Running with Heart (Rates)

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I'm currently training for my fifth half marathon (Lake Minnetonka half on May 7) and hoping to get a new half PR and go sub 2:15. For every other half, I've used Hal Higdon's half marathon training (I used a Novice plan for my first and Intermediate 2 for the other three). But this time, I was looking for something different since I was hoping to shave off about 6 minutes to get a sub 2:15 time. I had gotten faster since my last half in June (from a 10:46 min/mile pace at that half to a 9:40 min/mile pace at the Twin Cities 10 mile in October) but I wasn't sure if continuing with Higdon's plans would get me that time. At about the same time I was starting to look at which half plan to go with (in November because I am an extreme planner), I had been running with my new Polar M400 for a couple of weeks and enjoying the extra data. Especially the heart rate data and predictive race times. It was then that I noticed that my watch could give me a training program, all heart rate based. So I thought I'd give that a shot. I had been hearing about how heart rate training and zone 2 running could increase your speed so I thought "what's the worst that could happen?" Plus, it would give me a chance to get as much use out of my watch as possible. With a May 7 race date, I set my training to start January 1.

My Experience with Heart Rate Training

There are three phases to the Polar Running Program:

  • Base Building
  • Build Up
  • Tapering

20170412 Polar Flow Program

Base Building (January 1-28) My base building phase was only four weeks, but it can be extended beyond that based on when you start training and your race date. It is made up of four-week cycles of three weeks of progressive training and one week of lighter training. After each cycle in the base building phase, the program gives you suggestions on whether you should continue on the same level or make changes to your training. Since I didn't do multiple cycles, I didn't have this option. If I had done some deeper digging into the program I probably would have started the training in November to get a couple of cycles under my belt.

I had four days of running along with strength training, mobility and core during the base building phase. The amount of strength training (one day a week, about 30 minutes total), along with mobility and core, stayed consistent throughout my entire training program. Polar offers videos of strength training, mobility and core workouts to do but I opted to build my own strength training since I've been lifting consistently for over a year. I have been doing the recommended core and mobility work throughout the rest of the program. The types of runs during the base building phase stayed consistent but the times changed (with slight increases in run times Weeks 2 and 3 and a decrease in Week 4).

  • Medium Run: Warm Up in HR Zones 1-2, Work Phase in HR Zone 2, Work Phase in HR Zone 3, Cool-down in HR Zones 1-2 (total time ranged from 55 to 75 minutes)
  • Interval Run: Warm Up in HR Zones 1-3, Work Phase in HR Zones 4-5, Work Phase in HR Zone 3 (Repeated Work Phases), Cool-down in HR Zones 1-2 (total time ranged from 50 to 60 minutes)
  • Medium Run: Warm Up in HR Zones 1-2, Work Phase in HR Zone 3, Cool-down in HR Zones 1-2 (total time ranged from 55 to 75 minutes)
  • Long Run: Warm Up in HR Zones 1-2, Work Phase in HR Zone 2, Cool-down in HR Zones 1-2 (total time ranged from 90 to 120 minutes)

 

Polar Watch with run description

The thing I really liked this training program is I didn't have to think about being at the right pace (or actually in the right heart rate zone) because my workouts synced to my watch and told me if I was in the correct zone or not. I like to describe it as my watch "yelling" at me when I wasn't in the correct zone. Which was a lot in the beginning, especially when I was supposed to be in zone 2. I was doing a lot of short run/walk intervals at first for zone 2 because I kept on wanting to go faster because that was what I used to doing with my other training programs. It was discouraging to have to walk so much during the base building (and even some of build up phase) because I knew I could run the distance easily. I knew I had to trust the program though, I knew this was going to happen from what I had already learned about heart rate training.

