How to Avoid Hitting the Wall in Your Next Marathon

How to Avoid Hitting the Wall in Your Next Marathon

How to avoid htting the wallIf you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.
–Michael Jordan–

Even though Michael Jordan was a basketball and baseball player, his words are very appropriate to marathoners.  In this article I’ll tell you how you can avoid hitting the wall and give you tips for getting past it if you do encounter it on your way to finishing your next (or first) marathon.


What is hitting the wall?

It is most commonly thought of as that period in a marathon (typically around 20 miles) when point where your body and mind are simultaneously tested. It’s that time in a race when fatigue starts to overwhelm your mental faculties. Simply put, running at your current pace goes from being hard to being really hard.

Rather than worrying about hitting the wall, it’s best to train properly and think ahead so you can prevent it.

Getting through, around, or over hitting the wall is part of the mystique of marathon running, although there’s a physiological explanation: when runners hit the wall, their bodies have run out of the carbohydrates needed to sustain intense physical activities like long-distance running.

The root cause of hitting the wall is glycogen depletion onset. According to the Sports Fitness Advisor the average person has about 2000 calories of stored carbohydrate. This approximately what your body’s engine (muscles and brain) is limited to prior to the race. Since the average runner burns approximately 100 calories per mile, it makes sense that most marathon runners describe hitting the wall around the 20-mile mark. Their 2,000 calories of glycogen fuel have been exhausted, which results in the overwhelming feeling of heaviness in their legs and a lack of concentration.

In my first marathon, nearly 30 years ago, I hit the wall at 20 miles and slowed my pace by 2 ½ minutes per mile. It took about an hour for me to complete the last 6 miles. I painfully walked through each aid station. I was not prepared for those last 6 miles. Although I finished, it wasn’t pretty.

Hitting the Wall

How to avoid “the wall”

1. Get Used to the Distance

When your body runs out of glycogen, it will start to burn fat. Unfortunately, this is an inefficient fuel source. With consistent running over a period of weeks and months, you’ll become winded less-easily. Your anaerobic threshold, which is the point at which your body draws its energy from fat, will be pushed back. You can train your body to burn fat more efficiently, allowing you to run farther and faster and burn a mixture of glycogen and fat. Proper training allows your body to calibrate the perceived effort, hydration strategy and nutrition plan.

Most training plans, including mine (26.2), limit your longest runs to 20-21 miles. This is important, particularly for 1st time marathoners, because we want to bump up against the edge of the wall, without trying to burst through it. You significantly increase your risk of injury when you hit the wall. We don’t want to adversely impact your race day performance.

2. Keep to a Consistent Pace

Proper pacing is key. You need to do your best to run at your “Should” Pace. This pace is the average pace of your long runs for the last eight to ten weeks. It is the pace you have demonstrated you can run consistently in your training. If you have been fortunate enough to complete a 10k or a half marathon, you can use that value to predict a marathon time. Use the various online calculators (like McMillan) to estimate a marathon goal pace based on this or other previous performances.

3. Fuel Your Body Properly

You can also delay the onset of glycogen depletion by consuming sports drinks and gels during the run. These foods are high in carbohydrates. I recommend taking gels approximately every 45 minutes during the marathon to provide additional energy.

Proper nutrition prior to and during the race is also key. An adequate, though not overindulgent, pre-race breakfast high in carbohydrates is ideal because carbs can be burned aerobically or anaerobically. You’ll want to experiment in training with what agrees with your stomach because some runners find that particular mixtures create nausea, vomiting or some kind of gastrointestinal discomfort.

A few years ago, I was training for the Chicago Marathon which is October every year.  Most of the training for this race is during the Summer months.  I learned the hard way that having ice cream and smores doesn’t sit well with my stomach if I have them the night before a long run.   Bottomline, the time to experiment with different foods is during your training.  The days leading up to the race and in particular the night before your race, ONLY CONSUME FOODS YOU KNOW ARE EASY ON YOUR STOMACH.

