Run, Run, Run

In 2010 and 2011, I ran a lot of races – lots of 5Ks, a couple 10K’s, a half marathon, and a 25K. In 2012, so far, not so much. My last race was the half marathon this past December. A new job, a new city, a sick pet (RIP, Goose!), and – well – some burnout on running led me to take the spring off.

I started lacing up my running shoes again a couple weeks ago with one major adjustment to my routine: cross training. The past two years, I had very good intentions about cross training, and sometimes did very well at going to my yoga class. Other cross training attempts were half hearted at best. It was just easier to get out there and run. There are numerous benefits to cross training, including injury prevention, improved fitness, and (surprise!) burnout prevention, but even knowing this, I kept on running running running.

This time around, I’m incorporating the elliptical and bicycling into my routine, and am enjoying both. I’m also considering another tweak to my fitness routine: heart rate monitor training.

A couple springs ago, my friend Chris and I were signed up for a 5K. It was the first hot day of spring – out of the blue, really – and nary a half mile into the race, I had to pull off to the side and put my head between my legs for fear of passing out. My Garmin said my heart rate was at 191. Having seen the heart rate charts, I knew that was higher than the charts even said my heart should go for my age. I was happy to see my ticker could beat the charts, but knew I had to slow down. I was in no shape to be spending time up in my max heart rate zone. That’s best left to uber athletes.

Back then, I was conscious of my heart rate but generally ignored heart rate training advice. While I don’t buy into the whole “fat burning zone” concept (preferring instead to emphasize total calories burned – which will almost always be more at the end of the day if you’re working out at higher intensities), there are different benefits to being conscious of when you’re working out in an aerobic versus an anaerobic zone. Muscles behave differently. Strength develops differently. There are differences between training for stamina/endurance and training for speed. I generally ignored all of that, opting to just run as fast as I possibly could.

I’m not a natural athlete, so running the way I’ve done it in the past generally keeps me at a heart rate around 175-180. For me, that’s an anaerobic zone (pushing max!). In retrospect, logic dictates that if I had backed off a bit and trained a zone lower (say, a heart rate of 155-167 for me), I might have developed better endurance that would have allowed me, over time, to run faster at that same heart rate. Sure, I did get to the point where I ran long races, but I can’t help wonder if I could go even farther by paying closer attention to my heart rate.

So, that’s what I am going to do. Somewhere around here, my trusty heart rate monitor strap is begging to be washed (oy, stinky!). It’s time for a new plan.

The most logical approach I’ve read so far is to run as long as you can keep your heart rate at the top end of zone 3 (70-80%) (167 for me), and if you go over, walk until your heart rate is back down to the low end of the zone (155 for me). Rinse, repeat. That’s going to require me to run pretty darned slow, but the premise is that as your oxygen delivery systems improve and muscle performance improves, you’ll be able to run faster at that same level of heart exertion.

Then, you mix up your training days with some hard days, where you shoot for 85% of your max heart rate (173 for me). By these numbers, in the past, I was always training hard. Time to mix it up!

If you’d like to figure out your training zones, the MarathonGuide.com Heart Rate Calculator is a good one. Input your resting heart rate and your max heart rate, and it calculates your zones. (Take your resting heart rate upon waking, before you get out of bed – take your pulse for 10 seconds, then multiply by 6). You can use a max heart rate formula to figure out your max rate, or test it yourself – see the Heart Rate Training article.

So, that’s my plan for the summer. Get back on the roads and trails, and eat my greens! Do any of you have experience with heart rate training? Any advice or resources to share?

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