You Gotta Have Heart, Miles & Miles & Miles of Heart!

Posted by Filed Under: Training

This is part four in a series about heart rate training: Part one is about Karnoven Heart Rate Training Zones/Targets, part two is about your Resting Heart Rate and part three deals with Maximum Heart Rate.
I have an admission to make. I am fantastically craptacular at knowing how fast I should be running for any given workout.

I have a lot of trouble in this area so I thought I’d talk about my struggles and share how I’m learning to deal with them. I hope this helps you.

Easy Schmeasy

When we take up running, we’re usually introduced to the “hard” versus “easy” concept. One of the first things we runners are taught is that we should never do hard run after hard run after hard run, and that what we should do is to alternate between running hard and easy. Sounds simple enough right? If you nodded your head, you’re one up on me.

You see, I’ve always had a tough time understanding exactly what “hard” and “easy” really mean. Try this well-known guideline on for size:

You should be able to carry on a conversation when doing “easy” runs.

This doesn’t quite cut it for me because I can talk up a storm running a fairly fast pace. The truth is, I like to talk and the talent for doing it at any speed is well honed. Also, when I run alone, I talk mostly inside my head largely because people think I’m insane when I talk out loud while running by myself. And that’s a problem because I can talk and talk and talk very comfortably inside my head while running. Really. It’s no problem.

Once in a while, I remind myself that being able to talk inside my head is not a very good guide for how fast I should be running so, after checking to make sure no one is watching, I start talking out loud to myself. Sometime’s I’ll even sing a little. No kidding. My favorite song to sing while running is “I Feel Good” by James Brown. Strange thing is, I generally don’t care much for that song but it works for me while running. Must be the endorphins.

…hang on a second while I look for my point …Oh yeah, the “talk while you run” guideline doesn’t work for me so I can’t use that tool for figuring out what “easy” means and that means I have just as bad a time figuring out what “hard” means. Don’t even get me started on “harder” and “hardest.”

See where I’m going with this? If you don’t really have a handle on this most basic stuff, how can you exert the proper effort for your recovery runs, tempo runs, intervals and marathon pace runs? It’s like building a house on a shaky foundation. You just don’t know.

And if you don’t know, how do you know if you are under- or over-training? Yikes.

Should You Use Pace as the Basis for How Hard You Should Run?

One method often used to pinpoint effort and pace is to run a race—the idea being that by running a race, you have a baseline that can be used to extrapolate what your training paces should be. A great tool for doing this is the McMillan Running Calculator.

Only problem with going strictly by pace is that trying to consistently correlate pace to effort (“easy” versus “hard”) is difficult. If you have any doubt of this, just ask yourself why running the same pace can feel so much easier or harder on different days.

You Gotta Have Heart!

We’ve established that my ability to guage pace and effort is poor. We’ve also established that using races as a baseline can be problematic. So, is there another way to guage the effort you should expend for various runs?

Yup—by incorporating heart rate zones and target heart rates into your training plans.

In previous articles, I talked about Maximum Heart Rate (MHR), Resting Heart Rate (RHR), and the Karvoven Method for determining heart rate training zones/targets. It’s time to put those discussions, and today’s post into the context of a training plan built on accurately guaging effort.

The following is from the Polar (heart rate monitor) site:

By monitoring heart rate, the simple observation that the harder we exercise, the faster our heart beats is put to good use. Professional athletes and amateurs alike have for decades been relying on the information provided by their heart rate monitor for the following reasons:

1. A heart rate monitor is like a rev counter, giving a precise measurement of exercise intensity.
2. Training at your own ideal pace is made possible with a heart rate monitor.
3. Direct measurement of heart rate during exercise is the most accurate way to gauge performance.
4. Progress can be monitored and measured, increasing motivation.
5. It maximizes the benefits of exercise in a limited amount of time.
6. It introduces objective observation. Are you on the right track? Are you improving?
7. It is a tool for regulating frequency and intensity of workouts.
8. Because of the immediate feedback it provides, heart rate monitoring is an ideal training partner.

How does it work? When you start training, your heart rate increases rapidly in proportion to the intensity of the training. The heart moves blood from the lungs (where the blood picks up oxygen) to the muscles (which burn the oxygen as fuel) and back to the lungs again. The harder the training, the more fuel the muscles need and the harder the heart has to work to pump oxygen-rich blood to the muscles.

As you get fitter, your heart is able to pump more blood with every beat. As a result, your heart doesn’t have to beat as often to get the needed oxygen to your muscles, decreasing resting heart rate and exercise heart rate on all exertion levels.

Wrapping It All Up

  1. Your heart rate is the best, most consistent way to measure effort.
  2. Your heart rate is a consistent, accurate guage of effort that is independent of how subjectively easy or hard a run feels on any given day, or even at different moments within a run.
  3. Your heart rate tells you if you are running to fast or too slow for any given training zone you are working in, thus
  4. Ensuring you do not under- or overtrain.
  5. It can maximize your potential, and
  6. Minimize your chances for getting injured due to over-training.

About Mark Iocchelli

Also known as the "Running Blogfather", I'm a 40-something marathoner who has beaten stress fractures and terrible shin splints. Now I'm running double the mileage with no pain - and I'm getting faster. I love to talk about running form and Arthur Lydiard. I also enjoy taking photographs, have a beautiful (and very patient!) wife, and am the proud father of two crazy kids. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about the site.

  1. Anne on November 9th at 9:50 am

    I’m with you Mark when it comes to running and talking. I’m known for speeding up when I talk, rather than slowing down.

    This was a great series. Thanks for putting it together.

  2. EJ Murphy on November 9th at 1:26 pm

    OK, so you have convinced me to go out and buy/borrow a heart rate monitor even though I’m not convinced that I am one of those people who can’t judge my effort. However I do use my Garmin to confirm that I am moving as fast/slow as I think I am, so it will be interesting to see how the readings match up to my perceptions. Note: The following is a confession that I have never shared with anyone-I have always counted when I run. There it is, I said it, or typed it. Anyways, I don’t know why I do it and I usually count to 20 and then start over again. I count fast sometimes and slow other times depending on how fast or slow I am moving. I have thought about why I do this and realize that I am not counting my foot steps, so what am I counting? It might just be my minds way of recording my pace or heart rate or breathing or effort. Anyways it is driving me crazy so that is why I rarely run alone. I’ll take talking over counting anytime.

  3. Tanya on November 9th at 3:34 pm

    Great article Mark!

    I don’t like talking at all when I run regardless of the speed. I just like listening to the talkers.

    Here is to all you talkers keeping the listeners entertained.

  4. Tammy on November 9th at 9:53 pm

    Super article! And I love your humor… reminds me of me, or at least my attempts 😉

    P.S. I count when I run as well.. but only to 4. Same thing when I swim… 1, 2, 3, breath… so I guess I only count to 3 when I swim. Numbers make me happy.

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