General Discussion Triathlon Talk » Great Mark Allen article! Rss Feed  
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2003-12-07 2:35 PM

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Elite Veteran
Northern Va/Metro D.C.
Subject: Great Mark Allen article!
This article really hit home. I realize how I've been too intense in each workout and need to return to a aerobic conditioning base program.


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10:38 am
Great article written by the Grip:

How hard to I have to workout? How far do I have to go? I workout 2 hours every other day of the week and I still can’t lose those last 10 pounds. Why do I keep getting injured when I try to run? These are all questions and comments people make about their training that seems to have no simple solution.

I want to give you that solution. It’s called a heart rate monitor. Whether your goal is to win a race or just live a long healthy life, using a heart rate monitor is the single most valuable tool you can have in your training equipment arsenal. And using one in the way I am going to describe will not only help you shed those last few pounds, but will enable you to do it without either killing yourself in training or starving yourself at the dinner table.

I came from a swimming background, which in the 70’s and 80’s when I competed was a sport that lived by the “No Pain, No Gain” motto. My coach would give us workouts that were designed to push us to our limit every single day. I would go home dead, sleep as much as I could, then come back the next day for another round of punishing interval sets.

It was all I knew. So, when I entered the sport of triathlon in the early 1980’s, my mentality was to go as hard as I could at some point in every single workout I did. And to gauge how fast that might have to be, I looked at how fast the best triathletes were running at the end of the short distance races. Guys like Dave Scott, Scott Tinley and Scott Molina were able to hold close to 5 minute miles for their 10ks after swimming and biking!

So that’s what I did. Every run, even the slow ones, for at least one mile, I would try to get close to 5 minute pace. And it worked…sort of. I had some good races the first year or two, but I also suffered from minor injuries and was always feeling one run away from being too burned out to want to continue with my training.

Then came the heart rate monitor. A man named Phil Maffetone, who had done a lot of research with the monitors, contacted me. He had me try one out according to a very specific protocol. Phil said that I was doing too much anaerobic training, too much speed work, too many high end/high heart rate sessions. I was forcing my body into a chemistry that only burns carbohydrates for fuel by elevating my heart rate so high each time I went out and ran.

So he told me to go to the track, strap on the heart rate monitor, and keep my heart rate below 155 beats per minute. Maffetone told me that below this number that my body would be able to take in enough oxygen to burn fat as the main source of fuel for my muscle to move. I was going to develop my aerobic/fat burning system. What I discovered was a shock.

To keep my heart rate below 155 beats/minute, I had to slow my pace down to an 8:15 mile. That’s three minutes/mile SLOWER than I had been trying to hit in every single workout I did! My body just couldn’t utilize fat for fuel.

So, for the next four months, I did exclusively aerobic training keeping my heart rate at or below my maximum aerobic heart rate, using the monitor every single workout. And at the end of that period, my pace at the same heart rate of 155 beats/minute had improved by over a minute. And after nearly a year of doing mostly aerobic training, which by the way was much more comfortable and less taxing than the anaerobic style that I was used to, my pace at 155 beats/minute had improved to a blistering 5:20 mile.

That means that I was now able to burn fat for fuel efficiently enough to hold a pace that a year before was redlining my effort at a maximum heart rate of about 190. I had become an aerobic machine! On top of the speed benefit at lower heart rates, I was no longer feeling like I was ready for an injury the next run I went on, and I was feeling fresh after my workouts instead of being totally wasted from them.

So let’s figure out what heart rate will give you this kind of benefit and improvement. There is a formula that will determine your Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate, which is the maximum heart rate you can go and still burn fat as the main source of energy in your muscles. It is the heart rate that will enable you to recover day to day from your training. It’s the maximum heart rate that will help you burn those last few pounds of fat. It is the heart that will build the size of your internal engine so that you have more power to give when you do want to maximize your heart rate in a race situation.

Here is the formula:

Take 180
Subtract your age
Now we need to adjust this number based on your current level of fitness. Make the following correction as it applies to you:
» If you do no working out subtract another 10 beats
» If you workout 1-2 times a week subtract 5 beats
» If you workout 3-4 times a week leave the number as it is.
» If you workout 5 or more times as week and have done so for a year or more, then add an additional 5 beats to that number.

If you are about 60 years old or older OR if you are about 20 years old or younger, add an additional 5 beats to the corrected number you now have.

