Treadmill Running: What’s grade got to do with it?

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about treadmill running lately. A lot of it has been regarding speed and grade. “If I run at x speed and y pace, then my effort equals what? It’s a fair question as there is no doubt that we work harder when running up a hill. However, how do we put that into the context of an equal effort over a sustained amount of time? For easy runs, it’s not a big deal, but for things like Something of Substance days, it can be a real challenge! I can attest to this as I have a big fear of eating treadmill console as the speed gets down towards marathon pace! Luckily, there’s a few people who’ve thought this through for us already.

In researching treadmill running, I have come across three items where there has been an attempt at quantifying what an effort is, based on the treadmill speed and grade. The first was a simple- for every 1% increase in grade, your effort was equal to 0.2 mph higher on the speed. So, for instance, if you were running at 8 mph and 1% grade, it would be equal to running at 8.2 mph and 0% grade. Pretty simple, and if I knew how this conclusion was reached, the more likely I would be to believe it.

The second is a very popular chart from the website I had actually referred a number of my athletes to this chart. However, the more I looked into it, the more I pondered how accurate it was, especially at faster speeds. After trying it out for a workout of my own, the more I thought that there was no way that I needed to put the grade that high to hit these paces.  Again, I wish there was an explanation behind the theory that would help me understand a bit better.

Treadmill Conversion Calculator!

Treadmill Conversion Calculator!

Finally, there’s always Jack Daniels. The solution to any situation that calls for data or a strong drink. (Yes, corny. Very bad joke. How many times do you think he’s heard that in his 80 some years of life?) Anyway, I actually opened up a book and took a look at his charts. Now, immediately what I noticed is 1) how much faster the equivalencies were compared to the Hill Runner charts and 2) that he incorporated VO2 into the charts. (For your reference this is table 4.5 and 4.6 of his latest edition of Daniels’ Running Formula).

Why is this important? Because with any given speed and grade, we can calculate the VO2cost, or how much oxygen is required to run at that speed and/or grade. So, after calculating the VO2cost of a certain pace with no grade, you can then correlate adjust the variables (speed and grade) to find what equal work is for whatever variables you plug in. Here’s what I mean.

The following is a formula from the American College of sports Medicine:


VO2 (mL . kg-1 . min-1) = (0.2 . S) + (0.9 . S . G) + 3.5 mL. kg-1.min-1

S= speed in meters per minute

G = grade, expressed as a fraction

Without getting too technical. To start you could calculate what the VO2 cost is for any flat run by taking the mph and converting it to meters per minute (1 mph = 26.82240 m/min) and tossing that in for S. Then just replace G with a zero and run the numbers. You could then find the VO2cost for the pace you’d like to hit by then either figuring out the actual speed you want to run (solving for G) or solve for S by putting in the max grade you want to run. The result is a good indicator of what kind of effort you are putting in on the treadmill, given your pace and incline. Is this exact? Probably not. The only way it would truly be completely accurate is hooking yourself up to a metabolic cart for every run, and that’s no fun. However, if you are just trying to get the work in, this is a great way to be pretty darn close to where you need to be for the workout.

I have to admit, I coming back to this after a little more research, but it was worth the while. First, going back to Daniel’s, I found a message board thread, in which he contributed. He stated that he looked at Boston Marathon splits and also did another study in which he found the ratio to be 12-15 seconds slower per 1% grade incline. One caveat here- it wasn’t made crystal clear, but it appeared that he was talking about some pretty quick runners, because he referenced overground running of 5:00-6:00 minute pace. I also found another reference from Tim Noakes, Lore of Running, that gave a number of 2.6 ml/kg/min (amount of oxygen) increase per 1% increase in grade. This then translated into a reduction in speed of around 0.65 kilometers per hour. So, comparing the numbers across the Daniels and Noakes numbers matched pretty well.

Treadmill Training!

Treadmill Training!

So, from here, the natural turning point of this discussion turns to the question, “Do I need to run at an incline to compensate for the lack of a self created headwind?” I have gone back and forth on this. If you look at the chart from HillRunner, it’s pretty clear that a 1% incline should be used, but again- I don’t know where those calculations are coming from. With the Daniels chart, it’s based on VO2, so it isn’t particularly necessary. However, he did write in the later pages that essentially that a 2% grade makes up for the fact that you aren’t creating a headwind. So, you might think that adding an incline is absolutely necessary, but I don’t know if that’s the case. The reason is, that because if you aren’t creating a headwind on the hamster wheel, your ability to cool yourself off is then limited. The result is a slightly higher work rate, represented by a higher exercising heart rate. Now, if you cool yourself off with a fan, then you’ll probably need to adjust the grade to compensate for the increased cooling you have. Otherwise, I don’t know if a 2% grade increase is necessary. I have a feeling that it all ends up kind of being a wash! The other caveat to this was that Daniels whole conversation was around faster paced running. Noakes also made comments about 18km per hour  (5:24 mile pace) being sort of a threshold where the headwind was a major factor. Mainly, the point of all this, was that the faster you are the more likely you will be to have to add an incline to match what your overground efforts.

