Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Hardest Part of Getting Back in Shape?

If you would have asked me this question a couple weeks ago, I would have said That the hardest part of getting back into shape was lengthening from two or three miles to double digits. Well, after a week of going six miles every other day, I have a new answer for you - the hardest part is so having to go so freaking slow!!!

Now, before you guys get all soft on me and start commenting about how well I'm doing, please note the use of the words "having to". Yes. At this point the lack of speed is self imposed. I thought I would rehash some physiology 101 to explain.

Somewhere in my pile o' crap I have the book "Advanced Marathoning" by Pete Pfitzinger. Yes. The Pfitzinger who developed the Pfitzinger training plans. By the way - if you are serious about running, I would highly recommend that book. The book is not a motivational book. It is about why you do certain things in certain order when training. In short, it's the scientific justification for a structured training plan.

The first chapter of the book discusses the how and why of periodization. The upshot is for us to work like well oiled machines in a race environment, our muscles need to be able to process the fuel that we provide for an extended length of time. If everything is running okay, and we are burning fuel at a sustainable rate, our cells are able to breakdown carbohydrates and rid themselves of waste products in perfect harmony. This is known as the aerobic (requiring oxygen) cycle. If we are unable to provide oxygen to cells fast enough, our muscles use a different path to produce fuel - the anaerobic (without oxygen) cycle. This form of respiration is not as efficient as the aerobic cycle - creating more waste product in the form of hydrogen ions. At some point, our body's inability to flush these waste products causes a bunch of other biochemical processes to occur. We (first) mentally shut down, and eventually physically shut down. This is the infamous "wall" that we all either read about or have experienced.

The real key then is to spend as much training time as possible in the aerobic zone - getting our bodies to efficiently use oxygen for long periods of time. If we spend too much time in the anaerobic zone while training, we actually need to spend more time recovering and less time training.

So - how do we know if we are training in the proper zone? Well, the technical way is to use a device that tests blood acidity during exercise:

This is typically done by taking blood samples at certain points in time during exercise. Then a graph is constructed showing blood acidity versus heart rate:

Then, one can train at the ideal heart rate - right where blood acidity is at 2 mmol/ml. Training at this level maximizes aerobic conditioning.(*)

Well, most of us don't have a Lactate Pro analyzer, nor do we have a desire to get lanced every 10 minutes while training for an hour. But, what we do have is a heart rate monitor. When data is generalized over the population, it turns out that the anaerobic/lactate threshold for most of us occurs right around a heart rate of 83% of max. So, with your handy dandy Garmin, you set the appropriate heart rate range to beep when you reach this range. Now you are outfit to train efficiently in your aerobic zone, and train efficiently when your plan calls for LT training!

So back to my "problem". Right now, my Garmin starts beeping at me as I pass from aerobic to anaerobic zone. Unfortunately, that beeping occurs whenever a small incline is thrown into the mix, or I run at a decent pace for about half a mile, or .. or.. or. You get the idea. I'm not paying attention to my pace during a run. I'm just waiting for a beep, slowing down, and then speeding up again when my heart rate is back under control. And you know what? Each time I do six miles, I'm trimming a minute or two off my elapsed time. Yes. I think I'll be back to normal soon. As long as I don't run out of patience along the way.

Face it. We can all run a 7:30 mile pace. If you're like me, you can run at that pace for 50 yards. If you're aerobically fit, you can do it for 26.2 miles...

(*) This was the approach that was used by my daughter's and son's rowing coach to aerobically train. The end result was a rowing scholarship for my daughter and International racing for my son. This was also the approach the coach used to win an Olympic Gold in 1996 and a Silver in 2000.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. So technical. Is this what the Kenyans and Ethiopians do, too? Don't they just run, and eat a really healthy, balanced, all natural, native diet?

  2. thank you for explaining this. many of my real life friends talk about this all the time, but i've never been able to understand them (i know, i'm slow). nice to read about your progress, coming along nicely!

  3. That is great that you are improving on your 6 milers! I am trying hard to go slow too because I know that is better that way and it will help me to not get injured!

  4. Yeah - I am using HR monitor now, and it is hard to get used to for sure. But I really believe in the gains you get so I am sticking with it. Good luck.

  5. These Garmins are sounding more and more useful.. I think I might need to check into getting one. Good post!

  6. I know for me, personally, the more I try to pay attention to these numbers, the less fit I feel. Which probably explains why I hate the gym - because the machines tell me I'm out of shape and shut down on me.

    How do you like posting from the iPad?

  7. I've heard of this book, but I don't think I'm willing to commit myself to all the technical aspects of running. Getting the runs done is a miracle enough for me right now!

    Keep up the training!

  8. This is so nerdy. I LOVE it! I don't have a HR monitor on my Garmin, though...

  9. I was starting to think you had a support motorcycle following you on the trails with a hematologist waiting to stab you every 2 miles!!! With the potential for flat trails being a negative integer in this area, we have never run trails with a heart rate monitor as you would never get to "run" - guess we're not following the rules...

  10. That's pretty cool Glenn! I hated going slow coming off injury too.

  11. I believe you can turn off the beeping sounds when you go up a hill. I have never turned my beep on otherwise in my hilly city, that beep would be all over the place.

    I'd say take things easy on the comeback trail. Just keep moving forward, and your body will let you know when it's ready to go double digit.

  12. I always figured my running was not worthy yet of benefiting from the Pfitz book. I love this post. It basically fleshed out what I was kind of thinking when I blogged about running based on my heartrate, instead of focusing on pace/distance. I just didn't realize the science behind it. What about the low end of your HR alarm? What do you set that at? So, set the high end at around 83% max? Thanks Glenn.. always eye-opening!

  13. this is an awesome post man

    The lactate pro is on sale now for $500!

    it's a friggen diabetic monitor (which reports the acid value instead of throwing it out) - jeez!

  14. I'm a big advocate of what you're doing, especially come off an injury. Keep it up.

  15. I definitely believe in the HR zone being where you effectively train to your best abilities, but I also know that little number can very due to so many factors so I try to run by pace...slowing down the long run and upping the tempo and intervals. Right now, everything is slow....

    Was just looking up Whitney apps...we should chat SOON! I'll look for you on gmail.

  16. I love my Garmin too. I turn it on and start running in any direction. Then I breathe in some fresh air, take in the scenery, and say hello to my fellow runners along the way. When I am tired I look at it once more and say "awesome" more miles of fun today.

  17. Hi, I found your blog while surfing, noticed the title and thought I would stop for a visit. This post intrigued me because I am training for my first marathon.
    I have the Garmin 405 but I happen to be technically challenged. How do you set the garmin to beep when your HR is too high. First of all my resting HR is around 80-85 and when I barely get started I am up to the 160s.
    Thanks in advance,