike. Reading Born To Run has reinforced what I've been told previously about running style! I also read this week something Hal Higdon said about having to concentrate on running to do it properly, like you would at work (for example). One of the reasons I don't listen to music when I run, because I like to "hear" my feet and my breathing.

I finished the run in 1 hour and 55 minutes. I was very pleased with how I felt, apart from an aching right knee I didn't feel tired and could have carried on. I didn't take food with me, I'd prefer to avoid gels at the moment, now I'm training to burn fat. It would defeat the purpose to run slow but then take glycogen... I know I can tolerate gels so I'll save them for race day. 

This weekend I'm running between 12 and 14 (full Greenway route), nice and slow as before.

Fast peaks

Tonight I wanted to incorporate some speedwork into half marathon training. I ran 6 miles, but kept the first mile and a half and last mile and a half slow, with HR aimed at <140. These were my warm up and cool down periods, defined properly by HR. 

The mile after my warm up coincided with a Strava segment from Fairfield Park exit to Wilbury Hills roundabout. I wanted to see how fast I could run it, and where I would place in the leader board! Hit my max HR (175) during this mile, which was around 7:35 mile/min pace. And I was 3rd female overall on Strava :)

The mile return was kept slow and low again, then a final fast mile segment before my cool down. Hit 7:22 min/mile and placed 6th overall on Strava for that segment. OK, I'm a bit obsessed with those segments, but I don't like being down the bottom of the board!

Just over an hour run for the 10K, but I'm happy because I achieved everything I wanted to, high and low HR, in the correct training zones, and good pace. 

Bring on tomorrow's club run and my next long run! I'm (finally) enjoying running again :)

Friday, 11 October 2013

From the archives: Stevenage half marathon 2011

I've finally signed up to run Stevenage half marathon in November, after procrastinating about it for a few weeks. I have 3 weeks to prepare myself mentally, to lose a bit of weight, and to get myself used to running further than 10K.

I ran this race back in 2011, it was only my second half marathon, and I was really happy because I ran sub 1:50. The course is quite nice, considering it's in Stevenage: mainly along paths and through underpasses, but part of the course is through Fairlands Valley Park, around the lake.

My aim this time round is to obtain a SB (need to beat 1:51:26 to do that), hopefully beat my 2011 time (1:49:55) for a course record, and with a bit of luck beat the PB I set in 2012 when I ran the Greenway Challenge with a friend (1:46:31).

Here's my 2011 blog about the race!

So, November 6th, 2011. The 25th Stevenage Half Marathon. I signed up to run this event at the last minute (last minute for me!). I usually like to have several months to prepare for races but I only signed up for this a few weeks ago. I was "race-ready" though, because after finishing Fleetwood I wanted to maintain the distance I'd trained up to, so I'd been running 8 and 10 miles as recreation. I know, I'm mad.

A few other members of Stotfold Runners were running the event, Ed and Scott, and it was lovely to have them and their families around for support during the race and at the end. (My family are a bit "race-fatigued", this is my 5th race this year, so they stayed at home.) So huge thanks to them, and to Scott's family for driving me there and back and looking after me :)

So, my previous PB for a half marathon was 1:52:40 and my "secret aim-for time" for this race was 1:50:00. I really wanted to beat my PB but I wasn't sure I could because the Stevenage course was more undulating than Fleetwood. This course was run on underpasses and cycleways around Stevenage, and through Fairlands Valley Park, so lots of hills and slopes! But, with up bits come down bits as I always tell myself.

We ran two laps of the course, the second lap being slightly longer through the Park. I started slowly because I'm always being advised (nagged) by Pete L from running club to start slowly and build up speed. First two miles were comfortable, then I remembered I wanted to get a good time! So I started to up my pace.

I took my energy gel at 5 miles (just after I ran past Burger King) and just before the second water station. I had a few slower miles after this, possibly because I was on lap 2 and it was a bit more uphill and a bit of a psychological downer. But I sped up through the Park (although I was overtaken twice), and got a lovely boost when I saw Ed's wife cheering me on!

When I passed Burger King again I had a "moment" when I remembered being fat in January and I decided to really try and crack sub 1:50. So my last few miles were corkers. I'm not sure where my energy came from, or why I didn't fall over. And I should say that I really hate finishing on a running track, those last few metres are killers. But when I heard "Come on Sarah!" shouted by Scott's wife Julie I found enough energy to sprint. I even heard another runner mutter "great finish" as I passed him :)

We got no cake at the end :( I hate bananas. I ate the banana I was given, but I hate bananas. Got a lovely silver shoe trophy though :)

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Training to heart rate: why bother?

