Lately, I’ve been inspired to embark on a new run training program based on a counterintuitive principle – long slow runs, make you faster with less injury. The idea is to slowly build your aerobic base while mostly avoiding anaerobic speed work.
To follow this program, you find your target heart rate (which will be different for each individual) and run exclusively at that heart rate, slowly increasing your mileage each week. Wearing a heart rate monitor ensures a slow enough pace.
I’ve been doing low-intensity weight training over the past couple of years resulting in modest strength increases with no significant injuries. Given this success, the heart rate training method might be the best way to scratch my growing itch to run again while avoiding the inevitable injuries that consistently send me back to the couch.
If I’m going to do this, I need to know my target heart rate.
The Lab-Tested Method
Two weeks ago I participated in a medical research study to learn more about how my mitochondria metabolize lactate. It involved riding a bicycle with increasing intensity while monitoring my blood lactate, heart rate, and VO2.
From the study, I learned my target training heart rate for running is between 140 and 146 beats per minute (bpm).
The MAF Method
Another way to calculate my target heart rate is using the MAF method: Start with 180, subtract your age, and adjust a few points up or down based on things like recent injuries, illnesses, and training experience. Using this method, I subtracted 40 for my age and an additional 5 for a recent injury giving me a training target of 135 bpm.
Although my lab-tested heart rate target sounds like it should be more accurate, I feel like there’s little downside in going with the lower number derived using the MAF formula.
My short-term goal is to run a 5k race in under 20 minutes. This has been a goal of mine for a few years and I’ve yet to come close. My best 5k time is 22:01, which I ran 3 years ago after following a more traditional training plan emphasizing speed and interval work.
My longterm goal is to increase my healthspan through optimal mitochondrial function. If I can run faster at a low intensity, I can improve my lactate threshold, thereby improving my mitochondrial health and in turn my overall fitness.
A Flat Tire
Ramping up my training will require patience because I’ve been dealing with a foot injury. The ball of my right foot has a case of metatarsalgia which is a fancy medical term for toe pain. The pain started about two and a half months ago and has persisted to varying degrees since. I’ve been self-treating with ice, rest, and home-made shoe inserts up until this past week when I finally decided to recruit professional help. After Xrays and visits to both my doctor and my physical therapist, I’ve begun a prescribed regimen of weight-lifting and stretching to heal my foot.
Tomorrow I’ll go for a 3-mile run, bookended by an additional mile or two for warmup and cooldown. The primary goal of this run is to make my foot hurt. My physical therapist wants to learn more about what brings on the pain so he can more precisely target a treatment plan.
My secondary goal is to document how fast I can run at a given heart rate. I’ll periodically repeat this test to track my progress over time.