What can we learn from our Heart Rate max and V02 max

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I wrote blogs a while ago regarding Heart Rate training and V02 Max since I have had many questions in recent weeks regarding this – I am revisiting these blogs but also adding what I have learnt from the two years since I wrote these blogs.

For most runners they are under the impression that they should run full speed at all times because that will make them go faster and running at a slower pace will slow you down. Well this is not the case; why not try heart rate running. It is very simple and all you need is a running watch and a heart rate monitor and run at a much slower pace and see the benefits.

So what is Heart Rate Running? Well the key is to find out your maximum heart rate while running. This can be done by a VO2 test in a lab or by running for ten minutes as fast as you can with a heart rate monitor and then take the max from there. Most universities do this at a cost but also some do this free as part of student studies. It sounds tough to run as fast as you can for 10 minutes; well it is but the key is to find your heart rate max as you need to determine your personal heart rate zones and not what your watch pre-set zones are. You can also figure this out from the old method which is 220 minus your age. However this is not accurate for some people and this is the case for me. For example when I use that method it says my Heart Rate max is 186 however when I had a V02 Lab test, mine came out as 179. Quite a bit of a difference so be aware of this.

So what’s next once you have your heart rate max?  Heart rate running is very good and if you find your 60% to 70% of your heart rate max you can be improving at a faster rate than just speed training alone. Of course you need to do your speed sessions but you shouldn’t be running as fast as you can every session.

Long runs at 60% to 70% of your heart rate max can make a huge benefit by teaching your body to not burn carbs and burn fat to make you more efficient. This therefore can make you quicker. The past two years I spent most of my training doing these long heart rate runs that have proved to work. At the same time by making you more efficient it will improve your running economy, which I will mention shortly. I was part of a study a few years ago in seeing how people can improve from running at a slower pace and improving your running economy. I was told I was over training; my long runs at the time would be to run 13 miles every Saturday morning at 6.30 pace. My legs used to take a best part of three days to recover. I started my heart rate training and was concerned my pace was over 8 minutes per mile and going up hills I felt like I was walking. I was told to stick at it and just follow my heart rate zones. Well since then I have improved a lot and over longer distances and my pace can be well under 7 minutes in my long runs. I have also managed to take 6 minutes off my 10 miler time.

What is running economy? Running economy (RE) is typically defined as the energy demand for a given velocity of submaximal running, and is determined by measuring the steady-state consumption of oxygen (VO2) and the respiratory exchange ratio. I will talk about V02 Max later.

A lot of marathon runners use this because instead of pounding away for 13 miles on a long run, they can go longer at an easy pace and won’t feel tired the following day. The key is to train at less intensity on a long run which will teach you to burn fat but also make you recover quicker. Many people struggle with the pace because it is a lot slower than they normally run and if you run up hill you need to run slower in order to keep the heart rate down. Of course it is a must to keep the speed sessions up but by just slowing your speed down a little on a long run it can be a huge benefit. As mentioned briefly earlier I used to do a 13 mile run every Saturday at race pace which of course felt good but took me a few days to recover and my Half Marathon time wasn’t any better. Once I had changed my training and ran at 60% I found that if I wanted to do another long run the next day I could because the body felt fine and improved.

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So my advice would be to try it for 6 weeks and see how it goes, if you don’t react to the training then at least you tried something new. But how should you train for HR? Well a simply guide can be by the distance or time in your run to be increased slightly for a three week period, with each week increasing. Then maintain the third week distance/time for a further 3 weeks and see if you have improved in a race. Let me know your thoughts and progress as I am interested to see if you get any improvement.

Let’s look at V02 max now. In March 2015 I was approached by Phil Anthony from Christ Church University sports lab to be part of his research and test subject.  I jumped at the chance as Phil is an amazing runner and ran London in 02:16 and was a national Ultra Champion. I wasn’t sure if it would work and benefit me so I decided to try as there was nothing to lose.

What is V02? Research shows that successful performance in endurance running is closely related to the level of aerobic metabolism that a runner is able to sustain throughout a race. This directly impacts on the runner’s ability to maintain their speed throughout the duration of a race. Aerobic metabolism refers to the body’s ability to convert oxygen, delivered to the working muscles, to usable energy. The maximal point at which each athlete is able to achieve this is referred to as their maximal oxygen uptake or their O2max.