A lot of people ask me "How can I run faster?", and my usual reply is "Interval training"! Short fast runs (speedwork), including interval training and hill training, will help your legs get used to running faster in the long term, whereas long slow runs will build up your endurance so you can run further.

There is a scientific reason though, and it's about types of muscle.

I blogged a few years ago about why we need to vary the types of run we do, and the post is pasted below. It also explains why we should bother to train to heart rate (see also my blog on heart rate zones).

Energy sources
Our body contains two types of energy source: glycogen and fat. When you begin a run or workout, your body "fires up" and starts to burn glycogen without oxygen (anaerobic metabolism). This warm-up phase lasts a maximum of 2 minutes, after which your body begins to burn the glycogen with oxygen (aerobic metabolism). After 30 minutes of your run or workout you begin to burn fat aerobically; this process is the most efficient way to produce energy and is what will get you through an endurance race. You still need glycogen as a back-up (for dealing with hills and a sprint finish!), so training your body to burn fat rather than glycogen (and therefore saving this vital energy source for "emergencies") is important.

Muscle types
Muscles are formed of two types of cells (or fibres): slow-twitch and fast-twitch. Slow-twitch cells have a high oxygen content (for aerobic metabolism) and burn fat; they are therefore most important for endurance. Fast-twitch cells create energy from glycogen without oxygen (anaerobic metabolism); a by-product of this process is lactic acid, which creates that painful burning sensation when you train hard. Increasing the amount of fast-twitch muscle cells will help you deal with this burning pain (sprinters have a lot of this muscle-cell type).

How the science fits with training
"Easy" training days at 70% recovery heart rate increase the number of slow-twitch cells, thereby teaching your muscles to burn fat (and saving your glycogen for another day). By increasing your muscles' fat-burning potential you are not only getting fitter but also boosting aerobic capacity, the ability to burn energy with oxygen.

But you do need some capacity for anaerobic metabolism (without oxygen, glycogen-burning); anaerobic metabolism is going to get you started on a run or workout and will propel you up a hill quickly, but will make your muscles burn from the pain of lactic acid build-up. A "hard" training day or interval training---when you run for short distances at your 85% threshold ceiling heart rate---helps your body develop more fast-twitch cells to deal with the pain of lactic acid build up.

"Hitting the wall" (basically, when your legs stop working) happens when you've run out of glycogen. So easy training days---teaching your muscles to burn fat---are really important so you have glycogen available when you need it.

That's my very simple explanation of why it's important to run or workout at these two different heart rate zones. For more details I suggest you read Heart Monitor Training for the Compleat Idiot by John Parker or borrow a book from your library on sports biochemistry or muscle metabolism (there are lots out there).

Training to heart rate: resting, max, and zones

My aim for the rest of this year is to begin training to heart rate again. I last did this in May 2011, so quite a while ago. I keep an eye on my heart rate during most runs, but I've noticed "easy" runs, during which my heart rate shouldn't rise over 140, tend to average at 150 bpm. I need to start again.

I blogged about heart rate back in 2011 on my TWATS blog (I never realised it spelt that...). I've reposted it here, and another will follow.

As soon as I got my new Garmin watch for measuring and analysing my runs, I began to wonder why monitoring my heart rate while on a run would be useful. We all have unique resting and maximum heart rates, and knowing these values can assist with training for races and other activities. 

I googled heart rate monitoring and found this site, which introduced to me the idea of heart rate zones. It also provided a method to calculate your max heart rate based on your age (from which you can calculate these zones). I did the calculation, but I didn't really understand the part about zones or what I should be aiming to do. 

Thankfully, a friend offered to lend me an excellent book: Heart Monitor Training for the Compleat Idiot. This book contains another calculation for max heart rate (slightly different from that on the above website), but stressed the importance of doing a physical test to ascertain your max heart rate. 

Max heart rate 

The calculation in the book is 205 - {half your age} (+ 5 if you're a woman). Which gave me a rough max heart rate of 193 bpm. 

The max heart rate test suggested in the book consists of a short warm-up run, stretches, and a 100 m sprint to get your heart rate up, followed by a series of 5 short uphill sprints (200 m), with recovery jogs downhill in between, gradually increasing the intensity of each uphill run. 

My local running club does sprint sessions every so often, and it just so happened that a session similar to the above test was done a few days after I got my watch :) And my max heart rate peaked at 181 bpm, which I have now set as my max. (Goes to show how inaccurate the calculation can be.) 