Key Take-aways:

  1. You can replicate much faster workloads by adjusting your grade and keep the pace manageable.
  2. For easy runs across the pace spectrum, adding a grade will offset the lack of a self created headwind. A complete generalization would be 0.5% for 8:00 pace and slower, 1.0% for 6:30-7:30 pace, 1.5-2% for paces faster than 6:00 pace. HOWEVER, most people will not be approaching those paces for easy runs.
  3. For workouts, just use the speed/grade combo that you are looking for and just don’t worry about the wind effect- your head might explode.
  4. Experiment with what combo works better for you. Some people will thrive better with higher grades and lower speeds, while others will do better with the opposite settings. Personally, I like a fairly moderate speed with a moderate grade. I would try to keep the grade under 7% as then your form can start to change due to the incline.

In Closing:

To close this out, there’s options out there. Whether you are trying to simulate a hilly race course, or just trying to find a way to get your faster Hansons Marathon Method work in, you can do it. The big component for me is that you can adjust these variables and still feel confident that you are getting the right effort in on the right days. If you liked the way I laid out how I would calculate effort based on speed and grade combos, you’re in luck! We’ve made a handy calculator based on the Noakes and Daniels references to help you dial in that work effort. Enter email below to claim your free calculator (it is an excel file, so heads up!)

Is an online coach for you?

As a coach/owner of an online run coaching company, you might expect my answer to be an automatic enthusiastic,
“Yes! Absolutely!”

I’ll admit, when I first started Hanson’s Coaching Services, I probably would be a lot more likely to say yes, because as any business owner understands, it’s scary to think of turning away business! However, then you really have to start thinking about what we are all about as a coaching business. Are we here just to make internet money, or are we really only concerned with educating runners and helping them perform their best? As a young man, it was hard to differentiate the two, but 10 years later, it’s pretty clear cut that the latter is the most important and takes care of the first. The point of all this is, that online coaching is seemingly a pretty lucrative gig. There’s pages of them on any internet word search. A few I know personally, and they are great people with great philosophies. Others, I have no idea, but assume it’s like anything- there’s a whole spectrum. Since Hanson’s Coaching Services was started in 2006, we’ve learned a lot and still have making the athlete’s experience as good as it can be. However, what we’ve also learned is that not every person wants what we offer. Some want more, and some want less. Still others feel that just paying the money is going to make them a better runner. What I really want to discuss with this post is a few ideas that will help you decide if an online coach is right for you, and if not, what options are right for you?


Will you take advantage of the services provided? Indirectly, I am clearing the elephant from the room, right away. I understand that coaching is expensive, but ultimately what you are paying for is services and availability. What do I mean? Well, for coaching, we typically write your schedules in 1-4 week blocks, look over training logs, answer emails, and communicate with athletes on a regular basis. That is essentially what the monthly fees are for, along with covering our actual expenses. Now, the schedule writing is a given and I think we are all on the same page for that. However, here’s where things can murky for some athletes. This is really where the athlete has to ask themselves things like,

“Will I fill out my training log?” “Will I ask questions?” “Will I talk to coach about why I am doing certain things or provide my input?”

If you find yourself thinking that you might not, then maybe paying specifically for an individual coach is a poor investment for you. Others will take advantage of what’s available to them and hiring a coach can be a great running investment.


The biggest mistake that an athlete can make is not communicating with the coach (and the coach with the athlete).

Both parties can fall into this and could be easy to do since there is little face to face communication. If you hire a coach, don’t think you are bugging them if you have an issue that you need addressed. I always tell people, I’m not mad unless I find out about it after the fact. For example, I’ve had athletes in the past not doing very well with the workouts, but they think they just are going through an adjustment or something and nothing is said. I just assume everything is peachy keen (which is my fault) and then, boom! I’m sucker punched with the phrase

“I’m hurt and need a break.”

That’s when we both get frustrated. Now, I know a lot of people will just not respond well to a coach. They are fine in solidarity or, more likely, just want to know what to do and go do it. I totally get it. In these cases, an online running coach will probably not help you much at all. If you are this person, you would probably benefit more from something like a custom schedule or one of our downloadable schedules along with access to all the information we provide in the form of blogs, podcasts, videos, etc. Just point you in the right direction and you are good to go. There is certainly nothing bad about that if it fits the person!


