Marathon Note #4- The Training Phases Plus Advantages to Using a Heart Rate Monitor


Runners – Again, another week of GREAT QUESTIONS from all of you! Glad to see SO MANY updating their Training Peaks with great comments and notes, so keep it up!
Still about 25 of you have yet to LINK YOUR TRAINING PEAKS account to me and get access to the on-line coaching program! Lets take care of that before we are too deep into the training!
If you can’t see any training in your logs, then you need to link your account with me (done in SETTINGS then COACH).
Base Building Phase – build aerobic endurance, increase distances.
This phase will focus on building distance and workout time, not speed.  We will use these weeks to gradually build up your workout volume and this will encompass the first 6 to 8 weeks of your training (with Recovery week mixed in every 3rd week). This phase will build economy and efficiency.  The goals of this phase are:
·         Get yourself into a regular training routine (whether that is 3 times a week or 6 times a week)
·         Gradually increase weekly mileage.
·         Gradually increase distance of long workouts.
·         Build cardiovascular and muscular endurance.
·         Improve skill levels in swimming and cycling.
Strength Building Phase – build muscular strength, run hills and intervals
After the BASE phase comes STRENGTH. This phase will focus on building muscular strength. This phase will build economy and threshold strength.  The goals of this phase are:
·         Maintain weekly mileage.
·         Maintain & increase distance of long workouts.
·         Maintain cardiovascular and muscular endurance.
·         Increase threshold (ie. Race pace running).
·         Increase muscular strength – running.
Race Prep and Peak – build greater speed and skills for race day and is usually 3-4 weeks out from your GOAL EVENT. This phase will focus on building speed.
This phase will build economy and VO2max.  The goals of this phase are:
·         Maintain weekly mileage.
·         Maintain distance of long workouts.
·         Maintain cardiovascular and muscular endurance.
·         Increase  VO2max through more race-paced training and simulations
·         Maintain strength – running (w/hills).
·         Improve neuromuscular coordination and speed.
Recovery or Taper Phase – Recovery weeks intermixed in the program about every 4th week and final race taper which begins 2wks before marathon
These phases are simple – allow the body time to rest and recovery, thus giving the muscles time to adapt to the training. Training volume typically decreases by 25-30%.
When I began bike racing in the mid-80s, no one raced or trained with a heart rate monitor (HRM). In fact, I leaned that the first HRM was developed in 1975 by Gregory Lekhtman and the first wireless a couple years later by the Polar Electro Company a training tool to be used by the Finnish National Cross Country Ski team. By the late 70s and early 80s, wireless heart rate monitors were available for all. Heart rate monitors have come a long way from the early versions, which looked more like wrist top computers (can you say beam me up Scotty?). Today’s HRMs are much smaller and really no different in appearance than your standard stopwatch. Companies like Suunto, Polar, Garmin, Timex, Nike and Fitbit offer a wide range in HRMs with prices going from just under $50 to over $800 depending on the extra bells and whistles you want.
As for the ‘bells and whistles’, today heart rate monitors can offer so much more than just heart rate and lap time. Companies are integrating the use of either GPS or a foot pod (small device that attaches to your shoe to map your run stride much the same way a Wii game station can track your movements) so people can now see their current running speed, cadence and distance traveled. Add in a bike pod and your HRM eliminates the need for a bike computer, as it will now display cycling speed and distance statistics. And even some models (like Suunto’s Spartan or Ambit series) will allow you to see even more detailed statics such as estimated VO2, METS (measure of energy expenditure), altitude, and Training Effect (hard hard the workout was), then allow one to download data to the web for further analysis or to share with your friends (great opportunity for a little smack talk among training partners).
I am a huge proponent of wearing a heart rate monitor (HRM) while training for many reasons, but like all things it to has limitations that must first be understood. First, your heart rate is influenced my many factors, especially temperature and fatigue. Ever compete in a triathlon or 10k race in the middle of August? Your heart rate will elevate more under hot and humid conditions than with cooler weather. Fatigue is another factor. Ever compete in a race a few days after being sidelined with an illness? Under that scenario, you will find it very difficult to elevate your heart rate into the proper zones. Another limiting factor for training with heart rate only is the delay. Say you want to do a series of 30 second near maximal intervals. It would be tough to utilize your heart rate as a gauge of intensity only for this as it will take time for your body (and heart rate) to respond to the increased effort. So, in the case of a short 30-second interval, it may be over even before you see your heart rate elevate into the appropriate maximal zone.
The final limitation to using heart is the concept of heart rate drift (HRD). HRD refers to the tendency of ones heart rate to slowly ‘drift’ higher over time, even though you may be keeping a steady effort or pace. The longer duration of the effort, the more the heart rate will drift higher. A few years back I ran a fall half marathon with a friend of mine. Our goal was for both of use to take advantage of the cool fall weather (near 40 at the start of the race) and try to PR on a relatively flat course. Our goal pace was right around 6:20/mile and like a fine Swiss clock, we clicked off mile after mile within 2 seconds of that pace. For the first handful of miles, my heart rate hovered around 158-160bps, but as the miles pilled up, even though I was still running that same 6:20/mile pace, my heart rate began the slow creep up to where it eventually reached the upper 160s with 2 miles to go. To properly use HR as a training guide, you must have an idea of your own HR zones and to determine your zones accurately requires performance testing!