Resting heart rate 

The test for this rate is nice and easy! The book suggests you strap your heart monitor on soon after waking in the morning and just lie there for a few minutes. (And you are allowed to go back to sleep!) My resting heart rate was 40 bpm (whoop, super athlete NOT). 

Training zones 

Here comes the section I was most confused about. What are heart rate zones and why should I care? Apparently, two zones are most important: the recovery ceiling (70% level) and the threshold floor (85% level). You can calculate these based on your max and resting rates. 

For example: (Max - Resting) x 0.70 + resting = 70% level 

My 70% level is 139 bpm and my 85% level is 160 bpm. The book recommends you keep your heart rate below the 70% level on 'easy' run days and at the 85% level on 'hard' days. 

 More about training here.

Standalone 10K, 2013

Last Sunday I ran in a local 10K road race, the Standalone 10K, which is organised by North Herts Road Runners. This race is a big one for my running club, Stotfold Runners, because it is our most local race; it passes through our town, we run the route a lot during the year in preparation, and we encourage all our members to take part. I last ran this race in 2011, taking a break in 2012 to recover from a knee injury, so I was really excited to be running it again this year.

The race starts and ends at Standalone Farm in Letchworth, goes through Norton to Stotfold, along the A507, and then past Fairfield Park back to the farm. There are a few hills, the worse one (I think!) is right at the start, so it's not too daunting a course.

The farm was packed when we arrived. Amazingly, I still managed to find my friends before the start! Had some photos with the club (see image), and exchanged some friendly race banter with Ed, whose aim at the beginning of the year was to beat me (mine to stay close to him!)

The race was full, with 1400 runners in total. Apart from the Preston Marathon last year, it's the biggest race I've taken part in. The atmosphere is amazing, so many people together doing the same thing. It's all very emotional *sniff* :-)

I walked to the race start with other members of Stotfold Runners, and I lined up with Ed and another friend just before the 50 minute marker. We didn't want to put too much pressure on ourselves and start at 45 minutes :-) The first section of the race is downhill (about 50 metres!) but we took this slowly because of the number of runners. The first (and biggest) hill is immediately after the start, and again I couldn't run up it quickly because of the number of runners in front of me. (Should've started at 45 minutes.) Followed Ed's example and took to the pavement, dodging spectators and small children. 

Once at the top of the hill I felt OK and tried to maintain some speed, keeping an eye on Ed all the time! At about 3K I sailed past another club friend who I thought was a lot faster than me, he seemed to be taking things easy and was doing a great job of thanking every marshall we passed :-) Had to run over the grimmest roadkill at this point too (splatted squirrel). At the water station at 5K I spotted a friend supporting (it's so nice to see people you know!). I didn't take on water because I was running fine and don't usually take a drink during a 10K.

As we hit the A507 the route narrowed and suddenly everyone in front of me stopped to funnel into the smaller area. I'm not one for being politely English during a race so I took to the grass verge so I could maintain my speed. Unfortunately caught a few nettles on the way, so spent the next 5 minutes cursing myself.

By the end of the bypass, as we turned towards Fairfield Park, the sun came out, the heat rose, and my legs suddenly slowed to nothing. I'd completely run out of energy. I really wanted to walk, but there were so many people spectating that I didn't dare stop in case someone I knew saw me! I kept looking at my Garmin to check my pace, and I was getting upset with myself because I was running at 8:30 min/mile (and I needed at least 8:00). In a big strop I switched the display to heart rate and just decided to grit my teeth and plod home.

The last few K were hard because they are uphill; during training I always tell myself they're not hills, it's just a deceiving view! They were certainly hills today. Spotted the Stotfold Runners banner and The Luxfords supporting at 9K, and I got a bit of a boost here. I knew I was almost finished, and I could hear the announcements at the farm.

At this point the marshalls made us run on the pavement. I wasn't happy with this change because we've never had to run here before, but I think they'd not been able to close the road at the top and it was quite busy. Anyway, that put me off a bit because the pavement is narrow and turns quite sharply. I took the final downhill stretch easy so as not to destroy my knees, then turned into the farm to finish. Tried hard to sprint to the line but it really wasn't happening for me. Finish time: 50:03 (should've kept an eye on the clock rather than my heart rate!)

Plus points: Fastest 10K all year.
Moral: Never Give Up.
Lessons for the future: Focus on longer midweek runs and pre-race nutrition.

And yes, Ed beat me! He got a great PB (48:10) too, so well done him. We grabbed our bananas and T-shirts and headed back to the course to pick up some of the club runners who might need support. I ran-walked with a friend for another 1.5K to get her back in just over 70 minutes (she was very happy).