Should Runners Train by Heart Rate?

Crap, Am I Running Too Fast?

When I looked back at my training log and my heart rate in the last month, I immediately saw that I was training too hard on the easy days. My heart rate was up around 165—so it wasn't high enough to increase speed, but it also wasn't low enough to give my body the rest it needed. My coach said it could explain why I wasn't putting in good efforts on my speed and tempo days. Basically, I was running everything in a strange in-between. 

The first fix then was to slow down those easy runs. I changed the display on my watch so that pace would no longer plague me. I headed out to a desolate road where I wouldn't be tempted to chase anyone down. I turned on my Wahoo TICKR FIT and started the app. 

Each mile, I'd hear the kind voice telling me the time and my average heart rate. My first mile was slow—but that was okay. My heart rate was down low, where it was supposed to be for easy miles. 

The next mile, my pace had stayed the same, but my heart rate crept up slightly. I adjusted by breathing smoother, shaking out my arms and slowing down just a touch. It didn't feel painful or frustrating. Instead, I had a new numeric goal to focus on and a monitor giving me near-constant feedback. When I finished my easy run, it felt well, easy. Huh, I thought. So that's what that's supposed to be like. 

Get Started: Build a Heart Rate Training Program 

My coach predicted that hitting my paces during the track days would feel easier, and that was true. It took a little longer for my heart rate to shoot up to the anaerobic zone. But once I settled into the workout, I was bursting all over the place and using my easy, recovery laps to really work my anaerobic system. 

The long run proved to be my moment of truth. Trying to keep in the aerobic zone for 14 miles was a challenge. I started too fast, and it was hard to recover. But I listened to what my body was telling me, stopped and walked around the second mile to regain control. My next miles were slow, but at no point did I feel faded. 

Experts will tell you that external factors like sleep, eating and stress will mess with your heart rate. It's crucial to log your miles, paces, heart rates and what's going on in your life if you want the most accurate picture of your training. Regardless, heart rate is the most precise tool we have to measure exertion. If you're stuck in a running rut, feel like you're not seeing training gains or weight loss goals or know you're overdoing your easy days, it might be time to learn what your heart rate zones really are—and train accordingly. 

If you're interested in learning more about how I tracked my heart rate, check out Wahoo's site and check out the TICKR FIT Optical Heartrate Armband
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