I came across the concept of heart-rate based training last year when Sweaty Emily wrote a lot about the benefit of training this way. Specifically, she talked about two things – doing the majority if not all of your runs at an aerobic zone (based on a HR that is determined on an individual basis) and training with a high fat / low carb diet. A combination of these two approaches supposedly improves your body’s ability to use fat as your main fuel source, rather than carbs.
I wrote it off for a while, because I thought I was already taking on a conservative approach with my running. Last year, I adopted what I thought was an 80/20 approach with my training and I like to think that it helped me stay uninjured and get faster.
I don’t know what happened, but I feel like I lost sight of that recently. Maybe I got too fixated on training “harder” for my Fall marathon. I stopped listening to my body and “running easy”. I thought my body would eventually adapt and things would improve. Instead, every single run was starting to suck and I couldn’t hit my target paces on my interval days. I blamed marathon recovery, the oppressive heat, and the stress from the move to Vancouver.
Over the last few weeks, I have been actively trying to slow down my easy runs. I hoped it would help, but when my glute/hamstring started acting up and hurting on every run I went on – fast or slow – I just snapped and realized that I would likely be injured for the rest of the year if I didn’t make some bigger changes. So, I took the plunge and bought the a new fancy watch with a wrist heart rate monitor. I had been thinking about it for a while (my last watch purchase was from 6 years ago!) and used the Maffetone 180 formula to come up with my target “aerobic training zone” (145-150 bpm).
My plan so far is to keep one tempo session and one steady state long run each week. Both of these will be completed outside of my target MAF heart rate. To be honest, I’m doing this to keep my sanity. I have a group of girls that I love doing my long runs with, but running with them, even at our slower long run pace will most certainly set me over my 150bpm target. I’m willing to sacrifice this for now. I also want to keep one speed session a week in case I still race the Victoria marathon on Oct 11 (but in all honestly, that is not likely at this point). I might do hills on Tuesdays, as long as I keep my warm up / cool downs easy and the hills session (e.g. the part where my HR will be outside my aerobic zone) will be short. This is mostly to keep my hill fitness since most races around here all seem to be pretty hilly. The rest of my runs will be completed within my MAF zone which, I’ll be honest, feels really slow relative to how I’m used to running. For the sake of comparison, that has meant slowing down my easy runs to 10:30/mi (6:30/km) from the 8:50-9:40/mi (5:30-6:00/km) that I was running them at before.
Patience has never been one of my strong suits, so it has been tough to “trust in the process”. But I’ve read quite a bit around this approach and I do believe it works. I don’t think I’ll see any real changes by the Victoria Marathon if I still run it. I don’t even know if I will see changes by next Spring… which will really suck because I’m so impatient! But, the idea is that eventually, I will naturally be running at my old easy run paces or faster at the same heart rate, which should translate into better endurance overall and faster race times in the future.
I’m pretty flexible, though, so if I feel like I need to tweak something, I will. So far, I’m determined to give this an honest go, even if that means sacrificing my races in the short term. Ask me if I still feel this way in a month, though. 😉