At the end of the day, when you are contemplating getting an online running coach (or even a real live one!), evaluate what your wants and needs are before signing that dotted line. Figuring that out first could mean the difference between a rock solid investment and a money pit. If you can’t find a coach that will discuss those things with you, it might be time to go another route. I hope you all find the success you are looking for. We’ll see you down the road, hopefully with a tailwind.



Self Assessments Part 2: the VO2max self test


In the first part of this series, we really discussed more subjective parameters. How you feel you train and

Self Assessment Series: Part I


A lot of things in running, much like life, are seemingly learned by trial and error.

Heat Acclimatization

There is a 2016 update to this article !

Beat the heat!

Beat the heat!

As usual, it’s my athletes emails or questions posted to my Facebook coaching page that spur blog posts. As I right this, I’m getting a lot of “Should I be adjusting for the heat?” type of questions. And the simple answer is “Yes.” Thanks for reading, have a wonderful day… No, no no, of course there is more to the story than that! Yes, we should probably adjust, but how much? Will we adapt? Is heat a natural performance enhancing drug? There is certainly a fair number of issues we should look at.

First, what happens to us when we first start exercising in the heat? Unfortunately, I had a heck of time finding a definition of when we are actually talking about running in the heat. I mean, is it heat index or a temperature? If so, at what point is it considered hot? Anyway,

  1. We have to use blood to carry away heat. The result is less blood flow to the muscles (inability to deliver as much oxygen), high loss of sweat and electrolytes. The more humid it is, the more this becomes a problem. Why? Because sweating cools the body. The more humid it is, the less evaporation can occur between your sweaty arms and the air surrounding. The body tries to compensate by simply sweating more. It’s not a good cycle.
  2. The heart and vessels become under more duress at the same intensity. With blood volume decreasing because of #1, the blood becomes more viscous (think old motor oil). The result is the heart is pumping harder to keep up with a slower pace and the arteries/veins are under more duress.
  3. Since our heart rate is increasing even just to keep us at a slow pace, the intensity to do so is greatly increased. What this means is that we burn through carbohydrates. If you’ve watched any of our physiology videos, then you’ll recognize that higher carbohydrate usage the higher the pyruvate production. The higher the pyruvate production, the higher the lactate formation and the earlier fatigue sets in. So even a 60 minute easy run can diminish glycogen stores and induce muscle damage.
  4. Because of everything we just mentioned, your VO2max diminishes. You simply just can’t exercise at as a high of intensity.  Training and racing performance simply decrease due to the demands that heat and humidity places on your body.


Can I adapt to heat and humidity?

Adapt to Hot WeatherThe good news is that you most certainly can. Over time, if you acclimate to the heat and humidity, the following adaptations will occur:

  • Better sweating. By that, I mean that you’ll sweat more and you’ll begin to sweat faster. Beyond that, your sweat glands will fatigue less. Your sweat will also include less sodium, which leads to greater water retention.
  • You’ll also have improved cardiovascular function through
    • a decreased heart rate
    • an increased plasma volume (which makes the first bullet point seem less like an oxy moron)
    • increased blood flow
    • more blood for heat dissipation, as well as, for exercising muscles

The end result is an increase in performance in heat/humidity (and maybe cool weather too!)

How long does it take to adapt?

If you can accumulate 90-100 minutes of exercise daily in a hot environment, then you’ll see the vast majority of adaptations in 10 to 14 days! The key is the time you must spend daily at an intensity of greater than 50% VO2max. The intensity isn’t going to be an issue, as you could reach that with a light jog. However, if you aren’t getting 90-100 minutes in, then I suspect that the time frame will be extended out beyond the the 14 days.

  • decreased HR (3-6 days)
  • plasma volume increase (3-6 days)
  • rectal temp decrease (5-8 days)
  • perceived exertion decrease (3-6 days)
  • sweat sodium concentration decrease (5-10 days)
  • Sweat rate increase (7-14 days)
  • renal sodium concentration decrease (3-8 days)

Quick Tips to use while adapting:

  • Exercise with a partner during the initial days and on really hot days
  • If you can, run easier days during the hot weather. Pace is still important for training, so try to do hard workouts in the morning or late evening, when the temps are cooler.
  • If training for a hot race and it’s cool where you are at, or you are forced inside, then you can still gain adaptions. You can overdress to help simulate a warmer environment. You can also crank the heat if you have control over the thermostat.