During the race, YOU MUST STAY HYDRATED.  This is critical to your success and to avoid hitting the wall.  No matter how well conditioned you are in on race day and how well you pace yourself, if you don’t properly hydrate, you will hit the wall.   I recommend to start drinking more water than normal 3-4 days before the race.  Continue drinking water and avoid alcohol in the days leading up the marathon.  In a 2007 Runner’s World article, the author discusses the need to drink at every aid station.  Even at the first aid station which is typically 2 – 3 miles into the race, you should drink to prevent even slight dehydration which can slow gastric emptying, the removal of food from your gut into your blood stream. You need to keep a constant flow into your system.

At the 2014 Boston Marathon, I didn’t drink as much water the day before the race as I typically drink.  I thought that having to go to the bathroom all night would disrupt my sleep.  Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep well anyways (due to nerves).  I suffered from dehydration and slowed the last 5+ miles in the 70 degree heat.


Getting past hitting the wall

There is a huge mental component to running a marathon. Although running, in and of itself, is not a complicated mental activity, your brain can essentially go on cruise control while your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and heart need more and more energy each mile. Unfortunately, your mind is at it’s weakest just when you hit “the wall” and when you may need it the most to push through those last miles. This is where the mental component comes in. It helps to be mentally prepared for your race. To a large extent, once you start to hit the wall, getting through the last miles becomes a mind over matter experience. Sometimes you need more.

Training for Boston Marathon

Your internal dialogue is extremely valuable. Repeat positive, self-affirming statements to yourself. Avoid thinking words like “not.” Even if you’re simply telling yourself that you’re not going to fail or stop, your subconscious will only preserve the heart of the message which is “going to fail” or “going to stop.” Instead, I like to tell myself “I am strong and I always finish.”

I’ve read that Olympic Coach Bobby McGee stresses positive internal dialogue to be practiced during training until it becomes habit. He claims that such habits can have a huge influence on the body. McGee claims that some athletes succeed by acting and believing in the opposite of what their body is telling them. They “fake it ’til they make it,” says McGee and in this way avoid hitting the wall.

Experience can also lessen the shock of hitting the wall. If you’ve been through it in training or previous races, you’re less likely to succumb to it. As humbling and physically challenging as it can be, it is only temporary. That intrinsic knowledge alone can be enough to get you to the finish line and emerge from the shadow of the wall.

If you’ve completed marathons before, remind yourself that you’ve done this before. You’ve hit the wall before and succeeded in finishing.

Another strategy I’ve used is to simply break down each mile into 200 – 400 meter sessions. You can do this by identifying a point 200 – 400 meters in front of you and concentrating on getting there with the best form possible. Once you get to that point, pick out another point 300 – 400 meters in front. Continue this process, but increase how far in front you focus.

Focusing on what you can control at this stage of the game is a great way to fight the sense of powerlessness. Since you start to lose control of your desired pace as you fatigue, to avoid hitting the wall, try to think of some technique cues to improve your running form. Start with one facet of your form, like your arms or simply keeping your head up, relaxing your shoulders and chin up, forward lean and chest out are all positive for your running form. If you can regain some part of your form, you’ll start to be more efficient (and you should see an improvement in your mile splits).

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Boston Marathon Training – Week 15

Boston Marathon Training

Finish of Boston Marathon
(courtesy of

The 2015 Boston Marathon is 2 weeks away, hopefully your marathon training has been going well, you’re injury free and anxious to get to race day. This post will provide details of one of the most important runs of your entire marathon training program. I also outline other workouts for the last week of Boston Marathon training leading up to your taper.

I completed the 2013 and 2014 Boston Marathons. In each of these last 2 years, two Sunday’s before the big race, I have run a timed half marathon. In fact, I use this strategy before all my marathons. Running this half marathon at marathon pace gives my body a simulation of the race day experience. I have a course near my house that includes some rolling hills. It’s perfect because it simulates some of the terrain on the Boston Marathon course. This is the longest run I complete over the last 2 weeks of marathon training. The workout gives you a good idea of how you will perform on Marathon race day.

