Can Heart Rate Training Improve My Running?
I had the slowest run of my life this past weekend. And that’s saying something because I am, what many would consider, a “back-of-the-pack” runner. My 5’2” larger frame and short legs don’t exactly give me the runner’s body or pace most would think of. Nonetheless, I am a runner, and I am working to embrace myself as one.
So when I had the chance to sign up for a heart rate training program that promised my initial pace would be at least 3-4 minutes slower than my average, how do you think I felt? Most would be appalled at the idea of slowing down and even walking for a good chunk of time. I admit I wasn’t thrilled with the idea. However, the other promised benefits of this program made me just curious enough to bite the bullet.
Still, I’ve been a pace-driven (and often frustrated) runner since my earliest days of running. What can heart rate training possibly have to offer to someone like me?
Why Try Heart Rate Training?
In the past, I’ve gone through cycles of training where I either burn out quickly or end up injured. Shin splints. Plantar fasciitis. Sprains and strains. Overworked and underwhelmed with my results. With heart rate training, the goal is to prevent overtraining and injury. This is what stuck out most to me as I’m training for a marathon in January. I want to have a strong start to my training, and I don’t want to feel like I’m barely keeping up with my plan in the weeks leading up to my race. At the rate I was going, I knew it would lead to another DNS. (I missed my target half earlier this year due to a severe ankle sprain.) Many have had success in avoiding injuries and finishing their races strong through heart rate training.
Another benefit to me was that I didn’t have to be so concerned about my pace. Instead of berating myself and feeling disappointed with my “turtle-like” speeds, I was excited about the prospect of shifting my attention to feeling good before, during, and after my runs. Sign me up!
How to Start Heart Rate Training
There are many different ways to get started with heart rate training, and this certainly isn’t a new idea or fad. In fact, Minneapolis Running previously featured great information on how to get started.
I opted to sign up for an online training through the Train Like a Mother Club, created and run by the same folks who started Another Mother Runner. They have several options available, all of which include detailed plans, a vibrant community, coaching support, and many other resources to help along the way.
Certainly, monitoring your heart rate doesn’t have to be done on a formal plan like I am using, but checking with a physician and/or a running coach is recommended before starting any kind of new training program.
The next step is purchasing a heart rate monitor. There are many options on the market, and they can range from the $40 zone all the way up to several hundreds of dollars. I chose a lower priced chest strap monitor that connects with my phone and Apple Watch via Bluetooth.
There are various apps you can use to visually track your heart rate while running, but I prefer to be handsfree while I’m on the go. I use the Wahoo Fitness app because it allows me to set a prompt to hear my heart rate as often as I’d like. (I choose to get a voice update every 30 seconds.) It may seem like a lot of updates, but I’ve been surprised at how much my heart rate can fluctuate in a short period of time, especially if I’m running hills. On the flip side, I’ve started to notice my heart rate coming back down more easily in the few weeks of training I’ve done so far.
Is Heart Rate Training the Answer?
So will this be what I need to help myself have a successful first marathon? Will it help me to train better, more consistently, and with a lower rate of injury? I want to have a long life of running ahead of me, so I sure hope this is one of my keys to success.
I’ve been heart rate training for a few weeks now and I can tell you this: I’m already a convert! These few weeks have been the best weeks of running I’ve ever had. They’ve also been the slowest.
Still, I take heart in the fact that I finished my long run last weekend and thought, “That was great! Let’s keep going!” But I abided by my coach’s demands to not go beyond my mileage limit or time limit. My planned long run for the weekend was either 10 miles or 2 hours, whichever came first. Let’s just say 2 hours definitely came first. Going beyond either of those parameters don’t give enough recovery time for the plan and can lead to all of those troubles (injury, burnout, etc.) that heart rate training aims to prevent.
I can’t predict the future, but I have a good feeling so far. Stay tuned!