You now have your maximum aerobic heart rate, which again is the maximum heart rate that you can workout at and still burn mostly fat for fuel. Now go out and do ALL of your cardiovascular training at or below this heart rate and see how your pace improves. After just a few weeks you should start to see a dramatic improvement in the speed you can go at these lower heart rates.

Over time, however, you will get the maximum benefit possible from doing just aerobic training. At that point, after several months of seeing your pace get faster at your maximum aerobic heart rate, you will begin to slow down. This is the sign that if you want to continue to improve on your speed, it is time to go back to the high end interval anaerobic training one or two days/week. So, you will have to go back to the “NO Pain, NO Gain” credo once again. But this time your body will be able to handle it. Keep at the intervals and you will see your pace improve once again for a period. But just like the aerobic training, there is a limit to the benefit you will receive from anaerobic/carbohydrate training. At that point, you will see your speed start to slow down again. And that is the signal that it is time to switch back to a strict diet of aerobic/fat burning training.

At the point of the year you are in right now, probably most of you are ready for this phase of speed work. Keep your interval sessions to around 15-30 minutes of hard high heart rate effort total. This means that if you are going to the track to do intervals do about 5k worth of speed during the entire workout. Less than that and the physiological effect is not as great. More than that and you just can’t maintain a high enough effort during the workout to maximize our benefit. You want to push your intervals, making each one a higher level of intensity and effort than the previous one. If you reach a point where you cannot maintain your form any longer, back off the effort or even call it a day. That is all your body has to give.

This is what I did to keep improving for nearly 15 years as a triathlete. It is also the training the Lance Armstrong’s coach put him on to recover from his cancer treatment when they saw that he could not handle the high end training anymore. And, although it was contrary to what most cyclists do to prepare for the grueling Tour de France, it was what enabled him to capture the title there for the first time in 1999.

Best of luck!
Mark Allen

2003-12-08 9:28 AM
in reply to: #2364

Extreme Veteran
Fort Wayne, IN
Subject: RE: Great Mark Allen article!
This answers a lot of questions I had about using the HRM. Couldn't of been more timely for me. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I knew it took time but since I have slowed way down it is nice to see real examples and explanations of the time involved to lower the HR while doing the same speed ect... I am looking forward to my run this evening and feeling better about the HRM already.
2003-12-08 12:41 PM
in reply to: #2364

NC Illinois
Subject: RE: Great Mark Allen article!
Starting: 8:15-mile @ 155 HR

4 Months Later: 7:15-mile @ 155 HR

1 Year Later: 5:20-mile @ 155 HR

Assuming these results are typical (albeit differing in magnitude), this answers a very important (to my trianing) question that I had the other day.

"Does slow training make you faster?" According to Mark Allen it does.

Now, the question is "Are Allen and I similar enough animals that his results will carryover and be applicable to my training?"

Edited by TripleThreat 2003-12-08 12:42 PM
2003-12-08 12:56 PM
in reply to: #2402

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Elite Veteran
Northern Va/Metro D.C.
Subject: RE: Great Mark Allen article!
that's a great question.

personally, i think so.

i come from an extensive background of swimming (17 years competing) where the credo was NO PAIN, NO GAIN. Translating that into triathlon training doesn't work..there has to be a foundation to begin with. The stronger your aerobic base is, the more conditioned you are and thus, the more efficient you a certain point as Allen pointed out, then, speed work and interval training is necessary.
2003-12-12 11:16 AM
in reply to: #2403

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Lakewood, CO
Subject: I have a couple of things to say
Although I cannot boast Mark's background, I would like to add a couple of things, which, I beleive, were not mentioned in his article.
> I only partially agree with the idea that going slower (that is: use HRM to run in our aerobic zone) will make you faster. It is a good rule of thumb, but in my opinion and experience it is good for marathon and half marathon, but surely not for a 5K and not much for a 10k. That is, if you are racing only sprint tris and only run in your aerobic zone for months in a row, your legs won't be able to handle the fast 5k pace. The shorter the distance you are running the more enphasis you need to put on speed work and lactate training. I use long runs in my training and I use a HRM too, but depending on what I am training for, my focus is different. My impression is that many of the high caliper athletes who write articles, often forget that way more regular-people compete in sprints and oly tris than IM and 1/2 IM distances. Many of these athletes have a lot of experience with IM, but they may never have run a 500yd, 12mile, 5k tri, where you definetily need to go into your anaerobic zone if you want to place. I believe the preparation necessary to race in a IM and in a oly distance tri are very different. IM is 100% aerobic, oly is not (maybe 50%). Therefore the workouts need to be different.