The test consisted of a ramp test where you run on a treadmill in stages of four minutes with each stage going up a level in speed until you need to stop. The second test was a 5k time trial on the treadmill after running at 16kmph for 10 minutes.  The third test was that I had to run my long run on another day which was 1 hour and 30 minutes at 70% heart rate.

After this I was sent away for 6 weeks where I had to increase one long run by 6 minutes for 3 weeks and the other long run by 9 minutes for 3 weeks and then maintain it for a further 6 weeks. This was related to the heart rate training, mentioned earlier.  I then went back into the lab and preformed the 3 tests like before. I was given my results and this showed my V02 max had gone down so I could struggle a bit in my runs but my running economy had improved hugely and something I needed to work on more.

A common method for assessing an athlete’s running economy is to look at the volume of Oxygen (O2) in a lab they are able to consume at a speed of 16kmh-1 on the treadmill. The average O2 in well trained runners at this speed is ~52ml•kg-1•min-1.  However, as an individual athlete’s running economy can differ according to their speed, and 16km•h-1  can be too fast for many athletes, it can be better to assess RE in terms of distance covered ml•kg-1•km-1.  The average RE for well-trained runners, when expressed in this form, would be ~200ml•kg-1•km-1.  Table below provides normative data for well-trained runners.

Running Economy ml•kg-1•km-1
170-180 ml•kg-1•km-1 Excellent
180-190 ml•kg-1•km-1 Very good
190-200 ml•kg-1•km-1 Above average
200-210 ml•kg-1•km-1 Below average
210-220 ml•kg-1•km-1 Needs improvement

 

So mine had improved but was still poor so I was told to work on easy long runs at 70% heart rate through the winter. This was to purely make me more efficient and burn fat instead of carbs. I found I enjoyed the winter months as the training was easy and in a space of a year I had managed 15 PB in all different types of disciplines.

However I was asked to go back in August 2016 while I was preparing for the World Aquathlon Age Group Championships. Since I originally had the first test in 2015 I improved so much and this helped me qualify for the GB Age Group Aquathlon team where in 2016 I won a European and National Age Group Bronze medal, so I was pretty much looking forward to this test.  This time this test was for the difference between running indoors and outdoors. This test consisted of a Ramp test on the treadmill, 5K time trial after running 15kmph for 10 minutes on the treadmill then I had to do this on the track.

So what did I learn this time? That running on a treadmill was quicker as I was 20 seconds quicker on the treadmill. Does that help me? Probably not but the data I got from it does. I was told my V02 max was a lot higher than last year because I was purely training for 5k’s, however my running economy was still poor but much much better than last year. So looking at the data the short running reps help for 5k’s but the longer distances help for the longer races.

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Did I find the data useful and did I improve? Well I did, at first I didn’t think this would work but now I have the science behind me I can move my training forward. The first test last year did work hugely so I took this data into the winter of last year. I changed my training and worked on longer runs and long V02 max sessions such as mile reps and 1k reps. I found it worked wonders and I saw my race pace improve and my training over the past year and this produced me an Age Group Silver medal at the National Aquathlon Championships, 6th at the World Championships and 8 podiums in Aquathlons.

My conclusion is that Heart Rate running worked for me and still works; I am able to run longer and further and I do not feel as tired the next day, in fact I can still run a hard session the following day. It has also helped me keep injuries away and not getting as many injuries as the years before. I am still improving from this and I use different zones for different sessions that have been hugely important in my training and races. I definitely recommend giving it a try. V02 max is also important and I use this to work at it on my sessions as you can improve it slightly from V02 Max sessions. I have taken all this data and changed my training up and it is has improved me hugely and it can for you. I have learnt not to run too fast and how to train in zones, which is key and you can see the benefits. I like the science about running and if you want to improve you need to use the science.

A 10 mile road race in and around Canterbury organised by Invicta East Kent AC and sponsored by Ssangyong

6 thoughts on “What can we learn from our Heart Rate max and V02 max

  1. If your heart rate is spiking out of the zone on hill sections, should you just walk to keep it in the zone? Or try and keep running form but slow enough to keep in the zone (which can be really tough!)

    Liked by 1 person

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