Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Focal point: pace

For a long time I have been using heart rate to monitor my workouts. Lately I have shifted my focus to other metrics, in particular, pace.

In Total Immersion swimming we often talk about focal points. Good technique requires a thousand muscle movements to blend together in harmony. Improvement comes from isolating and focusing attention on specific pieces of this complex process. We could just swim and see what comes up, but improvement comes faster when we decide ahead of time what to focus on. I am not aware of any cycling or running program that works the same way, but I use this approach in those disciplines and find that it works very well.

If the goal is improvement, we need a way to measure progress. In TI swimming this is done primarily with Stroke Per Length. The fewer strokes expended in swimming a set distance, the more efficient the swimmer. For cycling the preferred metric to monitor is power, but since power meters are expensive many cyclists still rely on what was previously the favorite choice, heart rate. No one has yet to construct a running shoe that measures power, so the best metric for running is still heart rate.

Heart rate is so central to modern training that most running workouts I use are specified by HR zones. A couple examples:

1. From Matt Fitzgerald.

Run on flat course
5 min Z1
20 min Z2
5 min Z1

2. From Training Peaks Virtual Coach.

Cruise intervals. Warm-up well. Then do 3-4 x 6 minutes. Build to heart rate 4-5a zone (2 minute recoveries). Relaxed form! Listen to breathing. Fast cadence.

The above translated into a Garmin FR610 custom workout:

WU 5 min 1Z
WU 5 min 2Z
4x (6 min 4Z, 2 min 1Z)
CD 3 min 1Z

Early in my current marathon training cycle I noticed that I was focused primarily on HR, with a strong second focus on cadence. It occurred to me that I could be running with inefficient mechanics and fulfill the HR goal while still running slowly. I started paying more attention to pace and HR, fiddling with mechanics to see how I could become more efficient. This led me to focus on the spring action that occurs as the foot is loaded while at the same time moving aft. It feels like a pogo stick leaning forward, with every bounce pushing my body up and forward. When I get it right my pace is faster without my HR going through the roof. Try a different position and my HR goes up or my pace plummets. Try something else.

My favorite long run setup lately is to have my FR610 only display two things, distance and pace. I use distance mostly to know when to turn around. Last Saturday I designed the run based on time, so I would have been better off using duration and pace. I still need to focus on cadence, but instead of constantly checking my Garmin I wear my Finis Tempo Trainer on my hat, just above my left ear, a spot where I can just hear it. Last Saturday's run looked like this:

Turn around at Maunalua Bay Beach Park.
20 min @ 16:30 Wailupe Park
40 min @ 15:30 Maunalua Bay Beach Park TT 72/84
60 min @ 14:00 Return TT 70/88

The first twenty minutes were warm up at an easy zone one pace. I was not locked into time, just run from Aloha Gas Station to Wailupe Park at around a 16:30 pace. I fuel every twenty minutes, so that would be my first fuel and water stop. There I would start my Tempo Trainer with a setting of 72, which gives a cadence of 84. With a proper, efficient stride I should be running at about 15:30, which should be mid zone two. For the return leg I would set the Tempo Trainer to 70 for a cadence of 88, which is as fast as I can go with good form, and try to keep the pace around 14:00, which is on the fast side for me. I like to use stretch goals for this sort of thing. I actually slowed down a bit, averaging 14:48 but I did average a 144 HR (mid zone 4), right where I did my last three mile tempo run on the track -- without looking!

A two hour run gives me plenty of time to fiddle with mechanics. I would get into a groove, check my pace, then without letting my cadence get out of sync with the beeper I would change something and check my pace. Then there was the "how does it feel" part. Continuous form checks. Foot strikes sound the same? (So often not, that ornery left leg.) Elbows back, not out. High wrists. Chin down. Leg recovery comes from lifting knee. Lean forward from ankles, not head. And so on, and on; it never ends.

I have only just started using this new focus on pace, so it is too soon to say how effective it is. Time will tell. The Training Peaks Virtual Coach (Joe Friel undercover) specifies a number of test runs to check progress. This Saturday is another one mile time trial, plus a little. Hope the weather holds. My LTHR is 154, and I can attest that doing this workout takes every ounce of will power.

Warm up for about 15 minutes raising heart rate to 10 bpm below Lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR). Then start 1 mile at 9-11 bpm below LTHR. (recover for 400m). 1.5 miles all out. Times? Heart rates?