Half marathon training with the Polar Vantage V: Detailed plans, reports, and coaching lead to solid results
I ran with the Polar Vantage V for a month before posting my full review and then continued using it with the Polar 15-week half marathon training plan. Unlike four other plans I evaluated, the Polar plan offered various run lengths, including intervals, strength training with bodyweight exercises, dynamic stretching, and static stretching, which was exactly what I was looking for to achieve success.
My current PR for a half marathon is 1:57:05, ran back in 2012, and I had a goal to beat that this year since I just turned 50 and was also raising money for St Jude’s Children hospital. While Polar’s training program showed my estimated finish time improving from 2:21:30 to 1:57:00 as a result of my 15 weeks of training, conditions in the last month and the massive hill in the course after mile 10 prevented me from achieving a PR.
Since I don’t go to a gym facility to workout, I wanted a program that focused on running, stretching, and bodyweight exercises. Polar offers running training programs for 5K (9 week program), 10K (10 week program), half marathon (14 week program), and marathon (14 week program) events. You enter the name of the program, an event date, and the program start date. You choose how often you wish to train per week, how long you want each training session to be, and the desired intensity of your activity. Polar will use all of this to create a custom program for you and if your event is far in advance of when you setup the program you will see a longer base building period. In this base building period, your training recommendations will be updated every four weeks, if there is that much time in advance of your event. The training program is then synced to your Polar watch so you can be off and training.
The 15 week program I selected has one week of base building, 11 weeks of build-up, and then three weeks of tapering sessions. The stretching sections have three levels to choose from so there are a variety of exercises to complete. Clear videos are provided for these exercises with a timer and audio coach provided to help you successfully complete these sessions. The program I selected has a mix of the following sessions, with four runs usually scheduled each week. The mobility sessions are usually combined with some type of run session as well.
Easy jog: A few minutes, typically 10, in HR zones 1-2, a period of time in zone 3, and a cool down phase back in zones 1-2.
Medium run: A few minutes in HR zones 1-2, a longer period of time in zone 3, and a cool down phase back in zones 1-2.
Long run: A few minutes in HR zones 1-2, a long period of time in zone 2 or 3, and a cool down phase back in zones 1-2.
Interval: A warm up period in HR zones 1-3, an intense short period of time in zones 4-5, a short period of time in zone 2, back up into an intense period of time in zones 4-5, and repeat as directed with a final cool down phase back in zones 1-2.
Core: Movements include atlas twist, ab crunches, back extensions, twist lunge, scissor side plank, tornado, swimming superman, and many more.
Mobility (static>: Side stretch, world’s greatest stretch, seated hamstring stretch, wall calf stretch, and more.
Mobility (dynamic>: Ferris wheel, scorpion, hip rolls, inch worm, and more.
Strength training: Squat, push-ups, chair dips, ab crunches, and more.
I found the core, mobility, and strength training sessions to be extremely helpful and continue to use these after the half marathon. I’m also trying to get my family to make these family events since stretching and these type of movements are excellent for long term flexibility and health.
A long run day is designated at the beginning of the program, but we all know schedules can get crazy and you may have to move things around. While you cannot shift days on the Polar Flow website, within the smartphone app you can drag and drop sessions around during a week if you need to make some adjustments. You cannot move things across different weeks though, which is too bad since I sometimes needed to move my long run from Saturday to Sunday.
As you complete your sessions and gather data through the training program, it is helpful to check on your progress. Polar has reports for training, activity, running index, and cardio load. Training reports can be viewed by week, month, year, or custom time period and show bar and line graphs below summary data. There are 20 different pieces of data that can be plotted in bar or line graph format so you can quickly and easily dive into the details. Best sessions, heart rate, and power zones are also shown below the graphs. As a data geek, I love diving into the details and seeing where I can improve.
Activity reports are where you go to in order to view data captured outside of your training program. This includes steps taken, sleep, active time, calories, and inactivity. Again, data can be plotted in bar and line graph formats with summary data also available.
My training went well through March and April with my running index improving from 42 to 50, a 19% increase, but in May I had a couple weeks of business travel that prevented me from running while I also suffered from an illness that didn’t let me run for that period of time. May was the prime final training and tapering phase and the running index report in the Polar training program clearly show a decline in performance and completion of the training sessions during this period.
One of the most useful training reports in the Polar program are the cardio load status reports that show whether you are in detraining, maintaining, productive, or overreaching modes of your training. In April I was pushing it pretty hard and had runs nearly every day, which put me into an overreaching mode. I felt some pain in my shins and backed off a bit to get back into a productive phase. Polar’s coaching integration shows that being in the overreaching phase increases the risk of injuy or illness, which directly correlated to the feeling in my legs.
For the middle and end of May I was in a flat line detraining phase, which I believe killed my momentum and training preparation that likely took me out of contention for a PR. Due to my inability to train during this time, I problem hit it a bit too hard that last week before my race as I felt I couldn’t just continue to sit around and cough.
One of the reasons I was very interested in testing out the Polar Vantage V is that it is one of the only wearables available that provides running power without requiring an external accessory like a heart rate chest strap or footpod. However, power is not yet integrated into the Polar running programs and is very limited in the various progress reports. With tunnels appearing in my half marathon race, I moved back to tracking and watching power levels because GPS and pace were thrown off early in the race.
Heart rate trends are similar to power, but power is less affected by your internal body chemistry and has better real-time tracking than heart rate. Thus, I want Polar to further embrace power and provide power as an option for its training programs. I used heart rate zones as the metric I ran to for my training sessions since pace isn’t that useful when I spend the majority of my time training in hill country.
Unlike power with bikes, running power cannot be compared across platforms as different algorithms and methods to capture power are being used by Garmin, Stryd, and Polar. However, if you stick within one platform, then it can be quite useful and I have noticed fairly consistent differences between these three companies and power results.
While I focused on a half marathon training plan with the Vantage V, I also purchased a Polar Balance scale and was collecting this data during my training plan. So far, I have lost 17 pounds since the start of 2019 and have a goal to lose 15 more before the end of the year. Weight is one piece of data you can track with the Diary>Balance screen being the best way to track status and trends.
In addition to weight and running, I also spent the last few months trying to increase the length of time I spent sleeping since I understand that is a key metric for fitness and long term health. I haven’t been that impressed with the sleep tracking results on the Vantage V, but was excited to see that the new advanced Sleep Plus Stages, Nightly Recharge, and other features in the new Polar Ignite are scheduled to be released for the Vantage V in an October update. With this update, I can see the Polar Vantage V being a permanent wrist companion.
Now that my half marathon race is over, it’s time to think about the next race. I plan to run some 10K races in the meantime in order to work on my shorter distance speed. In Polar Flow you can create seasons to track data for an established period of time to help you achieve goals and follow your progress if you are not training for a specific event or race. I just setup a summer season and look forward to seeing how I do over the coming months.