Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Heart Rate Training and Running

Finally a little bit of time to sit down and put fingers to keypads :) 

In the last few weeks my training runs have lost some of the gloss, some of the zip that I was getting 6 or so weeks ago. In that period I've run two races - one road the other trail and achieved PB times and top 10 finishes in both. I should be flying!

I'd spent the last 4 months refining my form and gait and felt full of confidence - enough so to write about it in my previous posts. 

So, why is the training track such a struggle? I was chatting to Leigh at Refine Training in Kew and he suggested that I should look into some Heart Rate training and research. 

I spent some time browsing and found these great websites which really inspired me: 

Mark Allen - a gun Triathlete 

Runners World - a great article and still highly relevant 


From what I had read, I had been over taxing myself. A simple rookie mistake? More speed each session, dropping times and the desire to do better than the last run. 

I strapped on the monitor and took off. A 9.5km run at a 'moving but not flying pace' took me 41:15 - 5 minutes faster than in August when I was learning to retrain my form and gait. Surely this is only good? Then I looked at the monitor. I was running at 159BM and right up in the 80-85% HR zone. I had been sucked in by my ego - yup I'm faster and stronger and more refined than before but not training as smart as I thought. 

Now according to Runnersworld a 1/2 marathon can be run at this pace, but I am only training. Who am I racing and why? 

After getting back to the research I should be running at this 80-85% mark for a maximum of 10% of my training. Here I was training at this rate all the time, who knows what crazy mark I was hitting for my intervals...

So, what should I be doing? After reading Marks site I, the self educated decided that I need to drop back into that 60-75% zone and rebuild my HR. This zone is where all the good stuff happens. Its the correct exercise levels to increase my heart strength and size for better blood flow and oxygen consumption. In turn this makes each beat more efficient and the reward for effort greater. 

On the weekend I strapped on the monitor again and went out for a run with my wife. Operation Target 145HR (60-70% Max HR zone). As we took off it felt painfully slow - ala Marks droppping from 5 min miles to 8 min miles. But, 2km in to the run we both felt relaxed and really happy - it made for some great chats. It was a real struggle to keep at the 145 target, especially up hill we we had to really drop our pace and lift the leg cadence just to avoid walking. An 8.5km run took us 48:30 - normally a 38 min run for me and 43 min run for her. However, we both felt we could go out there and run it again and again. Not the usual feeling! 

On Tuesday I did a 9.5 km run again at target 145. This I felt a little better but still really had to watch the tempo on the outbound to avoid over reaching and keep the HR down. It really allowed me to focus on form and function again and I enjoyed stretching out a little on the homebound leg as the decline meant I had to run faster to keep the HR up. The time was 3 minutes slower than the first run of this route 4 months ago and 8 minutes slower than when I ran it  the week before my 41:12 10 km race in Lara. I will try this run again in two weeks and see if any difference has been made. Yeah I know, weather conditions can have a big impact...

Today I did 12.2 km in 1:00:10. It felt great! Again I had to really slow for the inclines, its amazing how you will jump 5-7 BPM with even just 2-3 degrees- very frustrating! But, on the flats and declines I could lift my tempo to push the HR back up. This felt like running again and I really enjoyed it. The average km time was 4:55, not 4:25 like previous runs. 

In hindsight my retraining of my gait and style really slowed me down and forced me to train in the right zone. Were those 3 months of form and function focus the best thing I ever did? Was the 30-40 sec per km faster a combination to training in the right  HR zone and improving my stride?  

My goal from here is to target 145 for 3 of my 4 runs a week until the 5th of Jan when I have a 7.75 km trail race. On the other day it will be tempo training of about 20-30 min in the 80-90% HR zone to keep my speed and so that the body does not 'unlearn' race tempo situations. I hope to build my heart endurance for the 29 km trail race on the 13th of January next year.

I hope that in these 6 weeks I can get my ave km time back to 4:30 or less while training in the 'Target 145' days, essentially buying an extra 35 seconds for the same perceived heart effort. Will this translate into much faster race day times (4:00 or sub 4:00 kms) where I can push it the extra 15-20%? 

What are your experiences with this? 

Cheers and happy running, Lachie

December 30 update

Well, its with a feeling of mixed success that I write this. It's been nearly a month of the new training and I dont feel as though I've made fitness gains but I have learnt so much about myself. 

The target  145 BPM has been easy to hit. It took a little getting used to running slower, almost a minute slower than my race and previous training times. But then again, I was training at race pace all the time. 

Dropping the pace really enabled me to not only focus on my form and running, but really enjoy things again. I come back from training refreshed, not knackered. However, I'm not yet really any faster at the 145 BPM pace.