Build Up (January 29-April 15) The build up phase works off of a similar cycle method to base building, but it is two works of progressive training followed by a week of lighter training. Then the cycle repeats itself except at a harder level than before the light training week. My build up phase is 12 weeks long, but the length can be anywhere from 9-15 weeks depending on the target distance (the Polar Running Program works for distances of 5K, 10K, half and full marathons).

I kept the same days of strength training, mobility and core as in base building but a fifth day of running was added in and the types of runs were mixed up.

  • Medium Run: Warm Up in HR Zones 1-2, Work Phase in HR Zone 3, Cool-down in HR Zones 1-2 (total time ranged from 45 to 75 minutes)
  • Tempo Run: Warm Up in HR Zones 1-2, Work Phase in HR Zone 2, Work Phase in HR Zone 3, Cool-down in HR Zones 1-2 (total time ranged from 40 to 50 minutes)
  • Medium Run: Warm Up in HR Zones 1-2, Work Phase in HR Zone 2, Cool-down in HR Zones 1-2 (total time ranged from 45 to 70 minutes)
  • Interval Run: Warm Up in HR Zones 1-3, Work Phase in HR Zones 4-5, Work Phase in HR Zone 3 (Repeated Work Phases), Cool-down in HR Zones 1-2 (total time ranged from 30 to 40 minutes)
  • Long Run: Warm Up in HR Zones 1-2, Work Phase in HR Zone 2, Cool-down in HR Zones 1-2 (total time ranged from 60 to 110 minutes)

I really am enjoying the different types of speed work this program offers (and again the fact that I don't have to think that much while running). It wasn't until February 23 that I had a switch turn on during a zone 2 run and my body had no problem running in zone 2 without having to walk. I was running super slow (based on what I've been running in the past) at a 12:47 pace but I was running without my watch yelling at me to slow down. In fact, sometimes my watch beeps at me when I'm running in zone 2 because my heart rate isn't high enough. I still have rough runs (especially my Tuesday tempo runs because that is my last workout before my rest day) but I can tell the improvement on my runs. My first long run during the build up phase was a 12:32 pace and 5.59 miles but my most recent one on April 8 was a 12:15 pace at 8.18 miles.

There's another way that Polar measures how you are doing called the "Running Index", which uses heart rate and speed data to determine how efficient your running is. A higher reading indicates being able to run faster with less effort. Polar also gives you predicted times for 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathons using the running index which has been really helpful to me (although it should be noted that the predictions are best if you are running in similar circumstances to your target race). It gives me a concrete visual for how much I'm improving rather than a number assigned by my watch. And according to my watch, I should be able to finish my half in 2:11! Even if this isn't entirely accurate it makes me think that a sub 2:15 time is entirely possible.

Running index report

Tapering (April 16-May 6) I'll be starting the final phase of my program in just four days (on Easter) and I have a three-week taper leading up to the race. My training will look similar to the build up phase for the first two weeks of tapering but with over an hour less running time than at my week of build up. Then, my final week of training cuts way back to 150 minutes of running total spread over four runs:

  • Tempo Run: Warm Up in HR Zones 1-2, Work Phase in HR Zone 2, Work Phase in HR Zone 3, Cool-down in HR Zones 1-2
  • Easy Jog (two of these): Warm Up in HR Zones 1-2, Work Phase in HR Zone 2, Cool-down in HR Zones 1-2
  • Interval Run: Warm Up in HR Zones 1-3, Work Phase in HR Zones 4-5, Work Phase in HR Zone 3 (Repeated Work Phases), Cool-down in HR Zones 1-2

Final Thoughts

Although I don't yet know if heart rate training will give me a new half PR quite yet or help me go sub 2:15, I've really been enjoying it for its ease of use thanks to my Polar watch and the variety it brought to my training. I won't be using a Polar Running Program my marathon training since it's my first time at that distance and I want to make sure I get enough mileage on my feet but I would use it again for the shorter distances. If this hadn't been a feature my watch offered, I probably would not have tried heart rate training just based on it being (to me) more complicated than mileage based program like Higdon's.