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Heart rate training: It's time to think big picture!

Do you remember when you were really young and it seemed to take forever and ever to get across town to your grandparents house? Back then you didn’t know the names of the roads or what turns. You would have surely gotten lost if you had to drive the route alone. It just seemed so far.

As the years passed you started to pay attention and learn the minute details of the route. You begin to anticipate each stop light and curve in the road. What once was an overwhelming, time-consuming trip across town is now second-nature, effortless and quite speedy. Over time you have learned the route and become incredibly efficient in making the trip.

Practice makes perfect, right?

Developing efficiency via practice, routine and repetition is the epitome of heart rate training and the aerobic energy system.

Heart rate training is a training tool to help guide athletes in applying the right amount of pressure and intensity in their workouts. When used properly in training (ie. the athlete stays routinely runs within his/her prescribed HR zones) this method has been shown to yield amazing results. How? It’s science. Honestly, it’s pretty damn cool science. Today I’m going to skip a lot of the nitty gritty (*the aerobic energy system) and focus on the main point: when performed correctly HR training within your unique HR zone gives the body opportunity to repeatedly practice sending oxygen, nutrients and other supplies to muscles in need. Over days, weeks and months the body doesn’t have a choice to but to respond. What once was an overwhelming, time-consuming trip across the cardiovascular system is now second-nature, effortless and quite speedy. Over time your body learns the pathways and becomes more efficient! Once the body is able to efficiently deliver oxygen and nutrients throughout its system, the speed of other functions improve too! In other words over time you run faster!


I am officially back on the wagon with heart rate training! After Boston 2016 I took 6 weeks off of training to a plan to freely frolick through the suburban streets of Boston. When I wanted to run fast, I ran fast! When I wanted to run slow, I ran slow. Ba-ha! Who am I kidding! I RARELY ran slow! Most of my runs were descending paced runs that started at 8:30s and zoomed all the way down to 7:20 splits. Weeeeeeee! Why? Cause it felt good!

But of course there was a catch.

I most definitely needed the mental break of following a rigid training during a personally difficult time in my life. However, over the 6 weeks I started to realize something important: my running wasn't improving. Instead of feeling stronger and up for running longer distances I started to feel somewhat sluggish on most of my runs, was nursing a tight hamstring and was reluctant to increase my mileage. 

So what happened??

What happened is that if you want to play the (run) game, you have to follow the rules- and I for one was NOT following the rules. Instead of taking 6 weeks to run easy and let my body fully recoup and recover post-Boston I ran my body into the ground on nearly every run. My heart was working overtime to push the paces I mandated and my muscles were in a constant state of fatigue. Instead of chomping at the bit of a training plan that starts out gradually and builds in volume/intensity, I was perpetually tired and reluctant to try to build mileage. Somehow even though I wasn't "training" I was overtraining!!

So what did I do? 

About a week ago I found my HR monitor and strapped it on. I turned the screen on my Garmin to HR and didn't look back. Whoa! What a difference!! When left to my own devices I was running about 30-45 seconds a mile faster than I should for my zone 1 pace. Whoopsies!! Thankfully it's never to late to come back to HR training.

My heart rate monitor reminds me that heat and humidity do play a role in how hard the body is working. It reminds me that sometimes I actually need to push harder (during tempo runs!!). It reminds me that you can't fake science. It reminds me to TRUST my coach, her plan and the darn heart rate monitor- especially when I want to stomp my feet and throw a tantrum because it won't let me run faster and farther. 

I believe my coach, my training plan and science. It’s kind of hard to refute science. And so, I’m here to tell you that from here on out I’m going to run slower, much much slower… in hopes of one day running faster.

When I feel stuck in training I will continue to remind myself:

1. Fitness doesn’t happen over night. 

Keep focusing on the big picture. Give it time. The fitness will come. The body has no choice but to listen when given enough time and I have 18 more weeks until the Baystate Half!.

2. ”Anyone can train hard; it is the discipline to train correctly that brings about success on race day.”  ~Coach Beth

Do or do not, there is no try. Follow the plan, it’s just that simple.

3. Don’t think; just run.

I have a coach so I don’t have to think or worry about my progress. That is her job. Let her do her job and make the training plan and you do your job and run. Don’t think, just run. It’s just that simple.


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