Training to heart rate

garmin-forerunner-305-heart-rate-monitorTraining for my ironman event this July I’m doing things slightly differently.  Rather than concentrating on distance and pace, as I would for marathon training, I’m training to time and heart rate.

This means that, in the current endurance base-building phase, rather than going out for a 9 or ten-mile run at x min/mile pace, I’ll run for 90 mins at within a certain heart rate zone.   In many ways it’s refreshing not to have to worry about pace. Blimey – no, it’s fanTAStic!  It almost feels lazy… but this being ironman training, it’s the frequency that’s been getting to me.

Anyway, that’s for another blog.  Heart rate.  I did my first race to heart rate a couple of weeks ago and it was very interesting.

My plan was to use the hilly Ryde 10 mile race on the Isle of Wight as a training run while on a bit of a Winchester & District AC jolly – it’s a club league race so quite a few of us were on the 9.20 ferry from Portsmouth to Ryde.  So – no racing, just a 90 min run at the top end of my endurance heart rate zone.  On my Garmin I only had heart rate and average pace showing.  The heart rate was the only thing I kept tabs on.

It required discipline, on the first hill inside the first mile, not to forge ahead with everyone else. I had to run slowly and so many people passed me which was horrid.  But I kept the heart rate down. Then when the terrain levelled out I kept to a heart rate just slightly lower than it had been on that hill because that felt good.

And that’s how the race progressed. I had no idea about elapsed time and just focused on heart rate.  I did go for it in the last mile a bit but it was a great result. I finished within a minute of my PB – and that was set earlier this year on a less hilly course.

I normally race trying to keep close to a certain pace.  That works most of the time, but on some days you’re just not up to it for whatever reason. On others you feel brilliant and can run harder than your target pace.  This experience has made me think that I should be braver and race according to heart rate just to get the best out of my body on that particular day.

In the excellent Lore of Running, author Tim Noakes talks about the differences between long distance runners internalising and externalising.  Some runners (often less experienced ones) externalise ie when the going gets tough they try to distract themselves from  how bad their body feels by listening to music, looking at the surroundings, thinking about anything other than how much their body hurts.

By contrast, experienced and elite runners tend to internalise. Ie they concentrate on how their bodies are feeling. They tune into their bodies, go into a mental state where they may not be consciously aware of their surroundings and run very intuitively.  They are able to let their body run the way it wants to on that day.

I’m sure it’s all more complicated than that because the complexities of racing come into it but I think that, at Ryde, I somehow ran the way my body wanted to and had a good experience. Running to heart rate might have had a lot to do with that because I had no other pressures of time, pace, race placing etc.

About the Author:Lou

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