I start the run with a warm-up (easy jog) for a ½ mile and then I run at marathon race pace for a half marathon. Timing this run is optional. I time all of my runs, but what’s most important is that you simulate as best as possible the pace and your marathon race day drinking and gel consumption. Ideally you should have a meal the night before that is the same as what you’ll eat the night before the Boston Marathon. Although not necessary, it would be perfect to run near the same time as you will on race day. Hopefully you feel strong and easily complete the workout. If so, great, you’re nearly ready for race day. However, if you don’t feel your best during the run, don’t worry. You’ll be starting your taper shortly and oftentimes the 7-10+ day of slowing down is all that’s needed to freshen up your legs.

The balance of this 2nd to last week of marathon training includes the following workouts:

1) Monday – rest 0-3 miles and/or cross-fit

2) Tuesday – Intervals at the track or Fartlek. 1 mile easy, 2 miles at 10k pace, 1 mile easy, 1 mile at 10k pace, 2 miles recovery

3) Wednesday – 5-6 miles

4) Thursday – Tempo run. 2 miles easy, 2 x 15 minutes at marathon pace, 1 mile between each, 2 miles recovery

5) Friday – 5 miles and/or cross-fit

6) Saturday – 5-6 miles

For the last hard workout before the Marathon I recommend one more tempo run on the Sunday 8 days before the Boston Marathon. Start with 1 mile warm-up and then run 6 miles at marathon pace. Finish with 1-2 miles recovery for total of 8-9 miles. Pick a course with some rolling hills if you can. The goal is to stretch out and push yourself at a comfortable pace one last time. After this run, ensure you thoroughly stretch and eat a recovery meal that includes a balance of carbs and protein.

During the last week of marathon training, you should taper. This will include some days of 3-5 miles at an easy pace and one day of very light intervals (100-200 meter strides). Good luck on race day. You’ve trained hard, now enjoy the day.

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Be More Human Campaign and Super Bowl Ad

DISCLOSUREThis post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This helps me to continue to share some great information about long distance running.

Reebok Be More Human Campaign Did you see the Reebok Be More Human Freak Show commercial during last Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Patriots and Seahawks?  I thought it was a very inspiring commercial.  It certainly made me want to get out, workout and really push my body.

In fact, just thinking about the ad today, I decided to workout a 2nd time today at 600pm (even though I got in a plyometrics workout this morning at 600am).  I wonder how many others were inspired by Reebok? Reebok states in this brand campaign that their mission is to help every individual realize their full potential in the mental, physical and social aspects of their lives, by encouraging a fitness-focused life, and creating the products to perform in the toughest environments and activities.

Did you know that you can Take the HUMAN SCORE test from Reebok.  I just took the #BeMoreHuman test.  It’s easy and it didn’t take long.  I encourage you to click this link and Take the HUMAN SCORE test from Reebok yourself.  Please share your results below in the comment section. Following are my results.  It looks like I’m highly socialable, have a good reputation, moral and even inspirational.  I’m not sure what a score of 84 means, but I assume I’m okay. Reebok Be More Human We promote Reebok running apparel and shoes in our Reebok store.  I workout in Reebok apparel because it fits well & keeps me comfortable throughout my workouts and runs.  This is particularly important when I’m on a long (12+ mile) run and it’s raining/cold out.

Enjoy your workouts this week and don’t forget, if you have time, Take the HUMAN SCORE test from Reebok.


Click Here Find Out How To Improve Your Marathon Time

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Boston Marathon Training – Week 3


Training for Boston Marathon

Only 14 weeks until Boston Marathon race day.  Each month I will review some specific weekly workouts that have been a part of our last 2 Boston marathon training programs.  You should be following a written marathon training plan to ensure you reach your goal, whether you simply want to finish your first Boston or you have specific goal time.

