Seizing life's joys and challenges physically, mentally, and emotionally.


Heart Rate and Hard Way Learning

This morning I had my last speed run workout before the race this weekend – and it was fantastic. The past four weeks my trainer has me doing fast intervals – today I did four repeats of 1,000 meters with a 200 meter jog in between. On a treadmill I equated it to .62 mile fast and .13 recovery, so four repeats of a total of .75 miles. After a mile warmup run I increased the treadmill to 6.8 (8:49 a mile) and took off. My foot pod tells my Garmin 901XT that I am running closer to 8:20 pace. This has been consistent for the past four weeks. All I know is I am getting my heart rate up to my high zone 3 and into zone 4. When I started this workout four weeks ago I had a hard time maintaining my pace when my heart rate went past my anaerobic threshold (AT) of 158. Today I was sustaining 162 to 164 during the speed intervals. And I felt very good. It did not feel like an easy run, but I did not feel like I was suffering. After the four .75 repeats I did three repeats fast (7.2 on the treadmill or 8:20) for 200 meters with a 200 meter recovery jog. My heart rate peaked at 172. I couldn’t believe it. I was pushing it, but I was not where I thought I was at my max heart rate.

After my workout I reported back to my trainer. Later in December we are going to test again to see where my zones are and if (my hunch) my AT has moved further out. Today was such an encouraging workout. Any running I will do between now and the race on Sunday will be very easy slow runs to shake out my legs. This was just what I needed going into the race to really feel prepared. Now if I could do something about the weather forecast this weekend for Sacramento, I would really be happy. It looks like rain. More things to pack to be prepared…

Yesterday my trainer asked if another athlete she works with could contact me about heart rate monitor training and zone training. He is skeptical about how it could help improve efficiency. I told her I am more than happy to share my experience. It just plain works. I have written about my experience here and I am amazed at how I have improved. Not only am I running faster, I am doing so at lower heart rates and I have also increased my ability to run at very high heart rates. It was not an easy process. Sometimes running (err walking and jogging more at times) slow was more of a challenge than the speed work. Now the slow runs are runs and I am able to do it at a faster pace, so the speed work is the greater challenge. So little in life comes easy. The hard lessons, I have found, are the ones that leave the greatest impact. Far beyond running – in work, relationships, finances, faith,  every aspect of life – the hardest learned lessons are the most rewarding. Some are quick and painful, others bring long suffering until we learn. But the rewards gained are the sweetest.


Metabolic Training and Reaching New Levels

This morning I went back to my gym to have my cardio point test redone. Last week my trainer wanted to try it with me running faster on a flat surface, which is much more like typical running. The results were difficult to compare to my previous tests, so this morning we were back to a steady pace and increasing incline. The results – my efficiency is continuing to improve.

Looking at my aerobic zones – zone one jumped from a heart rate beats per minute range of 98 – 107 up to 113 – 122. My last test was the end of August, so in two months my easy zone significantly improved. Zone two also improve quite a bit – from 108 – 133 up to 123 – 140. This really helps me on my long and/or easy runs. The goal is to stay in zone two, previously I tried to keep my heart rate around 130 and I have seen my pace get faster while in this zone. Now I can target 135 to 138, run faster, and still be in zone two. Zone three went from 134 – 158 to 141 – 158. What this tells me is my anaerobic threshold remains at 159. I was not surprised, when I do speed work it is not often my heart rate goes much over 158 for any length of time. Now I know I need to kick it up a bit when running speed workouts. Also, in all of my aerobic zones I am burning more fat.

My anaerobic zones four and five did not change, however my peak VO2 (oxygen utilization) increased from 47 to 49 over the two months. For a chart on ranges check this link. Simply put, metabolic training works. I am more efficient, I am running faster at lower heart rates, and I am burning fat – the preferred fuel to burn.

In addition to my assessment test, I finished my run workout which was a few sets of fast running with a brief recovery. In all I ran 4 miles today. These 4 miles took me to a new level in my training too. As of today, October 31st, I have now swam, cycled, and run more meters and miles than all of 2011. And I still have two months to go. I surpassed my swimming distance back in the summer, however in October I surpassed both my cycling and running distances. It continues to amaze me what I am able to accomplish – especially since my athleticism began in my early thirties – when most people are peaking. I mentioned to someone yesterday that the more I experience in life I am learning to never say never. You never know just what might happen…


Float Like a Butterfly

With this being day four of continuous rain, I was happy to have not lost power due to the strong winds last night. My gym also did not lose power, so I dodge a few down trees on my drive there and got in a swim. Lately one of my friends has been sharing swim workout with me, but usually after he has done it. This morning he was swimming at the same time, so I would follow his lead. Being a much faster swimmer than I, we would swim on the same send off interval, only I would swim 25 to 50 meters shorter. The first set I swam 2 x 200 on a 4:30 send off while he swam 250 meters. There was one set of back stroke and breast stroke, I wore my fins so I wouldn’t be so far behind on back stroke. It was going well and I felt I was working harder to keep up.

Then he tells me to swim 2 x 100 IM (individual medley – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle). I said okay, I will do freestyle in place of butterfly. Well, that did not fly. He persisted that I do butterfly. Never having done the stroke before – ever – I wore my fins and he gave me a few tips. I know the fins made a huge difference, but not only did I swim 25 meters butterfly, I touched the wall only two seconds after my friend. Of course by the time I finished the set he was far ahead of me, but I was thrilled to have tried something the first time and faired well. Me – the struggling swimmer. Hoot Hoot! Several others usually swim at the same time and were not there this morning – you better believe I was texting them after my workout with my little story. In all I swam 3,000 meters. It may not actually be “floating” with such a technical stroke, but I sure was floating like a butterfly for the rest of the day knowing I was able to take on a new challenge.