With high end training centers popping up across the country, performance testing is no longer just for the elite or professional athlete. Specialty centers such as Cadence Cycling and Multisport in Philadelphia, Asphalt Green in New York City, Fast Splits in Newton Mass, Cycle Life in Washington DC, (just to name a few), now offer professional level performance tests such as lactate threshold or VO2 max tests to the amateur athlete.  Want to out ‘science’ that younger crowd who may not be able to afford such testing, here is your chance. Cycling and running performance tests not only allow you to get a better understanding of your current fitness level, they can provide a detailed road map on how to build your training to better achieve your goals. Are you someone who excels at pushing the monster gears on the bike with your buddies, but after an hour or so start to run out of gas? Or is it you have the lungs and power to succeed on the bike, but cannot seem to get comfortable while riding to take advantage of this. Here is your chance to answer all of these questions and more – for a price of course!
Your lactate threshold (LT) is the point at which your body can no longer effectively metabolize the accumulation of lactate in the blood. For an athlete, one is able to perform up to a certain level of intensity (referred to lactate threshold) without a noticeable change in performance. However, should your effort level exceed this ‘threshold’, your body will be unable to effectively clear the lactate from the blood quick enough, and your muscles will fatigue rapidly. Think of it as a red-line on a car’s speedometer – your fine at or below that magical red-line, but go over it and your risk dropping your transmission on the interstate!
Lactate threshold is one of the best predictors of endurance performance and for endurance athletes is expressed as power output at LT (as in wattage for a cyclist), or speed of LT (as in minute/mile for a runner) or percentage of Vo2 max. For a trained athlete, it is this LT level that can be dramatically changed through proper training over the course of a season.
Most centers will use a standard Conconi-type test for determining LT. A runner or rider will warm up (on treadmill or bike trainer equipped with a power meter), and after an initial interval of 4 minutes the resistance will gradually increase every 3 minutes. For the cyclist, the increase is usually 20-25 watts and for the runners about 0.3mph in speed. Between each interval a tiny prick of blood is drawn from the athlete’s finger and it is then measured for lactate on the LactatePro analyzer. When ones blood lactate reaches 4mml/L (or the tester sees a noticeable spike in the lactate levels), the speed or power level is noted, and the lactate threshold is determined. The corresponding data now becomes look at the athlete’s current level of fitness and will determine their heart rate and corresponding power (cycling) or speed (running) zones, as well as the athlete’s most productive training and racing zones.
While the output from an LT test can provide an athlete with a great framework from which to build their training from, the test does have limitations. First, there is the fact that one has to have their blood drawn for the test. Although only a finger prick is required, it still may be enough to keep the squeamish away. Second, because the blood is drawn every 3 to 4 minutes, there is a small amount of data interpolation required by the tester to determine the exact point of the onset of blood lactate accumulation occurs (referred to as OBLA). So finding the threshold in terms of watts for the cyclist or speed for the runner is not exact (see sample chart above). Lastly, there is the cost. While not as expensive as a VO2 test (covered next), a Lactate Threshold test can run $100 to $175.
Additionally, one may be able to closely replicate the output with a field test armed with a heart monitor and power meter (for cycling). Best way to perform a field test running is to take your average HR and pace from a running race that takes you about 30mins to complete – so whether that is a 5km or a 5mi race – that average HR and pace will be very close to your THRESHOLD HR – or that same HR you want to hold (and not exceed) while doing the run portion of the NYC triathlon. Once you have your Thresold pace – you can create a chart like the one below to building your training zones from. This runner has a threshold HR of 160bps and a Threshold pace of 8:34 / mile. Armed with that info, their long Endurance runs should be in Zone 3 (so HR range of 134-152bps and pace of 10:15 to 9:00 per mile). Should they want to do some faster intervals as a part of training – then they can look to Zone 4 (essentially race pace) and target 153-168bps for HR and 9:00 to 8:10 per mile pace. With training your threshold should improve, which means a faster per mile pace and a HIGHER threshold heart rate!

Athlete User Guide –

Manually uploading a workout file to TP –

Everyone is set up with a FREE BASIC TP account but you do have the option to upgrade to PREMIUM and here is a list of benefits (main one being to log future events in your TP calendar to see – like a planned vacation to plan training around)

Basic vs Premium – New athletes get Premium for FREE for 14 days then your acct will revert to a FREE BASIC acct – main difference on your end will be that you will be unable to move workouts around on your own and enter future events like vacations – but nothing changes on my end and I can move days for you!


  1. MARATHON QUIK TIP #3 – Do a Half Marathon BEFORE your Full Marathon
    “About a month out is a good time to test your fitness,” says four-time Boston and NYC Marathon champ Bill Rodgers. “Also, a good race can provide a powerful mental lift, and it will give you a little rest period in the few days before and after as you taper and recover from it.” Aim to run the half-marathon slightly faster than your marathon goal pace. If you can’t find a tune up race, then recruit friends to accompany you on a long run, with the last several miles faster than marathon pace.”