“Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
This week begins week 4 of working with a new running coach to train for the Phoenix Marathon using a method that is VERY different than methods I have previously used to get faster – heart rate training. To say that switching from pace based workouts to heart rate training requires patience would be an understatement. However, I’ve been reassured that this patience will pay major dividends.
The very general theory behind heart rate based endurance training is that if you do the majority of your workouts in Zone 2, the steady, fat-burning heart rate zone, eventually, your body will become more efficient at burning fat and your pace in Zone 2 will drop. When you are working in Zone 2, you can run for MUCH longer than you can at higher zones, therefore if you can get your target pace within Zone 2, you shouldn’t have much of a problem running a marathon at your targeted pace.
As Maria explained it to me in one of our first coaching emails,
We train based on time and heart rate – so you will continue to ignore pace as you’ve been doing for most runs, and work in consistent HR zones. This will likely be the oddest switch for you since many people wind up running much slower than they normally do once they understand where their zone 2/steady is. Eventually, however, you become much more efficient – in terms of burning fat and in terms of oxygen consumption and delivery. When that happens, the pace picks up, but your heart rate doesn’t. Like magic – almost
Well, we’re getting there anyway.
My first heart rate based run was a nice and easy recovery run post Ragnar Trail Vail Lake. Maria used some data from my runs there to come up with my heart rate zones (which, consistent with the heart rate zones which were calculated for me after a V02 max test a few years back, are higher than the average person). Although it’s better to have a test to have your heart rates mapped out, you can calculate it based on an easy formula (see article here which also gives more background on heart rate training). For this first run, she instructed me to stay in Zone 1. I ran this run at over a 12 minute mile average. I had to walk at times to prevent my heart rate from going up! I knew right away heart rate training would be rough!
Since then, I have had 3 runs a week completely or mostly in Zone 2 plus one hill or speed workout. Although physically these runs are VERY easy (I literally feel like I could run all day at these paces), mentally they can be tough. Although I know that Maria knows what she is doing, it’s sometimes tough to imagine myself running 8:10 or faster minute miles while I’m trucking along Coast Highway getting passed by old men and heavy-set joggers and practically walkers. At times that first week I’d even have to walk some segments to stay in Zone 2! My long run was closer to 11 minute miles and any time I’d laugh or talk excitedly to Asia who ran a few times with me, my heart rate would go up and I’d have to remind myself to slow down.
In addition to these slow runs, Maria incorporates 1-2 key workouts in higher zones. The first two weeks it was hill repeats and last week it was a tempo run. After not having run hard on flat ground for a long time I was really excited about the tempo run. I wanted to see what I had in me! However, it was a tough week for me with a lot of social obligations (i.e. fun!) and some stress at work and my tempo run ended up disappointing me. I started questioning the training and wondering if the heart rate training was even working. I started paying more attention to my paces again and fretted over why my Zone 2 paces weren’t dropping more quickly.
During my long run on Saturday, I was having these thoughts. I had a slow first mile, likely because I was warming up. I shouldn’t have even CARED at all what my first mile split of a Zone 2 long run was, but instead I was in my head about it. Wondering why I wasn’t making progress and beating myself up (I also took two unplanned rest days Thursday and Friday due to social and work obligations). Earlier in the week I had changed one of the screens of my watch to only show heart rate and pace. I switched it over shortly into this long run, telling myself to get out of my head and focus on the run, not the pace. However, I was still doubting myself.
About 2.5 miles into my run, a fellow female solo runner coming the other way smiled at me and said, “high five!?!” and held out her hand. I slapped it and immediately smiled. I looked around me at the beautiful ocean and clear sky and had a wake-up call. What am I doing out here? I’m enjoying the sport I love and I need to get out of my freaking head. I need to stop worrying about paces and just trust in the training. Trust that every step I’m making today is for race day and that NO single workout is an indicator of how I will perform that day. My poor tempo run on Wednesday had much more to do with my lack of sleep, stress and mood than it did my fitness and being down about it only make sit worse.
From the point that I slapped that woman’s hand on, I had an amazing long run. My average pace for the first 70 minutes of the run was the fastest it’s ever been in Zone 2 and the last 20 minutes of tempo were nearly 25 seconds faster per mile on average than the tempo run i’d done earlier in the week. I finished feeling strong, empowered and ready to move toward my goal.
I’ve always had the mantra “Pain is temporary, pride is forever,” which helps me get through painful training sessions or rough spots in a race. However, I don’t have a mantra for training and I think it’s about time I got one to help me get through the days when I’m having doubts or getting in my own head. The first thing that came to mind was this phrase,
Be Here Now
It’s the title of the song Mike and I danced to at our wedding and it will hold the reminder to myself to be in the present moment of training. Stop worrying about the next race, the next day or even the next mile. Just focus on the present and it’ll take me to the future.
How do you get yourself through doubtful times in your training cycle? Do you have a mantra you use during training, not races?