Last week, I decided to order a heart rate monitor. To be completely honest, I ordered it because I’m still trying to lose the stupid weight from last year and I wanted to make sure that my nutrition was realistic for the amount of activity I’m actually doing. While many food and fitness trackers like My Fitness Pal or Weight Watchers have algorithms to calculate the approximate number of calories burned during an activity based on your height and weight, they can be pretty inaccurate, especially if you’re in good shape and your heart rate doesn’t get as high. In that case, you would not burn as many calories during an activity as someone who is out of shape. So, I assumed that maybe I wasn’t able to lose the weight because I was burning fewer calories than the app was guessing and things just weren’t balancing out numbers-wise.

I like precisely one salad.

I had no intention of using the HRM for training purposes; I just wanted to track my calorie burn. I couldn’t imagine that the information would be terribly fascinating. Imagine, then, the shock I received when I did my first “long run” (a whopping 10k, let’s not get too excited) since the Casper Marathon at what I thought was an easy pace. By easy pace, I mean the pace I do most of my runs at. My normal speed. Usually somewhere around 9:15 pace, give or take. Well, I kept checking my heart rate throughout the run and it was consistently between 185-189. Ummm… For those of you who know nothing about heart rates, that is really freaking high.  Depending on what measure you use (apparently, there are many), my max heart rate (the typical formula is 220 minus your age (29)) would be 191. That formula is notoriously flawed, but no matter how you slice it, a heart rate of 189 is not an easy effort. Now, I know my heart rate goes a LOT higher than that when I have trouble at races, but it’s not supposed to. And I also know that if you’re running at your max heart rate, that’s probably not an easy effort, even if you don’t feel like you’re dying, so I started looking into heart rate training.

NOT IN ZONE – womp womp. At least my watch/HOKA combo is colorful?

I’m not going to explain everything about heart rate training here because honestly, my head was spinning while trying to absorb it all and I’m pretty sure I could not do it justice. So if you’re curious, here’s an article from Runner’s World that does a pretty good job of explaining it all. From all the resources I read, here were my three main takeways:

  1. I need to go a LOT slower. Like, probably 1-2 minutes per mile slower for easy efforts.
  2. I will eventually adapt and recover faster and be able to run faster at a lower heart rate.
  3. Training by heart rate can help prevent burnout and injury resulting from overtraining.

Maybe it’s just the fact that it’s summer and I’ll take any excuse I can get to run slower, but after the eye opening run over the weekend, I decided to test things out for an easy run yesterday. I calculated a ballpark figure to aim for with the following formula: (Max HR minus resting HR) x .70 + (Resting HR). For me, that comes out to about 151 beats per minute. Yikes!

I want to formally acknowledge, right here and now, that the speed at which my body can run with my heart rate at 151 beats per minute is roughly equivalent to how fast my grandmother can walk. I am not exaggerating. I felt like I was almost standing still. In order to keep moving at this pace, I had to put the saddest, slowest music ever on my Spotify playlist – think stuff like “My Heart Will Go On.” Seriously, my new running music is the same music you listen to when crying on the floor after a breakup. I had lots of time to ponder things on this little three mile jaunt, but mostly I thought about how exciting it was that my face would probably not be bright red when I got done running despite the fact that it was in the mid-90s and humid. It’s the little things, right?

Didn’t quite hit my goal, but it’s progress, at least! #barelyinzone

Also, let the record show that heart rate training requires a lot of concentration, not unlike speedwork (except that the goal, at least in my case, is always to go slower). I was constantly looking down at my watch to make sure I wasn’t too high above the approved “zone”, although I’m going to be honest, this was more of a guideline for me. I just tried to keep my heart rate in the 150s because it was challenging enough to find a running pace that would allow that. I have no idea what my pace was for the loop, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was probably in the neighborhood of 11 minute miles. You know what’s not that great? Being out in the boiling summer sun for a second longer than necessary. I was right, though – no red face when I was done!

Red face? No. Enthusiasm? Also no.

While I’m hoping for quick improvement, I know that this process will require some patience on my part. Many people see dramatic improvement in their speed and endurance, but it can take a couple of months. I did, however, have a lower heart rate during my barre class this morning, so perhaps I’m on the right track already. I am hoping that training this way will help me feel less burnt out and reduce my risk of injury, not to mention improve my heart health. Fall marathon training is right around the corner, and I’m determined to make this season a great one!

LEAVE A COMMENT: Have you ever tried heart rate training or thought about trying it? What did you think of it?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *