Running To Heart Rate

Guest blog by Coach Michael Hallas

Heart rate training has been around for over 30 years now, but many of us still don’t fully understand it’s importance or use it correctly in our training. The heart is an amazing creation, but is in effect a muscle like any other and it’s function can be adapted.

When to use it, and how

People often say to me, “I don’t bother using heart rate for running, it’s too hard to keep it down”. To me this is the exact reason why you should be using heart rate to control your running effort, especially on those longer, aerobic runs which are so important to endurance athletes. Simply put, your heart rate is too high on the longer runs because you’re running too fast, or have very poor aerobic fitness. You can change this.

The first step is some testing to establish some training zones. A simple 5k time trial wearing your heart rate monitor will achieve this. You could run longer if you are training for longer distances, but the main thing is you carry out a good warm up (20mins) then run the test at a sustained hard effort, we call this your threshold.

Once you have the data from your test you or your coach can help to set your training zones, these will allow you to accurately measure and judge your efforts in training and, when more experienced, in races too.

The beauty of running this way is that you can measure your effort level perfectly, regardless or terrain or other variable factors. This has an advantage over pace running as trying to hold the same pace on a hill as on the flat is another form of run suicide.

Training on the long runs may now seem too slow, this is good, as they should be at an easy talking pace. You can now use the heart rate data to give you live information when out on the run to alert you if you’re going to hard. Here is an example of an aerobic run, completed entirely in Zones 1 and 2:

On the flipside, you can tell if you have worked hard enough on your effort sessions, tracking your heart rate spikes in line with your increases in pace.

The beauty of running this way is that you can measure your effort level perfectly, regardless or terrain or other variable factors.

Race tactics

Recently, I decided to run a half marathon entirely on heart rate. I conducted several threshold run sessions before the event and determined from my 5k tests along with these training threshold runs that my target heart rate for the race was between 170-175bpm. Something to point out before you try this is that it is essential to carry out a thorough 15 to 20min warm up before trying to sustain your threshold heart rate for a length of time. To simply set off cold and try to reach it and hold it would be suicide. You will eventually reach the number, then overshoot it, followed by a big drop off and a sustainable number lower than your target. You want to be warm, hit the number quickly then hold it. The below image shows how the race went.

You can see from the graph that my target was achievable, it felt hard, but not too hard that I had to stop running. There was even room for a little increase in the last mile or so as the effort was well judged to leave just a little in the tank for a strong finish.

The beauty of running this way is that you can measure your effort level perfectly, regardless or terrain or other variable factors. This has an advantage over pace running as trying to hold the same pace on a hill as on the flat is another form of run suicide. Using heart rate will force you to slow down as you climb a hill to maintain your target heart rate.

Why not give this a try over the next few weeks in training, determine your target heart rate and then try to hold this at a local event or a park run.

Let us know how you get on or get in touch if you have any questions!


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