Allison Lynch is a member of the Greater Boston Track Club, a competitive training group that competes regionally and nationally. Prior to joining the club she was a 4-year varsity runner in high school and through college. She holds PRs of 5:06 in the mile, 18:23 5k, 30:32 5-mile, 1:27 half-marathon, and a 3:21 marathon.
Not all runs are created equal. Or perhaps I should I say, not all runs are meant to be executed the same way. I’ve been a runner since middle school, when I first discovered running by participating in my hometown’s track races each summer. Back then, I had no race strategy and I didn’t know what “peaking” meant. I didn’t wear a GPS watch and I didn’t know my pace.
Today I’m a little wiser thanks to the coaches, doctors, and physical therapists who have educated me on proper running form, and helped me overcome various injuries and frustrating training plateaus. With 16 years of running experience under my belt, I’ve learned the hard way that success comes down to the numbers and the science behind the art of running, and not necessarily how I feel about my body. For instance, I’ve boosted my cadence from 169 steps/minute to 176, which has shortened my stride and allowed me to switch from a heel-striker to a midfoot lander. Ever since the change (which at first was very difficult to get used to), I’ve had zero injuries. In addition, I’ve paid close attention to my body’s physiological feedback, which has allowed me to evaluate and improve my performance as I stay in tune with its needs.
The WHOOP system helps me monitor the following:
- Time spent in specific heart rate training zones
- Trends and fluctuations in resting heart rate
- Time spent in REM and Deep Sleep (2 crucial sleep stages that aid in Recovery)
- Day to day Recovery before and after tough workouts
Depending on what kind of run I’m doing, my heart rate data is going to look very different. WHOOP takes a lot of heavy lifting off my plate by monitoring my heart rate from the wrist. I use the data to reassure that I’m doing the right things, and to incorporate additional days of rest if I notice my body isn’t recovering properly. The following 4 runs are crucial to any competitive runner’s training, and should be monitored appropriately to avoid overtraining and maximize fitness.
1. The Long Run:
Training Zone: Aerobic
Heart Rate Zone: 70% of Max
My Pace: 7:30-8:00/mile
12 miles at recovery pace
Often coined as the “Church of the Sunday Long Run,” running longer distances on Sundays is a quintessential part of the running culture. It’s a perfect way to cap off a tough week of training and spend time alone on the roads thinking about everything from existential life questions to what kind of donuts you want for brunch. In short, the long run is a sacred time of reflection.
Your long runs should be approximately 25% of your total weekly mileage. For instance, I run 45-50 miles per week. My long runs are generally 11-13 miles. During these runs, I should feel relaxed and able to hold a light conversation. These runs build your endurance, allowing you to sustain aerobic movement for extended periods of time. Mentally, they teach you how to be patient and how to settle into a smooth, relaxed (but not sluggish) pace.
My 12 mile long run on Sunday, June 25th lasted over and hour and a half, and my heart rate averaged 139 beats per minute, which is exactly where I want to be for my recovery miles. My WHOOP data shows which zones my heart rate fluctuated between, and gives me reassurance that I wasn’t pushing my body harder than I needed to be (I stopped twice to stretch and grab water, hence the dip in HR).
2. Speed Intervals:
Training Zone: VO2 Max
Heart Rate Zone: 95-100%
My Pace: 4:00-6:00/mile (depending on length of interval)
Speed intervals are an important part of training because they tap into your max aerobic capacity, allowing you to improve your VO2 fitness and train your legs to have faster turnover. Typically, your body can only handle 1-2 workouts like this a week. For me, I can only do 1 as it takes me 3-4 days to fully recover before I can put that much stress on my body again. Below is a mobile screenshot of the data, and the various peaks represent each interval.
2 minutes rest between each interval, 5 minutes rest between sets
4xmile repeats : 6:10, 6:08, 6:04, 5:59
4x400m: 78s, 76s, 75s, 75s
3. The Tempo:
Training Zone: Lactate Threshold
Heart Rate Zone: 85-88%
My Pace: 6:10-6:40/mile
The goal for this workout is to stay in a hard, but comfortable zone without feeling totally gassed at the end (the way speed intervals often feel). Here, my heart rate is usually around 160-170 bpm. These runs are the trickiest, because it’s easy to want to go faster because you know you can, but that’s not the point. Going faster than needed during your tempo runs will ultimately detract from your training, because you’re not learning how to maintain composure in a threshold state. For these runs, I start out at a comfortable pace around 6:30-6:40/mi, and pick it up to about 6:10/mi towards the end.
This is not my race pace, so it shouldn’t feel like I’m racing. Again, I can’t rely entirely on feel, so it’s good to check my heart rate to make sure I’m in the right zone. My WHOOP data captures my HR data as I warm up, and then you can see it increase to the 160s as I increase my pace.
4 mile tempo starting at 6:40/mi, cutting down to 6:10/mi
Training Zone: VO2 Max
Heart Rate Zone: 90-95%
My Pace: 5:50-6:00/mile
Race day is a day you either dread, or can’t wait for. If you’ve done the work, there’s nothing to fear. The sample of data below is from The Cambridge Fall Classic 5k I ran back in September of 2016. According to my HR data, I probably could have pushed a little harder to average a few beats higher per minute, but effort-wise I remember the race felt good and was a solid start to the cross-country season.
Cambridge Fall Classic 5k, Cambridge, MA
The biggest mistake you can make as a runner is to treat all your runs equally. If you go the same pace for each run, you’re not going to learn how to pick up the pace in a race. If you’re constantly exacerbating your heart rate and staying in elevated training zones, you’re going to burn out. By monitoring your runs day by day, specifically your heart rate and your recovery (WHOOP calculates resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and quality of sleep and factors this into an overall Recovery score), it’s much easier to stay on par with your training, and to know when your body needs to rest.