In week 3 of our marathon training plan, our goals are to continue weekly interval or speed training at a track or mileage marked trail.  We also want to start adding mileage to our long run. Assuming you have a base, you should complete a longer run at the end of the week (Saturday or Sunday).  For beginners I recommend a long run of 7 miles, 12 miles for more advanced runners. Your long run should be at an easy, steady pace.  These long runs will slowly increase in length each of the first 6 weeks.

You can begin your 3nd week with a rest day, but instead I recommend an easy 4-5 mile run followed by some cross-fit exercises to build strength.  Alternatively, you can complete a 30 minute cross-fit workout followed by an easy 2-3 mile run.  I like to incorporate 1-2 days of cross-fit/week in my marathon training.  This keeps me fresh and helps to build strength.  If you feel tired, then skip the 2nd cross-fit workout and simply take the day off.

On your interval day (typically Tuesdays), I recommend starting the workout with a mile warm-up, followed by 2 sets each of 100 meter strides, butt-kicks, high knees and karoke’s to the left and then right.  This will get your heart rate up, loosen your muscles and prepare your body for the workout. After your warm-up and prior to starting the intervals, complete some light stretching.  This is particularly important to prevent injury during the cold/wet winter training months.

The initial interval workout should be a set of  400m-600m-800m-600m-400m ladder.  Start with 1 set at 5k pace with 90 second recovery.  If you struggle to complete the set at an even pace, slow your pace a little and instead complete 8 x 100m strides with 15 second recovery.

Official Boston Marathon Apparel

For beginners, the rest of the week should consist of foundation runs which maintain our fitness and help recovery between intense and long running workouts.  In this 3rd week of marathon training, advanced runners should also include a 7-8 mile tempo run which includes 2 x 15 minutes in the middle of the run at marathon pace.  These tempo runs will help to build your endurance by teaching your body to run at race pace.  The length of the tempo runs will slightly increase during the first few weeks of your marathon training.  However, they typically aren’t more than 10-11 miles.  Beginners will start with a 5 mile tempo run in week 4.

Have fun..stay injury free!

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15 Minute Strength Workout for Runners

15 Minute Strength Workout for Runners

15 Minute Strength Workout for Runners
04 November 2014
Strength training for runners

Plyometrics help to build explosive muscular power

As the Fall half and full marathon season comes to a close, now is a good time to rest, recover from any injuries and complete at least one strength workout for runners per week. Strengthening your body with Plyometric exercises now will prepare you for the Spring race season. It’s also a great way to improve speed and reduce injury risk.

The following quick strength training exercises described below, will make you a faster and more injury-resistant runner. These six no-excuse workouts pack a big punch in minimal minutes. With these exercises, you’ll hit all the major muscle groups from head to toe while building strength, improving core stability and increasing range of motion.

Plyometrics are a type of dynamic exercises that build explosive muscular power. They’re not just jumping exercises. Plyometric exercises mimic the motions used in many sports such as skiing, running, tennis, football, basketball and volleyball. Professional athletes in these and other sports use plyometrics to condition themselves. According to articles on, these exercises work because they force your muscles to lengthen and contract over and over again at top speeds. Plyometrics are some of best strength training exercises that a runner can perform because they boost lower-body power, which help to maintain speed throughout your runs and allow you to kick it in the final stretch.

According to the American Council on Exercise, plyometric training can lead to improvements in:

  • Joint protection
  • Vertical jump performance
  • Muscle strength

To get the most benefit from plyometrics, they should be completed with active warm-ups (light running, push-ups, sit-ups and other exercises to warm-up muscles), stretching exercises and other weight training exercises.

