I received this question yesterday:
Q: Hey Gale - I’m frustrated and would very much appreciate your opinion. I began working with a new coach and my coach has me focus on pace and power, rather than heart rate, which I’ve really enjoyed. I love shooting for specific speedy numbers in my workouts and as often as possible I try to exceed the numbers assigned. Here’s the dig. While I’ve been achieving good numbers, it seems I’ve been sick more in the past year than ever before. Each time I seem to make headway on gaining fitness and speed, I get sick again. My morning heart rate is elevated and I’ve noticed that my heart rate is elevated relative to the power zones my coach uses. Coach says that heart rate isn’t important in my training and the only thing I need to worry about is pace and power. What do you think? D.L.
A: Hi D.L. ~ Sorry to read you’ve been sick a lot. Repeated illnesses can be very frustrating. I use multiple tools with my athletes to track progress and attempt to head off trouble. Achieving goal pace and power numbers on any given workout are just two of the many tools I use to monitor an athlete’s progress. Here are some thoughts:
- Your heart rate is an indicator of how your body is responding to work and recovery. When athletes are coming back from an illness, I prefer to restrict workouts by heart rate rather than power or pace. I find that aiming for pace or power zones possible when the athlete was healthy, are not possible during recovery from illness and some athletes get frustrated when “the numbers” are not giving the answers they want. Until you are 100-percent healthy, forget about power and pace. Here are some guidelines for adjusting your training plan during and after an illness.
- I have found, repeatedly, that pace and power will come around if you allow your body to heal and get healthy. Those that try to push for those higher numbers often see more setbacks. The more setbacks you have in training, the harder it is to achieve your optimal performance goals.
- Once you think you are healthy, do pay attention to how your heart rate responds to various workouts and environmental conditions. What is your “normal” (that is normal for you) morning heart rate? What is your normal heart rate for lactate threshold power or pace intervals? What is normal for a recovery day? What is normal after you’ve recovered for several days? If you see a disconnect between heart rate and pace or power, log that in your journal and take it to heart. Perhaps you need another recovery day, when the plan called for another tough workout?
- If you haven’t had a blood test recently, it might be a good idea to get one. A blood test lets you know if things are normal or out of range. Occasional retesting is a good idea so you can see if there are any trends in the numbers. Also, if you do get an illness, you can compare your normal healthy blood values to illness numbers.
- Plenty of items affect recovery. See this link for a column on how much time it takes to recover from a race. Those items not only apply to races, but really tough workouts, and blocks of tough workouts, as well.
- I think it’s a good idea to know your normal body temperature range. High, or heading towards high, body temperature can be another indicator of the need for more recovery to prevent an illness. Unfortunately I don’t have a hard number for you to aim for at this time. (i.e. “If your body temperature is up x.yz degrees, take the day off.")
- I have to assume your coach has designed your training plan to elicit specific responses from your body, in order to help you peak for your upcoming event(s). Constantly trying to “over-achieve” the numbers assigned for you may be causing you more harm than good. If you think your training zones are too low or you wonder about the purpose of a workout (restricting pace or power), talk to your coach about it. The same comments apply to workout time and/or distance. If you’re in a cycle of overachieve, illness, overachieve, illness – it’s a sign something isn’t working correctly.
- Is your life more stressful now than it was awhile back? If you haven’t told your coach about new items affecting your lifestyle, you need to.
- Closely monitor how you feel. Yes, I know there is no feel-gauge, but you can use a scale to rank how you feel on any given day and during a workout. Use any scale you please – 1 to 5, 1 to 7, 1 to 10… In any case, rank how you feel. If 1 is terrible and 10 is great, how do you feel today? Multiple days rating less than five is a warning that you’re heading for trouble.
There are more items that you can track to keep an eye on how your body is responding to the demands of training – and life. I believe you need to monitor more than just power and pace. Only monitoring power and pace is like only looking at the speedometer of your car to determine if the car is working correctly. If you ignore the gas gauge, oil pressure gauge and other indicators on your car, you may end up broken down with a towing and repair bill that is very undesirable.