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Some good theory but not ideal for novice/casual half marathon training plans
on 5 September 2014
The writer is clearly an expert in the field of heartrate training but does not necessarily communicate some of the key themes especially well.
My main concern is that professional coaches like Joe Friel are so used to training top-flight athletes they forget what it's like to actually be a novice. In the preface he refers to the fact that "anyone" can benefit from HR training - even novices. Yet I would argue that the book is not suitable for novices. I consider myself a level or two above novice, having been a runner for a couple of years, so I managed to extract enough material from the book to make good use of my Polar HRM. However, I think an actual beginner to running - or even an experienced casual runner- would end up disappointed with the content.
The major source of frustration for me was is the core of the book: developing your own heartrate training plan based on the principles in the book. This sounded great for me as in theory I would be able to build a custom program to fit around my level of experience and time constraints. Having read the book I started reading the "Your Training Plan" section. After a fairly tedious and slightly patronising barrage of questions (eg. "How many training hours do you have": example question... "How long do you spend on personal hygiene/housework/watching TV" blah blah) we are confronted with having to calculate the number of hours per ANNUM we have to train, then using the provided table to work out the weekly hours and then go from there to daily. The THEORY of this is sound, except the lowest number of annual hours catered for in the table is TWO HUNDRED hours of training per year! Now, I trained for and ran three half marathons last year and my total hours training, based on running 3-5 times per week, was 125 hours - and I thought I was training pretty hard!
Of course, many people have got 200-1000 hours per year to train but I think the assumption that the reader of the book will be able to dedicate this sort of time puts the target audience firmly into the "experienced marathon/ultra" runner category. As it happened, I had to type the table into Excel and do some very fiddly mathematical adjustments to the table as this year I am targeting 150 hours training for the three more half marathons I'm running. Again, this is fine for you if you're happy with maths and using spreadsheets.
There are similar challenges when continuing to the next stage of the plan: allocating hours from weeks to days where again the assumption is that you are prepared to run 3 hours per week. This is quite a lot for a novice starting a half marathon training program and means they would not be able to use this guide.
The other peculiarity of the given tables is that if you are creating a half marathon training program by following the book you will end up not running for longer than eg. 75 minutes before the day of the race (I’m targeting 95m for the whole distance)! You might argue that it’s simple to adjust your training plan and throw in some longer runs, but I’m desperately trying to approach my training scientifically as I guess other readers will too in order to avoid injury but maximise my performance. Given this is my 7th attempt at this distance I’m gunning for faster times each time and understand that I will need to be putting in runs which are LONGER than the 13 miles. There is no allowance for this in this book, given my ‘meagre’ 150-160 hours of training per annum.
My other main gripe is the way the various micro-cycles of the plan are presented - very confusing indeed and a real struggle to actually put to use. Maybe it makes more sense in the paperback version than the Kindle App version I used.
The ongoing poor formatting of the Kindle (on Android tablet) version is also an issue - as it is with other books though. Some of the words seem to be wrong too - perhaps an OCR issue (“Then complete a total of 30 to 60 minutes of work that are 6 to 2 minutes long”!!?)… proof-reading?
The "Sample Workout" descriptions are sometimes vague and ambiguous and appear to have been written hurriedly. The numbering system is confusing and I'm frequently unsure whether I'm really doing what is expected. Some of the workouts don’t specify the heart rate zone for training so you are left guessing.
The idea of the TRIMP (training duration X intensity, based on HR) is introduced in the middle of the book. This sounds like an eminently sensible approach to ensuring one does not over/under train. However, there are no practical applications of this idea in the book. The BYO training plan section doesn’t reference it at all.
With all the above said, I've read a couple of other books on HRM training and this is disappointingly the best I've found so far. “Heart Rate Training” by Roy Benson and Declan Connolly bases its training plans wholly on %MHR – a simple but utterly flawed approach. At least Joe Friel understands and applies the idea of developing training zones based on one’s (easily determined) anaerobic threshold (AT).
Don't get me wrong: there IS a lot of good stuff in here and Friel’s style is generally readable. I’d recommend the book to the experienced and dedicated athlete, especially those who are doing long to very long endurance sports.
For the likes of me, a ‘keen hobbyist’ runner gunning for faster 10K and half marathon times there is still plenty of good theory in here but you won’t find this a huge help for developing your own training plan unless you are prepared to do some maths and are happy to re-interpret the sample workouts.