Races are off everywhere but you needn’t view training as ‘pointless’ just because there’s no finish line in sight. Malcolm Bradbrook embraces a different routine and starts running to heartrate.

Sometimes there are trends in fitness that you want to test but don’t because you fear that a few months trying something out could send you backwards if they don’t work. But will you ever have a better opportunity than now? No races, limited training opportunities, and club nights are a glowing mirage sometime in the future.

I am spending my time trying out a running to heartrate method of training. The basic premise is that it will develop my endurance engine and allows me to run at a faster pace for the same heartrate, and so becoming a more efficient runner.

Running at low heart rate also trains the body to use stored body fat as an energy source rather than all carbs. The benefit is that the body has an almost limitless store of fat, whereas carbs stored as muscle glycogen can be used up in as little as an hour.

First off, I have to say that I am lucky when it comes to training. I live in a small village in the countryside and heading out without the risk of literally running into people is not just possible but highly probable.

I was first interested in this method as I trained for the excellence Saucony Cambridge Half Marathon on March 8.

It was a fantastic event – flat, fast and beautiful – but I cursed not giving enough time to heart rate training and am now taking up the opportunity to dedicate to it a little more. I hunted out an expert in the topic to put me on the right path.

Adam Clarke, from Matt Bottrill Performance Coaching, emphasised the need for patience when training in this way.

‘The biggest pitfall to this type of training is that athletes don’t give it enough time to work, as they get “bored” running at such a slow rate. You really have to buy into this method of training as the rewards aren’t instant and take time to develop.’

There are a few ways of starting out with low heart rate training but the best known is the Maffetone Method which takes 180 minus your age. So, for me, this means that when running in training, my heartrate should not exceed 133 and as soon as it does, I have to start walking until my heartrate lowers again.

It’s tough, I won’t mince my words, if you are used to going out and hammering along at the pace you feel suits you. But I have a big birthday in a couple of years and if I am to achieve my goal of knocking eight minutes of my marathon PB and securing the elusive sub-3 then I need to try something new.

Adam also points to out how useful modern wearables and apps are for this kind of training.

Polar Vantage M

Polar Vantage M – a great tool for heart rate training

I have certainly made good use of my Polar Vantage M, which has the most efficient wrist-based heart rate monitor I have tried (and I have tried a lot), due to the nine LED sensors as opposed to the usual two to six. Polar also offers the ability to really analyse data in the Polar Flow app, which is incredibly useful.

‘In this age of technology, I would suggest either setting your heartrate zones on your wearable, in your training app such as Training Peaks’ Adam adds.

‘You then train in the bottom range of the heart rate zones, so for the Andy Coggan scale of heart rate zones in Training Peaks, which has 6 zones, we would train in zone 1 for runs up to 60 minutes and zone 1 and 2 for runs longer than an hour.’

Adam recommends three or four runs a week for between 40 and 60 minutes to give the best result for both running efficiency and fat burning.

He concludes: ‘You may have to do this up to 12 weeks to see the maximum return on your effort but you can track the improvements as they occur, they may be slight, on a week-to-week basis, but they will be there.’