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Wild Rumpus Sports


I turned 37 this month. On my birthday, my coach told me that since passing my prime years I had done a decent job of maintaining my fitness. Then he told me that I had entered a new phase where I would no longer be able to maintain my physical conditioning and that I would literally wake up every morning just a little bit worse off than I was the day before. The positive news was that I had a huge fitness base to watch erode away and that I can remain at an elite level for a few more years. If that sounds incredibly mean and insensitive you should never work with my coach. I like the (tongue in cheek) straight story and that it why I have worked with him for most of my career.

One of the surest signs of age has been the decrease in my resting and maximal heart rate. The software I use to monitor my recovery while I sleep can't record my actual HR which is regularly below 30 and dips as low as 25 beats per minute. My maximal HR has gone from 205 when I was 21 years old to 180. However actually achieving my maximum HR is much more difficult than it was when I was younger.

In my early 20's getting my HR over 200 was as easy as running up a hill as hard as I could. Now I have to coax my body into letting my heart work that hard with the proper warm-up and gradual build in pace. Two weeks ago I did 6 x 5 minutes bounding up some nasty terrain. I thought getting my HR into the high 170's would be a no brainer. I ran for 40 minutes with ten minutes at lactate threshold. Then I started my first interval and easily hit 168 at the top of my course. I picked up the pace for the 2nd, and hit 170 beats. Unfortunately my legs were already loaded with lactate and I was hurting. The pain I was in felt disproportionate to the HR I had just put up, but I started my third rep. I was faster but my HR peaked at 168. Number four was the same pace and HR and then I started going backwards. The harder I pushed, the more my legs loaded and the slower I felt like I was going. My pace slipped and I only hit 164 beats despite being doubled-over at the top. I dug even deeper for rep 6 and got up to 166 HR and didn't lose any more time. However I had enough lactate in my legs that it felt like it was creeping into my stomach and I had a strong urge to vomit which I managed to avoid.

I had clearly not paced this intensity session very well. Had this been a race day the result would have been poor as my best races all have produced high maximal HRs. My coach and I surmised that I had loaded my muscles too much early in the session and that in order to get the most out of my body I needed to start with lighter and poppier motions that would allow me to use my circulatory system more readily. Then I could add more power as the workout progressed.

Today I repeated the bounding interval session with an emphasis on quick light motions that preserved my major muscles for later in the workout. The pacing strategy was successful with maximal HRs in the high 160s low 170s for the first three intervals and the mid to high 170's for intervals 4-6. My peak HR (178) actually came in interval 4 but I was able to complete the final two intervals five seconds faster with HRs running 1-2 beats lower.

Getting older is tricky and relearning the same tasks could be frustrating but fortunately I have a coach that understands the aging progression. He isn't going to hold my hand through the process, but fortunately I much prefer brutal honesty and enlightened counsel to sweet nothings.