In the four weeks I've made up perhaps 5 seconds per km again, so a slow and steady improvement. 

I've run my toughest hill climb ever, a 45 minute climb up an average 15-18% incline. for this run I seriously managed the HR to keep it at 145 and I felt so good I did an extra circuit at the top. The trip down was 23 minutes slower and the HR averaged about 137-141. I didn't push the speed for injury sake. 

I've also run my longest run ever, 29.4km of which the last 18km was a 2% incline nearly the whole way. For the first 12km I kept the traget HR, but from there the slight incline all the way meant it slowly crept to 148 for a few km, 150, 153, 157 and peaked at a steady 161 for the last 3km. I would have slowed the pace but was meeting the family at the end of the run for a picnic. I had over sold my time so I had to keep the the km pace rather than heart rate. 

With out the 145 BPM goal I'd have gone out at 80-85% of my max HR and more than likely failed to make the distance. I'd have peaked to early up the hills and gone too hard too soon on the long run. 

Wearing the HR monitor each run now know more about how I feel and at what effort each run is. E.g when I'm cruising its at about 145 - 150. When I push hard it goes up to about 157 - 162 and at 166 + I'm beathing hard but I know I can sustain it for at least 20 - 30 minutes (the weather might get the better of me when it's hot!) 

My last ran was up some serious hills, and I let the HR get to about 159-163 for the 700m - 1.25km on the longest hill climbs, but I felt confident and refreshed as it dropped back to 145 within about 200m of descent/flat running.

My next run is a 7.75 course over short, undulating hills (Read how I went in the Portsea Twilight run). The race plan is to go out at 163-167 and hopefully a sub 4:00min km pace. Yes, It'll race up on the hills but I know that I can race the downs and it will drop to 130BPM and probably as high as 145 if I really push it - I know that I can recover and power on. Will it work? I hope so! Runners world also state that you should be able to run 5-10km at 90%, which is for me is 171 BPM. I know I can do 162-165 for 5km on a hot and humid morning. 

Until the end of Jan I will aim for 145BPM on my long slow runs and use that as the recovery point for my tempos. When I get back to work in Feb I'll trace my original 9.6km 'test' course and see if I can sustain the effort but hopefully gain that valuable time that I am chasing. 

Stay tuned, time will tell :)

Cheers, Lachie


  1. Fantastic post Lachie. I tried HR training sometime last year but I have to admit that I stopped because a) I hated the strap and then b) I lost the watch that worked with the strap.

    I think the science behind HR training is solid and should definitely be given more notice by runners more so than perceived exertion.

    I'm looking forward to reading about your progress and maybe one day I'll take up HR training again.

  2. Cheers Stan. It took me a few runs to get used to it as well. I have a Polar HR monitor and it suits well.

    My wife however does not get along with it at all. She was given a Sunto HR watch and strap and finds the strap much more comfortable than wearing mine.

    If you're keen to give it another go, it might be worth seeing if you can try a few on for size.

    I'll definitely let you know how the progress goes. I think for a while ego will be a dirty word :)

  3. This is a really interesting post to read. Made me login to garmin connect and check out some of my HR's for my longer runs (my first 1/2 marathon last year). My average HR for that was 186bpm. When i get back into running more (I've been focused on weight training/body building at the moment), i'll definitely look into this style of training as I'd love to have a crack at another 1/2 marathon this year

  4. Hey Ali, I'm glad you found it an interesting read. I certainly learnt a lot about my body and it's responses to my running. At 186bpm you were really pushing it for the 1/2.

    The weight training and body building can't be underestimated. I'm sure you know you much positive impacts are gained from building your core and leg strength. I've recently added two weights sessions in to my weekly routine.

    I found that learning to run to my heart rate was great for the long slow runs (LSD), especially in the heat and humidity of summer. It allowed me to go for a run and work at a consistent rate and effort. When it was hot I ran slower, on the cooler mornings I could run faster (with the Garmin) but at the same effort.

    What is your goal for the 1/2? Is it a constant pace, are you looking to come home stronger in the 2nd 11?

    Work out your 60-75% effort zone for your LSD. This is so important. I am also building in some quality Fartlek where you push into that 85%-90% zone for 2-3 minutes which is then followed by a drop to the 65% zone or complete rest (30-60 sec). I aim to build it to be longer in the 85% zone with less rest. eg of an 8km run 5km will be at sub 4:10 km pace.

    My goal is to drop to quicker 10kms, so I am straining shorter and harder. I hope it will allow me to drop the pace and then run a strong half.