How much does heat/humidity effect performance?

How to beat the heatI’ve seen a number of different charts and calculators that show a variance of how much to adjust. The biggest problem with all of these is that there is often a lot of generality in the recommendations. For instance, should an elite marathoner adjust as much as a 4 hour marathoner? Your ability level, acclimation level, and fitness level are all ultimately going to be a determining factor.

One study I found showed that in a warm and humid environment, an elite runner would lose about 2-3 minutes of time (~2%), while a 3 hour marathoner would lose roughly 18 minutes (10%) in the same conditions. It would be safe to assume that a 4 hour marathoner would lose an even bigger percentage of time. So, as you can see, the faster you are, the less impact it will have on your race.

The warmer it is, the more you’ll have to adjust, as well. Here’s some general recommendations that I have seen:

  • 55-60 degrees = +5 secs/mile
  • 60-65 degrees= +15 secs/mile
  • 65-70 degrees = +30 secs/mile
  • 70-75 degrees = +40 secs/mile
  • 75-80 degrees = +1:10/mile
  • 80-85 degrees = +2:00/mile
  • 85+ degrees = DON’T DO IT

These are very general guidelines and I would use these as a baseline. It’s easier to be able to pick the pace up later than it is to recover from heat stroke! The other thing to remember, is that as you become more fit and become acclimated, these numbers will probably change. So, when training, it’s a good recommendation to use these as a guide, but also to use effort secondary measurement. For me, the key is not to get hung up on slow splits or average paces. Getting the effort in is what is key. Think about the folks at altitude and how they have to adjust their pacing. Does it mean that they are going to perform less than their ability? No, it means they are putting the right effort in for their environment.

2016 Update

Once again, questions arise about training and heat. The easiest way to look at is based on performance. I recently came across some research (PDF Here) that will shed a little more light on the matter. Over 10 years these researchers collected data on all the finishers of 6 major marathons (Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, NYC, and the Paris marathons) which resulted in roughly 1.8 million finishers. That’s not a bad subject pool! They looked at environmental considerations like temperature, humidity, due point, and air pollution. As we could probably predict, people slowed down as it got warmer. Here’s a great look at the sum of the research:

Table 1: Effect of running speed on male marathon finishers.
Peak + 5˚ C (59˚F).36%1.0%.8%1.15%
Peak + 10˚C (68˚F)1.44%3.9%3.38%4.61%
Peak + 15˚ (77˚ F) 3.3%9.26%7.93%11%
Peak + 20˚ (86˚ F) 6%17.75%15%21.5%

Key 1: P1= Elite (top 1%), Q1: First quartet of finishers, Median: median finish time, IQR: the statistical dispersion or an equal difference between the 2nd and 3rd quartiles.

Table 1: Effect of running speed on female marathon finishers.
Peak + 5˚ C (59˚F).75%.7%.63%.77%
Peak + 10˚C (68˚F)3%2.85%2.58%3.14%
Peak + 15˚ (77˚ F) 7%6.63%6%7.35%
Peak + 20˚ (86˚ F) 13.5%12.43%11%13.85%

Key 1: P1= Elite (top 1%), Q1: First quartet of finishers, Median: median finish time, IQR: the statistical dispersion or an equal difference between the 2nd and 3rd quartiles.

The nice component to this research is that it’s broken down by gender and expected finish. The data itself probably isn’t revolutionary, but it does show what effect you personally may have. Our problem still remains what effect this will have on our training paces. That data is still unclear. The easy thing to do would be to take the data above and simply plug in our paces given the percent category we fall into. However, I don’t know if it’s that easy. Coach Mark Hadley has a nice blog about the concept (HERE). And while the data certainly seems feasible, I just don’t know if it’s a number he made up or what the reasoning is behind it. He essentially says that for every degree of 60, you should add about 0.1% to 0.15% to whatever training pace you are attempting. Like I said, that certainly sounds reasonable, I just don’t know where that data is coming from. Personally, I feel like easy runs will be less effected by heat, especially runs under 60 minutes. Long runs and tempo runs will be the most effected. Speed work will probably be less effected while strength workouts will probably be the most difficult to predict what will happen.

My advice for training would be what we suggested in the original article, but then go by effort. This is where wearing a GPS or a heart rate monitor truly becomes your training tool and not the dictator of your training. Learn what efforts feel like. Ideally, as you acclimate, the closer pace matches effort. If your end goal is months away, then don’t get discouraged. Many of you see the slow times and get too worried about something that isn’t truly indicative of what your fitness level is, or going to be. If your race is coming up and going to be in hot weather, then take it as a great tool for learning how your body is going to react in the conditions. A PR might be not be in the cards, but you can still have a great race and beat all the ill prepared runners. Not to mention, be safer! That’s it for now. In another post we can discuss the strategies for racing in adverse conditions.


