Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Wed, 10 Jan 2001 08:41:00 -0500

Heart, Part II


The only time I shared a stage with John Parker, he was a show-stealer. When he came out dressed as Gadget Man and poked fun at the tools that runners think we need, the other speakers were forgotten.

I say this to show that Parker is an old-line runner, slow to fall into step with current trends. So when he sings the praises of heart monitors, I listen even more closely to him than I did last week to George Beinhorn (Best of RC 337).

John is an author and publisher whose own books include Heart Monitor Training for the Compleat Idiot. He has written nothing there that hasn't passed his own running tests.

His response to the Beinhorn story began, "I too am an old-time curmudgeon when it comes to gimmicks and shortcuts with regard to fitness. But a few years ago I became convinced that a heart monitor could be an amazingly effective tool to help a coachless runner train the way Jack Bacheler taught me, Frank Shorter and so many others to train in the old days in Gainesville."

John ran there in the glory days of the Florida Track Club. He said the training, passed down from Bacheler, involved "hard tempo and track workouts buffered with VERY easy mileage.

"Runners who joined our group were astonished at how slow those easy runs were. That's how we were able to run 100-plus miles per week, increase the intensity of our intervals over the season, and gradually become stronger and faster without getting injured. Doing it any other way would either lead to breakdown from intensity or to mediocre fitness from easy miles and nothing else."

The problem was how to explain proper pace to someone who wasn't there in Gainesville running it. "You could tell people about it," said Parker. "But until they actually joined in and ran with us, they didn't really get it."

John felt then that "any advice I would offer would be so generic that it would be useless," so he abstained from giving it. Later he discovered the heart monitor, which he found to be invaluable for keeping easy runs easy enough.

"You could use it to determine precisely the heart rate a runner should stay below in order to get aerobic benefits, burn less glycogen (and more fat), and thus get good recovery and good training," he said. "That number, by the way, is 70 percent of max HR, which I call your easy- day ceiling."

John is gratified with the response to his "Compleat" book, not so much because sales were strong (which they were and are) but for what he heard from readers. "The book has helped hundreds of other runners accomplish PRs they'd long since given up on," he told me. "And they've done so while enjoying their running more and staying healthier.

"Nearly all of them discovered initially, as George Beinhorn did, that they'd been doing most of their running too fast. Except when they were doing tempo runs and intervals, in which case they were so tired they were going too slow."

John trained with a monitor himself before the 1996 Boston Marathon. "Though I'm no marathoner,"he said, "I'm gratified to report that my time at age 49 had slipped only 26 minutes from my PR at 23."

That's what can come of listening more to the heart (whether closely monitored or not) and looking less at the watch.

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