> My second observation is that Mark does not put any emphasis on variety. Variety is what makes our body improves. If we run 5 miles at the same pace 5 times a week for 6 months, our body will get used to it and won't make any effort, thus limiting or canceling the gain. Change your course, change your distance change your speed, change the time of day and weather you run in and improvements will come. In 3 words: "change your workouts". Keep your body guessing and help it get used to continous change.

Enrico in CO
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
Triathlete and runner
Editor for Beginner triathlete
2003-12-12 11:32 AM
in reply to: #2466

Subject: ...
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2003-12-12 11:47 AM
in reply to: #2364

NC Illinois
Subject: RE: Great Mark Allen article!
smeeko ... that is a fantastic point, and a timely one.

I haven't done a tempo (zone 4 for 20-40min) run since it's gotten cold (6 weeks or so).

During this time I have been doing 2 zone-2 runs during the week, and one long zone-2 run on the weekend.

I tried a zone-4 tempo run yesterday the other day (for only 20 minutes) and it felt as though I had never run before. My form held up, my legs felt good, but I was getting out of breath too quickly.

The other day I posted a comment/question reagrding "practice what you want to be good at".

I need at least 1 day of "fast running" to ensure that i can "do it when I need to do it".

I don't think a tempo run once per week will be too much in terms of recovery.


In our discussion, we seem to have forgotten the question of "what is/are your goal(s)?". Train for your goals.
2003-12-12 11:08 PM
in reply to: #2364

Elite Veteran
Northern Va/Metro D.C.
Subject: RE: Great Mark Allen article!
I think Smeeko brought up wonderful, valid points. In the end, we fail to take into consideration (as Mark Allen did w/Smeeko's points), that different things work for different people.

I'm confident in the Mark Allen approach, not because he's the world's greatest triathlete (ok, perhaps this influences it just a bit!), however because common sense and excercise phisiology support it.

We're in the off-season now, so in order to build upon the gains we've accumulated in the past, we have to essentially, prepare our bodies from level 1 to withstand the rigors of intense training that we have planned in the next few months.

Allen's strategy also is supported with the philosophy of periodization. We've come off a long season, so now it's time to allow our bodies to recuperate.

Smeeko also mentioned something to consider, that essentially, he prefers the aerobic phase Allen recommends for half-marathon and marathons because a 5k and 10k require much needed speed work. Smeeko's point reminds me of the, "if you don't train your body to do it in practice, don't expect it to do it in a race."

It's a great point, and yet I think Allen was alluding to events longer then 10k. However, that doesn't mean we can't utilize this conditioning program! Instead of one full year as Allen did, I'm confident that gains are possible with a 3-4 month program. Our bodies utilize fat much more efficiently then carbohydrates...once that's burned out, forget about your race, particularly during the last 5k or 10k of a triathlon. Allen's approach trains our bodies to slowly, and effectively utilize fat as fuel, instead of carbohydrates. As an added bonus, we gain more during this conditioning phase in both aerobic capacity and also a more injury-free training regime.
2003-12-16 4:52 PM
in reply to: #2480

Subject: RE: Great Mark Allen article!
mark allen's article raised some very good points as have the responses. one comment on the zones he gave people for lt - they are not necessarily accurate. any formula that uses age, excercise background, etc can be very wrong. someone pegged my lt 5 beats higher than it shouldve been last year and it totally destroyed my april - june cycling season bc my body wasnt recovering from intervals that were supposed to be 95% - 105% of lt - ie - all these intervals ended up being above threshold. the best way to find your lt is to get it tested at a lab or with a coach - some health clubs probably also have it. by taking blood the tests are very very accurate and from there you can figure out what your hr training zones should be from there. smeeko's point about going anaerobic in tri's is huge - for IM's or 1/2 IM's you want to train just below your lt which will gradually raise it enabling you to produce more power/wattage throughout the race in each event. for sprints and olys you prob want to spend some time training above lt so your body gets used to being there. it is possible to train your body to remove lactic acid at a faster rate. thus, someone who can work above lt for 30 mins has a massive advantage over someone who's body shuts down after 20 mins above lt - esp in a sprint tri.
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