This evening I was back on the treadmill for a 60 minute easy run. My goal again was to stay in zone two. I was able to run at an 11:35 pace and still have an average heart rate of 130. I started back in December working on improving my cardio aerobic zones and now it is almost November and I am seeing how the long, slow process is  paying off. I used to have to walk more than run to keep my heart rate averaging 130.

Sometimes improvements take a long time to see – in running for me it is a long process to train my body to be more efficient and run faster while maintaining a lower heart rate.  Then there is the butterfly stroke – something I have been very intimidated by for a long time. My form needs a lot of improvement and practice, but I was able to do it well enough to keep up – on my first try. Both long slow improvements and fast results have the same effect on me – I am surprised yet happy that I am able to do it. The long in coming improvements are very meaningful because I worked so hard for it. But a quick success like today gives me the confidence to swim in uncharted waters.


Beautiful Day

As I have written before, autumn in my favorite season and mid-October is my favorite part of the season. It is cool enough to feel the crispness of the air, yet warm enough I don’t have to bundle up to run outside. The leaves are approaching their peak colors and the late afternoon sun is vibrant. Today embodied the perfect day in mid-October. My second workout today was a run, which I just finished and I am still celebrating my endorphin pumped runner’s high. The workout called for 70 minutes easy in my zone 2 heart rate, which ranges from 107-133 based on my last assessment. Because I live in such a hilly area, I have been deferring to the treadmill for these types of runs. Not today. My drive home from work convinced me that run/walking outside on this glorious day is far better than maintaining a consistent pace in my basement on the treadmill.

My run did not disappoint and it was as wonderful as the day. Best part – I kept my heart rate average at 129 and my running pace was 12:33 per mile. For an outside, hilly easy run this was a very good pace. I only took two very short walking breaks at the steepest hills when my heart rate went over 135. Yes, it was frustrating because I walked to keep my heart rate down, not because I couldn’t endure the run. These moments are getting fewer and shorter in time, more proof that my training is working. I was happiest with my average heart rate though – to keep it under 130 for nearly 6 miles is a big improvement. Believing I am able to improve is working, I see the results.

This morning I once again made it to the 6:00 AM spin class. It was a sprint workout which I liked since yesterday was an easy active recovery day. Getting my legs spinning and my heart pumping started the day out well. Spinning is getting my legs (and my mind) accustomed to pedaling at a high cadence along with a decent amount of resistance. Hopefully this will translate to stronger riding on the road. Unfortunately I don’t think I will be getting out on the road before early spring. Marathon training on the weekends is my top priority and with the race December 2nd, old man winter may keep me from riding. Last winter was mild, but I live in an area called the snow belt. We measure snow more often by feet instead of inches…

Just the mention of snow makes me wish days like today could last forever. But if it did, I wonder if I would appreciate it as much as when I know it is rare, limited, and fleeting. Being able to run outside today gave me the opportunity to take in the day knowing it may not be as beautiful within a week or two. Rain is in the forecast and this time of year that means the leaves may be washed from the trees quickly. One more reminder to appreciate each day and find the happiness and beauty in it. Within a blink of an eye it is gone.


Time and More Milestones

My run this morning was for 60 minutes with the goal of staying in my zone 2. I didn’t want to run in the dark and keep monitoring my heart rate, so I opted for the treadmill at the gym. Unlike the variety of the intervals yesterday, I prepared myself for the potential boredom of an hour on a treadmill. I brought my iPad to read a book and put my headphones on. I wanted some music to keep me going, but I didn’t want the lyrics to interfere with my reading. So I did the practical thing – I listened to Benedictine monks chanting. The looks I got today from fellow runners when I told them what I listened to was hilarious. One friend at work thought I was kidding. I had to show him my play list to convince him I really did. I have the music for meditating and relaxing.  I figured it was perfect for my run. I was able to read and it was not upbeat to the point I wanted to run faster.

The run went very well. I didn’t stop at all to walk to keep my heart rate under 133. I ran 5.05 miles in the 60 minutes and my average heart rate was 130. Today and this workout were milestones for me. This was the first workout I was able to run the entire time, stay in zone two, and average under 12 minute pace. Ah, the advantage of a treadmill or flat terrain. Today itself was a milestone too. With today’s 60 minute workout I have now walked, used the elliptical, swam, cycled, and ran year to date a total of 353.3 hours. For the entire year of 2011 I logged a total of 352.5 hours. I just surpassed all of my training from last year. My swimming is what really put me over, I have 30 more hours in year to date than all of last year. My running is catching up, with my marathon training I know I will surpass last year in both hours and miles. My cycling is so close. I am less than 4 hours and 110 miles away. I will make sure I pass it this year.

Will I hit 500 hours? Maybe. Does it matter? Not really. Only in that I am accomplishing so much more than I ever dreamed possible. And I am improving despite gravity and the passing of time. The same friend who couldn’t believe I listened to Benedictine monks today told me he never thought he would be as fit as he is now, and he is 53. At first I agreed, then I said “Why not?” All too often the excuse that with age it is acceptable to add weight, to stop exercising, and eat more of the “bad” stuff. That does not have to be the case. At all. From blogging I have come to know several people who defy these odds. Two that quickly come to mind are Fit Recovery and Tri-Grandma-Try. Very different people – Jim at Fit Recovery has an amazing story of how he was an alcoholic who was told in his 20’s his liver would not last long. Now he is sober and 41 – and killing it on the bike. Cindy at Tri-Grandma-Try is a grandma as her title explains. I love how she adds on her about page that in addition to triathlon she likes to sew, quilt, and knit. She is running, cycling, and swimming – in a wet suit in open water. I hope I am still doing it when I am her age. The only time I want to measure is the time I am enjoying life, and I want that to be all of the time.