During the offseason, I recommend completing a plyometrics workout 1-2 times per week. You can do a short 15 minute workout before or after your run. As you get closer to racing, complete one plyometric workout per week. After completing plyometrics consistently, you will notice that your runs feel easier and you’ll be more resistant to injury, because you’re reducing the force of impact on the joints. By building up the muscles’ ability to absorb impact, plyometrics can take pressure off connecting tendons. A regular regime of Plyometrics will help you get faster. This is because these exercises build efficiency and they enable the legs to function as a stiffer spring when the foot makes contact with the ground. The end result is it will take less energy to run.

Although the gains from performing plyometric training are great, there can be some risks. This would mainly be with people that are in poor physical condition or have bone or joint problems. As with any type of exercise, prior to engaging in plyometrics, consult with your physician or physical therapist who can assess your suitability for a plyometrics training program. I also recommend initially using a qualified instructor who can match any of the following exercises to your age and fitness level and teach proper landing techniques before allowing you to complete more difficult exercises.

Plyometric Technique

  • Beginners should start slowly with simple ground-level jump-offs onto padded surfaces such as grass or a gym mat on a stable gym floor.
  • To be most effective, plyometric exercises should be completed with quality jumps and safe landing techniques such as toe to heel from a vertical jump. You want to use your entire foot like a rocker to distribute impact over a bigger surface area. This will help you avoid excessive side-to-side motion at the knee. My workout instructor asks participants to visualize themselves landing “as light as a feather,” or without any noise to minimize impact.
  • Over time and when you are ready to move to the next level, more complicated exercises such as depth jumping can be introduced. If necessary, feel free to modify any of the following programs to optimize gains and prevent overtraining injuries.
  • I strongly recommend at least 48 hours between plyometric training sessions. Running in between sessions is appropriate

Here are six no-excuse strength training workouts for runners that pack a big punch in minimal minutes. With these exercises, you’ll hit all the major muscle groups from head to toe while building strength, improving core stability and increasing range of motion. For the exercises below, do four sets of 15 reps of each move. Eventually work up to seven sets.

1) Plie Squat Jump

Targets abs, butt, and legs

  • Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out. Lower into a deep plie squat with hands clasped in front of chest.
  • Jump as high as you can, tapping heels together in midair.

Land with knees soft in plie squat position. Repeat for 45 seconds. This is one set.

Strength training for runners Plie Squat Jump for runners Plyometrics for runners strength training exercises for runners

2) One-Legged Dead Lift Hop

Targets abs, butt, and legs

  • Stand on left leg, right knee lifted to hip height; raise arms out to sides and bend elbows (to resemble a goalpost).
  • Keeping back flat and arms raised, hinge forward; extend right leg behind you (body is parallel to floor, head to right heel).
  • Reverse motion, returning upright, and as right knee lifts forward, push off left leg to jump up.
  • Land softly on left leg and repeat.
  • Continue for 30 seconds, trying not to let right leg touch floor. Switch sides and repeat for 30 seconds.
  • Both sides for 30 secondis each is one set.
  • TO MAKE IT EASIER: After jump, tap right foot on floor, then lift knee again

3) Double Jump

Targets abs, butt, and legs

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms by sides. Lower into a deep squat and bring hands together in front of chest.
  • Jump as high as you can and land in lunge position (bend both knees 90 degrees like you’re sitting in a chair).
  • Repeat the lunge-squat jump combo. Continue for 45 seconds for one set.
  • TO MAKE IT HARDER – Box Jump (see photo)
  • Start the movement by bending your knees and swinging your arms backwards.
  • As your arms swing forwards again, use the momentum and jump up as powerfully as you can. Land with both feet on the platform as gently as possible, and then stand up straight so that your hips are extended.
  • Step back down to the start and repeat

strength training for runners

box jump exercises for runners

Using A Box Will Make Double Jumps Harder

4) Lateral Lunge

Targets abs, butt, and legs

  • Step left leg out to left side, bending left knee while keeping right leg straight; hinge body forward from waist. Touch right hand to floor between feet and place left hand on top of left thigh.
  • Pushing off left heel, shuffle to right two times, ending in side lunge to right with right knee bent and left leg straight; touch left hand to floor between feet.
  • Repeat movement to left side, pushing off right heel.
  • Continue for 45 seconds, alternating sides for one set.
  • Make It Harder – add dumbells