Antioxidents: Blunt our training adaptations?

Below is an infogram from @YLMSportScience. We’ve talked about this before with ice baths for recovery. Part of the training adaptations are triggered by the damage that we do to the muscles and the stress we place on our cardiovascular system. If we limit that, then is it possible we limit the triggers for adaptation? It’s looking like we at least blunt these responses. So, be careful with the mega doses of things like vitamin C. You might feel better the next day, but you might end up having to work even harder in the long term…





Warm Ups: A little science and a little art

This post originated from my athletes asking questions and then realizing that I didn't really know some of the answers. At first, this might not seem like a good situation to be in, but I disagree. I love being able to help, love becoming a more knowledgable coach, and love having new things to look into. It Kees you on your toes! So, I sat down and thought about what we should know. Here's the questions I want answered:

  • What is the purpose of a warm up?
  • What does a warmup actually do?
  • When should I warm up? Does it need to be the same routine for every type of run?
  • What do I need to do for a proper warm up?

 The purpose of the warmup?

Luckily, this one is pretty straight forward. The purpose of the warmup is to prepare the body for harder running. If we are talking about easy running, then the purpose is simply to get the body ready to run. The warmup is really bridging the gap from doing nothing to being expected to perform at some intensity harder than sitting. This is all fairly vague, I know, so what it's telling us is that that level of expected intensity is going to dictate what our warmup needs to consist of.

What does a warmup actually do?

  1. It elevates our muscle temperature. This allows faster neural impulses and increases muscular force-velocity relationships.
  2. It raises our baseline VO2. There appears to be a sweet spot of 65-70% VO2max where following performances are best. This is a light to moderate run for most people. The key is to warm up but not get fatigued before the race.
  3. It improves our active range of motion. Dynamic stretching can improve your active range of motion which can improve stride mechanics. This could make you more economical, earlier in the race.
  4. Increased motor neuron firing. The more fibers you have firing at the start means less time you have to wait once the race has started.

 When should I warm up?
Truth be told, I think there's room for some sort of warmup for most days. I'm not saying you need 45 minutes to get ready for your morning easy run, but give me a few minutes. You might thank me later!
Easy days:
As I mentioned, I just need a few minutes. We don't really need to worry about really finding that sweet spot with the VO2 since our easy runs are going to be in that range anyway. Also, we aren't really looking to have all neurons firing. Really, if you are over the age of 30, you just don't want to feel like complete garbage for the first 10 minutes of the run. My suggestion is to take 3-5 minutes and do a quick and dirty dynamic stretching routine. Here’s ours If you want some other variations, I encourage you to visit He’s got some great stuff too. The fringe benefits of doing this will include being able to settle into your desired pace sooner and feeling smoother earlier. Also, if you do this on a regular basis, then you can help preserve hip mobility and strength. If you are really tight in your hips, then you will probably actually improve it. Why does this matter? Hip mobility and strength is crucial in allowing those big levers that we call legs, to do their job- making you faster, more economical, and fight the breakdown of form that occurs in endurance running.

SOS Days/Race Days
(5k, 10k, maybe ½ marathon)
Here is where you’ll need the most time, since we are making the most drastic transition from being at rest to high intensity efforts. The nice thing here though, is that we can get some double benefit here. One, it’s going to help our weekly mileage. Two, it’s going to be an easy way to get strides in during the week (I’ll have to write another post on strides). Since we are running fast we need to make sure that we are incorporating all the aspects of the warm up- muscle temp, VO2, range of motion, and neuron firing.
A sample warm up:
Start with dynamic stretching to loosen hips up

  1. 15-20 minutes of easy running. I typically want 20 minutes, but I know many of you are time crunched.
  2. *Optional* Form Drills. If you are really crunched for time, I understand, but these will take really about 5 minutes to do. Form Drills
  3. Strides: Do 4x10 seconds, or so. This should be fast about 95-98% of your max effort. The key is to keep them short. Recover fully before doing the next one.

~Note: Last stride should be done about 10 minutes before the start of the race. Do whatever you plan on doing for a race before your workouts. Be consistent. For half marathoners, if you are looking to run over 2:00:00 for the race, I recommend doing the marathon warm up below.

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An athlete’s question: Hill repeats or hilly run?

