Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Million dollar question

I did my heart rate test this morning. I won't repeat all the gory details of the protocol, but suffice to say it involves running a 2.15 km lap of a park at a standard heart rate after a standard amount of warm up and recording the time. Well, the last time I was able to do it, the penultimate week before Tokyo Marathon, I recorded 4:04/km for an average HR of 149 (80%). On that run, and around that time in general, I was finding my heart rate incredibly low, and I would have to work my legs hard to get up to target heart rates.

Today it was a different story: 4:15/km. Yikes. And it was definitely hard to stop my heart rate slipping up to a higher level; the average for the lap was in fact 150 instead of the target 149. I noticed the same tendency towards slightly higher than expected HR during Saturday's and Sunday's runs (I'm sorry now that I wasn't wearing the monitor when I felt so sprightly running the Palace in 19 minutes last Thursday!).

So the million dollar question is: Is this a reflection of fitness lost during the low mileage of the taper and recovery, or is it lost fitness through the battering of the marathon itself, or is it a reflection of not yet sufficient recovery?

My hunch is that it is a combination of all three and it would be impossible to disentangle them. If you simply didn't run, by the time you were "fully recovered", whatever that means, your fitness would surely have slipped. I mean, I couldn't sit on my arse for three weeks eating fruit and protein shakes and then come out and run the test at 4:04/km again could I? Yet if I run too hard, residual fatigue from the marathon will knock me around and again, the test results will suffer. So you are supposed to come back gradually, in a reverse taper, repeating the stimulus training runs, and eventually at some point you could re-hit the pre-marathon test results.

I suppose the moral of the story is that when you run a marathon, it takes a fair while before you come back to your pre-marathon condition. And you have to really train again to achieve it. You don't just "recover" to pre-marathon condition in the way you could with a 5k or 10k race. Well, that's as measured by this test anyway. I guess there are other energy and endurance systems that I am ignoring completely.

Today: 15.3 km, average pace: 4:35/km; average heart rate: 140 (75%)


Scott said...

Hey Stephen

You make several valid points but I'd say that if you're in the process of training to run another marathon in the near future,say 4 to 6 weeks away, something your keeping close to your chest for now, then it is not so important that your recovery be complete or even near complete at this stage.

I reckon if someone, let's just call him Owen, for example, wants to run a better marathon on their second attempt they would have to simply build to peak as you would normally and I reckon that come second marathon day the first marathon will, by then, have been converted into power both in the legs and heart and lungs.

It's not just me, I've read of many cases of the pros and semi good runners coming out and running a fast/PB marathon within weeks of a bad or sub par marathon.

Go on prove me right!

mpluss said...

The thing that grabs my attention is the 4 minute space at 149bpm. I have nothing particularly scientific to say. Perhaps a question. HAve you always been able to run at that pace for that heartrate. In your ealrier days, presumably, pre HRM was it that low for that pace?

cheers Plu

Tesso said...

My vote goes to the "not yet sufficient recovery". I know for the few times I've monitored it my heart rate is always elevated for weeks after a major race like a marathon.

I think you are being way too hard on yourself Steve.

2P said...

I guess that is why the elites only race 2 or 3 of these things per year.

Whilst I agree that it is probably a combination of all 3 - I'm inclined to believe that the biggest contributer to elevated heartrate at this stage would be the lack of recovery - I'm not convinced that fitness drops off (to any significant degree) that quickly.

Whilst you wont move ahead with fitness it actually doesn't take that much to maintain a particular level ie as long as you don't stop but still do some work the drop off is going to be very tiny over the first few weeks.

Stephen Lacey said...

Hi Plu, I probably could have made that clearer ... that 4:04 was a peak. I had inched down towards it over a period of four to six weeks running some pretty high quality long upper aerobic pace runs. I was performing that test every week. In early January it was at about 4:20, by February 7 it was at the 4:04 mark...it took some solid training runs to get that sort of boost, but it was probably a bit too short a period and obviously didn't translate into an overall improvement in endurance .. mutter mutter mutter...

Robert Song said...

I go with the not sufficient recovery theory.

After Canberra last year, I think I got back into too many hard sessions too quickly. I ran a Half three weeks after and died badly at 15K for example. I will be taking it a bit easier and not doing many quality sessions for at least three weeks this year.

But I will be watching you closely and see how your recovery goes.

Pete said...

I tend to sing the same song as Robert--it's lack of recovery rather than lack of fitness. You were properly tapered and then had your toughest workout since last Novemeber on Feb. 18, you've had at least one hard run since then. I can't imagine you've lost too much fitness.

Clairie said...

What was the question again?

ha ha Just kidding.

Definitely the marathon still in your body. Remember your great summary :it takes a fair while before you come back to your pre-marathon condition

Thats because you just ran a marathon and pushed your body through one of the biggest tests in life.

Take it easy mate and just relax a bit over the next few weeks.


Ingo said...

A marathon takes a lot out of your body. Some are saying that you don't need to run at all for 4 weeks! I think that's also partly the reason why I gave Tokyo a pass on race day in order to move on quicker to my current little running project. I could really leverage up on my taper by skipping the marathon. Your current experience makes me actually feel better about that decision. I didn't blow my fitness for a 'crap' time in 'crap' weather.

Also, don't be too obsessed with your 4:04/k as it may well be just an outlier. Don't use a 5-sigma event as the ultimate gauge of your overall fitness level ;-)