Running Paces: Heart Rate Monitor

In the past, I’ve been guilty of all my runs being executed at the same pace or same effort, with exception to speed workouts.  I’d say every run was about 3.5-4 on a 5-point scale of effort.  I know this isn’t good and I think after 19 months of training this way, I’m ready to change.

Now seems like the perfect time to switch my focus from pace to heart rate and change my training style since I’m on the up from my recovery and I’m not training specifically right now.  Coincidentally, Runners World must have known that so they published a great article about it in their latest issue.  (But this isn’t the first article on it in recent months, either.  They also posted one which you can read online from February 9th, 2013.)

I bought a heart rate monitor about a year ago to incorporate it into training.  I used my Garmin with it for one workout and it nearly made me throw up striving to hit target heart rate during each set, even when I was exhausted.  I never used that feature on the Garmin again, even though it seems like it was really doing its job.

The only other time I paid close attention to it  (besides casually checking during races/runs) was the Spring Forward Distance Run.  I wanted to say in the lower end of zone 4, so I remember keeping myself in that zone, pushing it on the hill and then letting my heart rate lower on the downhill until I could push it again.  It ended up working really well in terms of a racing strategy so I’m not sure why I didn’t do it again.

photo 1 (28)So getting back to this article in Runners World, it talks about a polarized training plan.  Essentially for this plan, you should strive for a week like such: 75% easy, 10% threshold, and 15% hard each week.  We can learn what these paces are (because they will change as we get better) by using a heart rate monitor.

Easy days should reflect a heart rate under 80% of your max (aiming for 60-70%).  Hard days should reach above 90% of your max.  This leaves threshold to be between 80-90%.

The key on the easy days seems to be maintaining that high cadence within 5% of your threshold cadence.  It’s recommended to have a cadence of about 180 per minute (90/foot).  Every time I’ve previously checked out my cadence, I was about 178-184 and while I haven’t concentrated on it since I’ve switched my form, it doesn’t feel largely faster or slower than it was previously.  For me, 5% would be 170-176.

For hard workouts, they recommend cutting back volume and adding rest, which will boost intensity during the sets.  An example provided: Instead of running 6×1000 meters with 2:00 rest, try 4x1000m with 3:00 rest and do each rep at least :05 faster than usual.  Repeat every two weeks and either shorter the rest or add a repeat until you’re back to the original workout, but at a higher intensity.

The other thing I took away from this month’s Runners World (so far!) is some advice from Lopez Lomong (which I obviously have to listen to because he’s the only Olympian and verified account to follow me on Twitter!)

photo 2 (25)

Since I’m not working in true speed into my base building plan until December, I can definitely toss this in easily without requiring additional recovery time.

Now, it looks like I need to re-write a few speed workouts during the end of my base training.  I’m not going to follow the 75/10/15 rule just yet, because I’m only base building but I am going to make sure my heart rate stays in the easy zone.  I haven’t done a true heart rate test, but I’m fairly certain my max is about 200 (the highest I’ve ever recorded, which was during my PR 5k this past summer on a very, very hot day).

If I base my zones off this…
Easy: < 160bpm (aim for 120-140bpm)
Threshold: 160-180bpm
Hard: > 180bpm

I’m pretty excited to incorporate this into my training because my runs are going to be pretty boring right now. With no variety besides distance and location, it’ll be like playing a little game with myself.  Plus, I am going to love seeing how my pace changes and gets better as I keep the heart rate training up.  And while training with paces is fun in the long run, I’ve been really interested in a heart rate based training plan for a while now (hence the purchase of a heart rate monitor in the first place), so why not give it a go?  I have nothing to lose – it could really work (or really flop) for me.

Does anyone train with a heart rate monitor to make sure their runs are targeting the right zone and easy/hard enough?


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Just a 20-something homegrown Buffalo sports loving, distance running, gin drinking kind of girl.

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