I really like these and maybe we should make it a regular part of blogging! I got another great question from Jill, an athlete we wrote a custom schedule for. She emailed me a very simple question that doesn’t have a simple answer: “What is better hill repeats or a hilly run at marathon pace?” Great question! The answer is… Both! Thanks for reading, have a great day!

Just kidding! The answer is both, but for other reasons. Let’s first look at hill repeats. Let’s ask ourselves what the main purpose is of hill repeats is? What is the benefit? Well, we know they’ll make us stronger, so let’s knock that one out of the way. One big aspect of hills is that it is a great form of speed work, or working at close to VO2max effort (not pace). With shorter, but faster hill repeats we are working very close to our VO2max if we are hammering hard up a 1-4 minute hill a few times in a row. You can tell just by how hard that you are breathing that you are working hard, right? With that, we are working on some neuromuscular components as well. With the intense effort, we begin recruiting all of our muscle fiber types to help out. This eventually “opens” up channels to some fast and intermediate twitch muscle fibers that you didn’t even know you had. At the end of the day, think of hill repeats as helping more with overall strength and top end components- lactate buffering, VO2 max, and things like that.

A final note about short hill repeats is that I will use them as gateways towards other workouts. With Boston Marathon people, what I will do is start out with UP hill repeats and a slow recovery back down the hill. Eccentric contractions are crucial for hill running, but they beat you up pretty good in the process. Over time, we’ll adjust and hard UP hill repeats, recover, and then DOWN hill repeats to prepare their legs for the thrashing they’ll get over 26 miles.

What about a tempo run on a hilly course? You’ll get a lot of benefit from theses, both physiologically and structurally. You’ll build your strength obviously, but it’s more like lifting 2 sets of 20 reps of medium weight, compared to like lifting 2 sets of 8 reps as hard as you can with hill repeats. You’ll still get muscle fiber recruitment too, simply because you’ll fatigue your muscles with a fairly intense effort over 30-70 or 80 minutes. For marathoners, that’s great because it’s very race like. These are all great benefits, but to me, one thing we can’t overlook is their eventual impact on our ability to judge effort and pace. For instance, right now, many people have awoken from treadmill hibernation, where they’ve simply set the pace on the hamster wheel and zoned out to their latest podcast of Dateline, or whatever you listen too. Now, they go outside and after letting their eyes recover from the new found sun, realize that there are hills and turns and beautiful scenery. I’m partly kidding, but you know what I mean- we forget and have forgot if we haven’t run in situations where we need to say, “man my pace is slow, but it certainly feels like a hard effort.” I reference back to folks training for Boston. There’s only small section of that course where it’s really flat. It seems like that you are either going up or down most of the time. This means splits will be fast and splits will be slow. It may be hard to find a rhythm. If you’ve practiced pace and effort on hills, then you’ll have more confidence and trust yourself that the effort is there and in the end, the pace will average out.

So there you have it, they are both important but for different reasons. Both have a place in training and can be utilized to your benefit.

– Luke


My thoughts on heart rate training

Earlier this year, I did a podcast interview with a guy who pretty much blasted me because I don’t prescribe workouts based on heart rate. There’s a lot of reasons why I don’t that are simply my personal preference, but I wanted to also show what some of the research says to.

To start, I think I must make some clarifications before people get put off by this article. The first is that I’m not 100% anti heart rate, rather I’m pro treating methods as tools. This is the way I feel about everything from GPS devices, strength training, to the shoes you put on. If you put all your emphasis on one aspect you have no balance in your training. To me, heart rate training can certainly have a place in your HMM training- just not on your speed, strength, tempo, and possibly your long runs. I’ll explain why later. Ok so with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get into some gooMonitoring your heart rated stuff.

It’s always hard determining the starting point for these discussions, but I think a good place to start is with how heart rate training is typically prescribed. The first thing you need to do is to determine your maximal heart rate. There are two ways to do this. The first is to do a maximal exercise test (a VO2max test). This will be the most accurate. The second is to use the old standby 220-age = HRmax. This is the easiest and most popular. From there, you take your resting heart rate. The ideal time to determine this is right when you get up in the morning. Lay in bed and see what it is by taking your pulse for 10 seconds and multiplying by 6. The average person should be in the 60-90 range. An endurance athlete can be anywhere from the 30’s to 60’s. Most of the time, though when this is taken it’s not when the person first wakes up, rather, it’s sitting with your personal trainer, or your doctor’s office, and after you’ve had a meeting and three cups of coffee- you see where I am going with this.

