At the end of last fall I started working with Steve Ashbaker (an elite runner that lives near me) to try and improve my endurance and reach my running goals. We only worked together for about five weeks before I got injured, but I am continuing down the road that he started me on.
Steve suggested I focus on heart rate training.
- Measure my resting heart rate (RHR) in the morning to see if my body has recovered from previous training. I use a clip on pulse oximeter that I stick on my finger to check this before I get out of bed. Most days my RHR is between 47-48 beats per minute (BPM). If it above 51, I know my body is still stressed and that I should take a rest day or an easy day.
- On over-distance days, keep my heart rate between 75-80% of my maximum heart rate (MHR). I know that my MHR is around 174-175, so am using 175 as my rate for calculations.
- On easy/rest days, keep my heart rate below 65% of my MHR.
- On long distance days (usually Saturday), keep my heart rate between 60-75% of my MHR.
For measuring my training heart rate, I was using a Polar heart rate monitor (HRM). For several years I used a middle of the line HRM from Polar, but after about 4 battery replacements, it seemed to give up the ghost last summer. My sister had a cheap Polar HRM that I had given her as a gift a couple of years back. Since I also gave her a Garmin with a HRM attached for Christmas 2008, she had never used the Polar. I bought it off her and started using it last fall.
When I started measuring my heart rate while running, I felt like I was pathetically out of shape. On my over-distance days, I had to focus to keep my speed down in the correct range. For a slow person, having to slow down just destroyed my poor, fragile ego. There were also a couple of days when the HRM seemed to go crazy and I would have to run for about 10 minutes and turn it back on and then it would work okay.
It got to the point that I no longer wore my Garmin on regular runs because my pace in minutes per mile was embarrassing and frustrating. Last Saturday I was doing an 8 mile long distance run. In order to keep my heart rate in the proper range, I was running 15-16 minute miles. That is a long time to run and think, so I decided that maybe the fault didn’t lie in my pathetic shape, but in the cheap HRM.
On Sunday I read the guide for a new, top of the line Polar HRM that my son and ex-husband gave me for Christmas. I adjusted all the settings and decided to use it this morning for my 5 mile run. What a shock! I had to push to keep my heart rate in the correct range (at the bottom of the level) and actually felt like a runner again. Lesson learned – if something seems really wrong, it probably is. I estimate it will take a week or two to get my body used to running faster again, but am much happier doing that than feeling like the tortoise in the Tortoise and the Hare story.