Trail Runner’s Book Review: Heart Rate Training

Heart Rate Training: Customize Your Training Based on Individual Training and Goals, 2nd edition, by Roy Benson and Declan Connolly. Human Kinetics, 2020. Reviewed by trail runner Laura Clark for the spring 2020 edition of our Trail Times newsletter. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian. Above photo by Joe Viger Photography.

True confession. I don’t even own a heart rate monitor and here I am writing a review of a heart rate training book. What suckered me in was the promo: “Four stages of runners’ aging legs.” Could I possibly trade in my 73 year-old legs for another model? One can only hope. Turns out I can’t, but after reading this book I am more hopeful about my fate.

Roy Benson, a long-time coach and consultant for both Polar and Nike, has updated his original 2011 edition to include current training techniques and sample workouts for eight different endurance sports. Dr. Declan Connolly, Director of the Human Performance Laboratory, provides the scientific viewpoint. I must admit I did skim the 2011 edition, but as my running still seemed fairly effortless back then, I figured it was best not to tinker with a satisfactory formula. This time around, I was impressed by the way in which the authors combined intuition and perception with hard, cold facts. Apparently, there is not a “one size fits all” for heart rate monitor calculation. Initially, the math was an immediate turn-off to me; now I can appreciate the provision for wiggle room.

The simple formula of running around a track and then doing some age/speed calculations does not hold as all individuals are unique. To optimize their monitor usage, runners are encouraged to get tested at a performance lab since there is a wide rage of “normal” readings for every age. This seems a better fit with my laid-back tendencies and makes operating a monitor seem more like an adventure rather than a rigid formula. I was especially interested in Coach Benson’s perceived effort chart which would be fun to employ as a means to develop an intuitive sense of pacing as well as to attune a monitor to your own unique body requirements.

While I recognize that I now am in full possession of aging legs and will never acquire any additional speed, it would be nice to preserve what is left. One of the prime components of training is to avoid making every day a race to an invisible finish line. Trail running has helped me ease off, but still, I can envision using a heart rate monitor to keep my legs from wearing out before my heart does. I am eager to attempt “fartlek” training, a roller coaster style workout where you increase your heart rate and jog it slowly back down. This appeals to those “don’t tell me what to do” individuals who enjoy taking a creative, in-charge approach to a freer breed of speed work not confined to fixed intervals on the track.

Despite concessions to more improvisational folks like me, the basic premise of this lifestyle is that every workout is a scientific experiment in which you select one thing you want to find out about yourself by combining it with a set of givens or certainties. Still, I am eager to try that approach as I would have the freedom to self-select whatever I wish to discover. This tactic would be all the more telling if you juggle multiple sports as in a triathlon or team sports like soccer with a lot of stop and start motion.

More than just how to adjust your monitor and following a training table, this book will eliminate the guesswork and teach you how to balance your craft and be the best “you” you can possibly be.

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