So anyway, you take your HRmax and subtract your HRrest from that. So, if I am 33 years old my theoretical HRmax is 187 minus my HRrest of 40, leaves me 137. Now, take that 137 and multiply it by the percentage of intensity you would like to workout at- say 70%. So, you have 137 x .7 = 95.9, 96 for practicality. To determine your exercise heart rate for that workout, simply add 96 to 40 (my HRrest) and you get an exercise HR of 136 for that day. This is the most accurate method, and yet I see too glaring sources of errors. The first is HRmax. Using my example, my theoretical HRmax is 187. I know for a fact that it is still in the 201-202 (was 205 in my early 20’s). Right there, we are talking about a difference of 14 beats! The second is the HRrest. There are two things I’d like to point out. The first, we touched on. The timing you take your resting heart rate. Caffeine, stress, sleep deprivation, etc all play a role. Are you getting an accurate number? The second is simply user error. If using a heart rate monitor to determine to your HRrest, then the number is probably accurate. However, if you use your fingers and your wrist, there’s always human error. If you miscount by one beat over 10 seconds, you are still 6 seconds off in total. The point is, that it’s not a stretch to be 15-20 beats off before you even get going. If you are going to use heart rate then making sure your starting point is accurate is crucial.


 Now that we’ve talked about the prescription of heart rate, I think it’s important to discuss the prescription of pace as a training tool. With HMM, pace is so important. Why? Because the entire system is based on a goal and/or race pace. In our system, Easy runs are based on an amount of time slower than goal marathon pace. Our tempo runs are based on that goal pace, with the strength being a set amount faster than that goal pace. To me, this is really important. I would say the majority of the people we coach have some time goal in mind. It may be a Boston Qualifier, a sub 2:30, a sub 4:00, an Olympic Trials qualifier, or something to that effect. To run the pace required to run that time goal now becomes incredibly important. If you can’t run those paces, then you can’t reach your goals, correct? What I mean, is at the end of the day, do you want to keep your heart rate at 75% or do you want to run the 8:00 minute/mile pace you need to run your Boston Qualifier? I’ll be honest, I haven’t heard too many people cry out in joy at the finish line, “Yes! I kept my heart rate under 150!”

Ok, being serious, if you are dead set on training with heart rate, that’s just fine. I think they can ultimately coexist (a pace and heart rate training relationship), and I’ll discuss that later. However, first let’s discuss some of the factors you should consider if you are training by hear rate solely.

  • Individual day-to-day variances: It has been shown in controlled environments a day to day variance in heart rate of 2-4 beats is fairly common. Through in other factors like stress, caffeine, time of day, rush hour traffic and all of sudden, your day to day variance is significant. Now, while most of the time you are exercising in a specific HR zone that will absorb small variances, it is something to be mindful of. Your day to day activities in all of your life will affect your heart rate for your run. You can’t separate those other things out.
  • Cardiac drift is a significant issue with any endurance training. It has been shown that up to a 15% increase in heart rate can occur after 60 minutes of moderate exercise. It’s not for certain what causes it completely, but dehydration is considered a big factor. The point is, your intensity isn’t changing but your heart rate is. So as you run and cardiac drift occurs, you are going to physically have to slow down to maintain the same heart rate, even though you are fine.
  • Hydration: If exercising in a dehydrated state, HR can be increased by as much as 7.5% above baseline. Bottom line, the more dehydrated you are, the less reliable a HR monitor will be at providing a measure of intensity.
  • Heat: This has been researched a lot and I think we all realize that heat will have an effect on our heart rate. Therefore, this increase in HR will overestimate exercise intensity. However, I will note that understanding your HR in this situation will guide you as to how stressed you are as a whole in a hot environment.
  • Cold is interesting because exercising in cold won’t do a whole lot to HR, but it does increase your VO2, which means that HR will then underestimate your intensity.

What this all means to me:

I look at the whole situation like this: Whether I am training by a pace guided system or a heart rate guided system, you are really taking an educated guess. However, with heart rate I have to take an extra step in the process. I am simply adding one more component that I need to measure- if you are training for a certain goal time. In either case, we are taking guesses at what are thresholds are. I guess I just feel that with HR, I am training at a rate that may be making more fit, but I’m not really certain as to what that intensity is going to be on a daily basis. I guess I feel that you are really just overthinking it with heart rate. Almost like you are placing a limit on what you are capable of.

I really do feel that if you think HR training is the way to go, then you need to know for sure what your HRmax is. You really should get it tested, and when you are doing that, get the HR ranges for your thresholds. I say that because 220 minus your age is ok when looking at a large sample of people, but its individual accuracy can be questioned. When I did my thesis, we looked at about 1500 subjects in a wellness center. We found that for healthy and fit individuals, the rate of decline in HRmax was far less than 1 beat per year of life. It was more like 0.5-0.6 beats per year. So, testing can eliminate some of the guess work. However, you really have to take my concerns to heart, regarding the points above. There really has to be almost a day to day evaluation of what a proper intensity/HR should be in order to maximize productivity. With that said, I think over time, it just loses its practicality for the average person.


