As soon as I started working with my coach Maria back in November, I began to train using mostly heart rate as my guide. At first, this was a very uncomfortable transition, as I was forced to run VERY slowly at times. However, over time I have grown to appreciate and even enjoy training by heart rate.
What Does Heart Rate Training Accomplish?
In case you missed the first post I wrote about it – a quick heart rate training recap. To run fast for long distances, we need STRONG mitochondria and we need LOTS of them. When we run slowly (in Zones 1 and 2, zones that we can run for a very long time in) we build lots of mitochondria – a tiny army. When we do hard workouts in Zones 4 and 5 (which we can only sustain for periods of about under an hour or less), we make those mitochondria stronger. The added benefit is by running most runs in Zones 1 and 2, our bodies can recover quicker and easier and be ready to really work hard during those key strengthening workouts. Many athletes spend far too much time in zones 3 (during what they percieve as easy runs) and 4 (during hard runs) and instead of building more and more mitochondria, they hit a plateau. The really cool thing about training in lower heart rate zones is that as you build more mitochondria, you can actually run faster without elevating your heart rate, meaning you can last longer. And of course, we all know the key to running a fast marathon is NOT to run out of energy at mile 20. Having a ton of strong mitochondria is what will get me to the finish line of the marathon FAST.
My Progress With Heart Rate Training
At first I struggled and missed the feeling of validation I used to have after running “easy runs” at a kind of “fast pace” (i.e. in the 8s) but soon I started to realize that running slower made running physically more pleasant and a little easier to get out the door for. I started to crave my tempo and speed workouts and look forward to seeing what I had under the tank, rather than sometimes dreading them because I wasn’t recovered from all those “easy runs” at a “fast pace.” I started to celebrate small victories like my first Zone 2 run under a 10 min/mile or not having to walk up every single tiny bump in the road during a Zone 1 run.
Now, it has been over two months since I have been training using heart rate. I’ve made big improvements. Maria, my coach, says my running efficiency has improved a lot, even with some time off of running to mend my sprained ankle. Between my first long run and my most recent long run (11 miles vs 17 miles – yes this means I ran 17 miles today pain free!!!), both run in Zone 2, I have dropped my average pace per mile by 1 minute 10 seconds. Essentially, I’m putting out the same effort over a longer period of time yet running much faster.
There are 4 weeks until the Phoenix Marathon and my training looks absolutely nothing like my training going into the Euguene Marathon last year. I am training smarter this year, not harder. I have put my trust in this heart rate training system and have used it with cycling as well as running throughout the training cycle. From what I can tell so far, it’s working and come March 1 all my big, strong mitochondria are going to do a happy dance when we sail through that finish line.