Planning your next race is very important, but what if you do not know what to do? If you do not have a training program in place, what are you supposed to do? If you are new to marathons and are unsure what your threshold is, what are you supposed to do? In this article I will explore the importance of planning for your next marathon and how using heart rate and perceived exertion zones can help.
To understand the importance of heart rate zone and perceived exertion level in regards to race-day strategies, you need to first understand them. Heart rate (or pulse) rate is measured in beats per minute and is expressed as an index of how hard you are working by either counting the number of heartbeats per minute or using a formula that estimates this number. Using heart rate zones is an effective way of setting a threshold power (the maximum amount of effort you are willing to exert) and an ancillary goal for an optimal training program. For example, if you train hard, you might want to make sure that you are in your zone (or ancillary goal zones) most of the time during your workouts so that you are minimizing fatigue and maximizing your potential for successful completion of your race. Click here for more information about tracking your running with a watch
Perceived exertion is the ability to exercise above a specific threshold or ancillary goal zone. An easy example would be running an extra 10% of your maximum heart rate for one mile, in thirds (or zones) or forth. Perceived exertion can be thought of as an effective runner’s high or being “fat-tired” or whatever negative term someone chooses to use.
An example of using perceived exertion (zone 3) during a marathon would be to run one mile at a moderate pace with a three minute rest between each mile. You would work on increasing your threshold power while decreasing your ancillary goal pace. The next step would be to increase your threshold power until you could run a half-marathon with a four-minute rest between each mile. If you could do this twice out of three months, you would start to build up your perceived zone power (the ability to exercise harder) over time, which would make it easier to complete more marathons and cut down your training mileage. In addition to the specific example, this type of plan would be effective for sprints on the track, triathlons, or any event where you would need to burn down a lot of calories per minute such as basketball or football games.
An example of using high intensity for an event such as a triathlon would be to run faster for three minutes on the bike before swimming at one of your sub-minimal swim distances. Then after swimming the bike, run one of your fast miles. This would provide a good workout for your aerobic muscles but not be as intense as the first step above. So, when you came back to the swimming section you would go with a high intensity but keep it to a minimum so that you don’t put too much stress on your legs. This is an example of how to plan out an intensity level for a particular race.
Finally, the most important part of an effective race strategy for an Ironman is choosing a plan that suits you best. If you don’t have the time to spend studying race plans in depth then just choose one based on common sense and based on how you will be performing in the events. As with all fitness goals it is better to train for a high intensity level than to try and do too much at a low level of intensity. Find the level of intensity that works for you and then research the best plans for that intensity level.