Where I think thing like GPS and HR can coexist:

Read more

Dealing with Injury and Illness


Becoming injured or getting sick can sometimes be a death sentence. At the very least, a major setback! We know that the majority of runners become injured over the course of their training. How we deal with these setbacks can make or break our overall training. Not to mention, drain our spirits.

In this episode we talk about knowing when it’s ok to run and when you need to back it off. We also show you a quick and dirty guide on how to approach your day when you are injured and need to scale back. Follow along with the PDF: Injury

Also, please make sure you sign up for email updates on our site:

Negative thoughts..

I saw a stat once that some 66% of our self talk thoughts (that voice in our head) is negative! If you think it, you will be it!

Here’s a little tidbit to help alleviate and be more positive: Negative Thoughts



How to return to workouts

This came to me as I read an early morning email from an athlete. This runner’s strength is also their biggest weakness- they are so darned stubborn. This athlete has been injured for a while. Some of it from pushing to hard, but some of it was due to improper diagnosis. Anyway, long story short, she’s running again and I want her to build her base of nice easy miles for a few weeks. To my lack of shock, I was informed that a half marathon threshold was performed yesterday!

This brings up a couple points relevant to coming back from injury. The first is knowing when to do that first workout back. With our athlete above, she had some things going for her. First, she had a few weeks of easy mileage with gradually more volume being added. She had handled this well, with no regression back towards the injury. The second thing is, she wanted to to do a workout. She was asking and pleading her case to me for over a week. I was able to hold her back only so far. The thing is, even the most ambitious athlete will shy away from a hard workout if they know in their heart that they just aren’t ready.

Returning to Workouts

Returning to Workouts

Guide to Returning to Workouts

 4-7 days missed

  1. 3 plus easy runs of continual improvement
  2. No limping
  3. No pain during or after run
  4. Feel better at the end of run
  5. No meds needed

2+ weeks off

  1. At least half as many easy runs as days you have missed.
    • Missed 3 weeks off? Run at least 10 days easy. I’d prefer at least 2 weeks.
  2. No limping
  3. Continual improvement
  4. No pain at all
  5. No meds needed

Ok, so you meet these criteria and are ready to run something harder. That’s great, but please don’t jump right back into what you were doing. Regardless of time off, the worst thing to do is over stress the body. We are already stressing the body by adding volume back daily. If you haven’t adjusted to this volume and throw in a really high intensity workout, then you are going to end up right where you just were- hurt and sedentary. The longer amount of time you have had off, the more we need to emphasize the foundation of training and making sure our aerobic base is rock solid before adding the intensity.

Remember this: even if you are training for a 5k, over 80% of your fitness needed is going be coming from your aerobic abilities, so gradually adding intensity is NOT taking away from overall fitness!


Luke Humphrey Running Books!

With all of this said, here’s how I would progress:

  1. Marathon Tempo of 3-5 miles. If you’ve had several weeks off and another few weeks of easy running, I might even start out with something like 4×1 mile at MP.
    • 1-2 days of easy recovery running before going into next SOS day.
    • If it’s been a short amount of time, then you may only need one of these workouts to test the waters. If it’s been a while. Graduate from the marathon pace intervals to a marathon tempo run before moving up in intensity.
  2. Option here:
    • For short stints off, you can probably progress to another version of tempo or interval workouts. The level of intensity should either be half marathon pace or MP-10 seconds per mile.
    • For longer stints off, general endurance will be an issue. So, After doing a couple MP paced workouts, throw a long run in there. It doesn’t have to be what you would normally do for a long run. It just needs to be over that 90 minute range to get the desired benefits. So, I might  go two workouts, long run, one more workout at MP, and then move up the next workout to a half MP type workout. After this, another long run.
  3. After 2-3 weeks:
    • If you’ve taken a few days recovery between workouts, coupled with a long run, or two, you should be about 2-3 weeks of added intensity.
    • If everything is still pointing you in the direction of increased fitness, no regressions, and plain old feeling better, then you are probably ready to pick up where you need to be. If training for a marathon, this may mean stepping back down to the marathon pace work. For other distances, start adding what you need to add.
    • However, if you never completely leave the lower intensity work out, you will allow your body to adapt to higher workloads, increase your aerobic foundation, even when at another point in training, and reduce chance of becoming injured via too much high intensity.