lateral lunge exercises for runners

leg exercises for runners

Using A Dumbbells Will Make Lateral Lunges Harder

5) Pop-Up

Targets shoulders, triceps, abs, butt, and legs

  • Lie facedown on floor, palms next to your chest with your toes turned under.
  • Do a push-up, using your upward momentum, jump with your left foot in between hands and quickly stand up into a plie squat as you bring hands beside chest.
  • Reverse motion to start.
  • Continue for 45 seconds, alternating legs for one set

6) Plank-Straddle Hop

Targets shoulders, triceps, abs, butt, inner thighs, and outer thighs

  • Start on floor in plank position with feet hip-width apart, balancing on forearms and toes, elbows directly under shoulders, palms flat on floor.
  • Hop feet out to sides into a wide V
  • Straighten arms, pressing palms into floor (hands will be slightly in front of shoulders on floor).
  • Reverse motion, lowering forearms to floor.
  • Repeat for 30 to 45 seconds for one set.

plank exercises
1) Start in traditional Plank Position on your elbows

core strengthening exercises for runners
2) Hop feet out to sides into a wide V

strength training for runners
3) Straighten arms, pressing palms into floor

plank exercises for runners
4) Bring legs back together, lower forearms to floor and repeat

Whether you complete this entire plyometric routine or just a portion, make sure you include some strength training into your marathon training program. Higdon discusses suggested weight lifting exercises as a great way to build speed. Bottomline, the benefits of strength training are fantastic for runners.

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Training using a heart rate monitor

Heart Rate Monitor TrainingThere are compelling reasons to complete your marathon training with a heart monitor.  This article will explain the benefits of properly using a heart rate monitor and provide step-by-step instructions on how to correctly incorporate the heart rate monitor into your marathon training.

If your goal is to finish or have a faster marathon or half marathon time, the intensity of your workouts is very important.  A heart rate monitor can help you determine and maintain the correct intensity for each workout. Essentially, you decide what your heart rate (or zone) for a given workout and then watch your monitor or watch to ensure you reach run within the zone. It’s easy, if you want to get faster, you train at higher target heart rates which help build speed. If you want to go farther, then run with lower heart rates, which can help develop endurance.

I completed training for my last 3 marathons with a heart rate monitor using Garmin’s Forerunner 110 watch and their separate heart rate monitor.  Although I don’t strictly adhere to training each workout in a certain heart rate zone, I find that using Garmin’s online interface allows me to track my cardiovascular fitness and adjust my training plan if necessary so I can improve my performance in the most effective manner.

Measuring Your “Work” Rate In order to utilize a heart rate monitoring system, it’s necessary to calculate your maximum target heart.  This is because there are numerous ways for a runner to measure or gauge their “work” rate.  These may include: 1) The time to complete a specific distance
2) How hard we are breathing during and at the end of the interval or workout
3) How tired we feel The problem with each of the above is that they can be affected by numerous outside influences. Specifically, terrain, weather, hydration, nutrition, sleep and even mood can impact all of the above.  As a runner who faces much rain and wind in the Pacific Northwest, I know that I can’t skip a workout due to poor weather while I wait for optimal running conditions.  Additionally, I can tell that there are some days when my professional life is impacting the quality of my workout.  Typically my “Achilles Heal” is lack of quality sleep due extensive business travel.

At times, I’m also challenged by inadequate hydration (I’m guilty of drinking more coffee than water).  Both of these can negatively impact the quality of my workouts. On the days where weather isn’t an issue, I think I’m well rested and drink sufficient water, it’s still possible to run slower or feel worse than expected. It’s during these workouts that monitoring my heart rate is so beneficial.
Heart Rate Monitor and Watch
We now offer a wide selection of name brand GPS watches and heart rate monitors for sale in runner’s store.  Occasionally some items are discounted for additional savings.

Why I Train for a Marathon using a Heart Rate Monitor: The goal of training with a heart monitor is control.  If used properly, a heart rate monitor is like having a coach along for every workout.  It helps to ensure that you train at an appropriate intensity, neither too hard nor too easy.  Since your heart rate is an indicator of exercise intensity, a heart rate monitor allows you to monitor and precisely control the intensity of your running. Beginning runners often make the mistake of not sufficiently varying the intensity of their running. A heart rate monitor can help you. Ultimately, you want to run longer and faster with a lower heart rate. By uploading daily run activities, you can keep track of your results.  Oftentimes, runners just look at the distance and pace they run and may simply note how they felt (that’s if they are tracking their performance at all).  This is called perceived exertion.  It can be an effective way to train, but with a heart rate monitor, there is actually a couple of ways to see your progress. If you’re improving, you will observe that running the same distances and the same route (terrain) will become easier (you’re rate will be lower). You should be able to run faster for these distances without your heart having to work as hard. This is because your heart is becoming more efficient.
running with Heart Rate Monitor

Another way to recognize your improvement is to track your resting heart rate (RHR) by recording it every morning before you get out of bed.  You should see that as your fitness improves, you will notice a lower resting heart rate. Conversely, where a heart rate monitor can show improvement, it can also help detect signs of over training or fatigue.  RHRs may be suddenly higher than normal, even after “easy” days.  If you regularly check your resting HR and find that your heart rate is slightly higher than normal, it may be an indication of fatigue caused by a couple of days’ hard training or the start of a cold or illness. Take this as a sign to go easy for a day or two until your normal heart rate returns and you know you are fully recovered. Be aware not to read too much into 1-2 days of higher than expected heart rates.  As discussed above, higher heart rates can also be signs of external factors discussed above, like weather, hydration, nutrition, sleep, etc.  I recommend looking at patterns over 3-4+ days.  If heart rates are trending up, you don’t feel good during workouts and external factors are essentially controlled, then there’s reason to take a step back, rest and reassess your training.  Typically, 1-3 days of rest or really light work, coupled with additional sleep each night will allow your body to recover. The key is to observe trends and make adjustments prior to onset of injuries or excessive fatigue. The question many athletes have is how to train with a heart rate monitor and make sense of all the data. To give the numbers meaning, you need a reference point, a heart rate unique to you at a given level of intensity.

How To Calculate Your Max Heart Rate: There are various ways to calculate your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). The easiest way involves subtracting your age from the number 220 for men or from 226 for women. Unfortunately, among experts, this method is not accurate for all runners.  It’s considered to be too arbitrary and does not generate appropriate target heart rates for most athletes. In a 2001 Runner’s World article, they discuss two more reliable formulas.
(A) MHR = 208 – (.7 x your age) or (B) MHR = 205 – (.5 x your age)
Runner’s World staffers concluded that both formulae seem to work almost equally well for runners under 40. However, for runners over 40, formula (B) was more accurate.  Accordingly, RW decided that formula (B) would be best for predicting maximum heart rate, and adopted it as their standard.
There are two more effective ways to calculate your MHR.
1) You can pay $200-$300 to undergo a lab test. Prior to using this service, however, ensure you are healthy and clear of injury and illness.  This will ensure the most accurate results.
2) The least expensive test that’s just as accurate as a lab test is to calculate your own MHR while performing interval training.
Use either a slight hill of approximately 200 yards or a 400 meter running track (readily available at most Middle and High Schools). You’ll need a heart rate monitor to measure and record your heart rate while you sprint the distance. Take a short recovery jog of no more than 2 minutes and then repeat the sprint interval up to five times.  The average top heart rate you record is very close to your MHR. Following image shows my heart rate data from a “hard” interval/track workout.  As you can see, disregarding some error at the beginning of the workout (I’m certain my Max HR isn’t in the upper 190s) my top HR tops out around 178.  However, analyzing additional data from other similar workouts confirms that my typical MHR will be closer to 177.
Determining Max Heart Rate

The best way to train for a marathon with a heart rate monitor: Heart rate-based training involves planning your workouts so you are training at different heart rate zones. One of the most popular zone systems involves training at designated percentages of your max heart rate (MHR) or lactate threshold heart rate that you have previously calculated.

Zone 1 Active Recovery <75% lactate threshold heart rate (LT HR)
Zone 2 Aerobic Threshold or Endurance 75-82% LT HR
Zone 3 Tempo 83-90% LT HR
Zone 4 Lactate Threshold 91-97% LT HR
Zone 5a Aerobic Capacity 98%-101% LT HR
Zone 5b Anerobic Capacity 102-104% LT HR

Zone 1 is very light running – like a slow recovery jog between high intensity intervals on the track. Use this for warm-up and cool down. Zone 2 is a comfortable pace and used for building aerobic fitness, fat-burning and endurance. Zone 2 paced runs are often referred to as “foundation runs” because they build endurance. Comfortable enough to hold a conversation, this is the most used zone. Following is my HR data from a recent 20 mile training run.  I could have gone faster, but I wanted to train at Zone 3.  Towards the end, my legs felt very tired.
20 miler HR - zone 3 Zone 3 is faster than your natural running pace. “Comfortably Hard” or tempo runs.  Running in zone 3 is useful for extending the benefits gained in Zone 2. For a marathon runner, Zone 3 training is running at full marathon race pace. 

My friends and I often use a strategy to finish long runs (last 3-6 miles) at Zone 3 pace. Zone 4 is your lactate threshold intensity.  It is a running intensity that requires a conscious effort to go fast. While training in this zone, you should be able to talk in short sentences.  It’s not completely comfortable, but you should be able to train at this pace for long distances (such as a 10k). It should be regularly incorporated into your training in moderate amounts to get your body used to that intensity. You can complete Zone 4 workouts in between Zone 2 (warm-up and cool-down) runs. For example: 10 minutes Zone 2 (warm-up), 20 minutes Zone 4, 10 minutes Zone 2 (cool-down).   Also, Fartlek runs would be run in Zone 4. Zone 5a is much more stressful than lower zones, so you can’t do a lot of running in this zone. It’s a very powerful fitness booster. 

To improve your performance, you need some Zone 5a running each week.  An example would be high intensity medium (400m+) intervals on the track.  Another example, is when you run (6+) x 3 minutes (or 800 meters) @ Zone 5a following each interval with 2 minutes @ Zone 1. When you incorporate Zone 5a training in small amounts it will elevate your running performance significantly.  I use Zone 5a training on the track weekly during my 20 week marathon training program. Zone 5b features multiple short segments of fast running separated by active Zone 1 recoveries. Zone 5b is running at the fastest pace you can sustain (a full sprint). It is incorporated into very short intervals and is very stressful. Train at this rate only sparingly. An example would be 200 – 400 meter sprints.  Concentrate on form, breathing and stride length when running at this pace.  This is a great way to boost speed and running economy.

In my opinion, the heart rate monitor is an excellent method of determining how much benefit we are deriving from our training.  This is because it’s measurable.  However, I caution runners that heart rate training is only one of many ways to train.  I think that ultimately, the best indicator of running intensity is actually perceived exertion, or how hard running feels.  This is because perceived exertion accounts for heart rate and other physiological and psychological factors that can influence your exercise intensity. Consider that even if your heart rate monitor showed that you were within your target zone, you would likely pay more attention to how you felt and adjust your running based on this perceived exertion, before adjusting because the heart rate monitor indicated you were within or outside of a particular zone. Bottomline, training with a heart rate monitor is very effective.  However, don’t let yourself become too attached to the monitor.  Consider a mix between using the monitor and perceived exertion.

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