Intuitive intervals: Using a heart rate monitor to pace your run/walk intervals

If you have a Garmin watch you can set it to alert you during workouts if your heart rate goes higher or lower than a given threshold… kind of like a built in speed limit monitor for your heart rate.

I tried this feature once and quickly disabled it. I wanted to just run at my own pace and found the alarms when I reached a moderate heart rate annoying.

After a long recent layoff, as I recently started ramping up training, I found basic runs to be a bit too difficult, and sure enough my heart rate would rocket into marathon pace and the lactate threshold. It’s one reason I started doing Galloway style intervals, run/walking the workouts in 2 minute run, 1 minute walk intervals.

Galloway Intervals kept my heart rate level on-average: Even if it spiked during the runs, the minute of walking would bring it back down, the overall average more closely resembling a typical easy run. And overall the effort on these runs didn’t feel terribly difficult.

I’ve since gone on actual full-length training runs of 30+ minutes, and this past weekend I ran a 10K (albeit at closer to regular training paces), so I’m now in condition to run at distance again.

But I want to improve the usage of my natural speed. Now that I track walks on my Garmin watch, I can track paces of not just my walks, but those moments when I run across streets and the pace of those brief, hurried sprints that have always been a part of Working Class Running.

I find those easy, brief sprints vary around a 5:00-7:30 pace without much difficulty. I have speed, but it’s hard to maintain that speed over anything beyond those random little sprints. Even in 400 meter repeats and other workouts I find it very tough.

Is there a way to develop my ability to use that speed at distance in a race?

I think there’s a way, and it goes back to that once-annoying Garmin alert feature.

I don’t want to do a ton of tough workouts and over-tax my circulatory system to exhaustion or burnout, risks if I train as I did before.

However, as my Galloway workouts showed, if I run/walk a workout, I can run fairly hard/fast so long as I slow to a walk instead of a jog. On those workouts I allowed myself to run however fast/hard I wanted, and could get up to 7:15-7:30 a mile on some of those intervals (though they typically were closer to 9:00-9:30).

If I just ran at fixed Galloway intervals, all I’d do is get good at running for those fixed intervals provided I had a walk break. What if my fitness growth outpaces the parameters of these workouts?

But if I run according to pace, the effort required progressively becomes harder and it often becomes too hard to finish a given interval or workout. I end up working harder than the workout is designed for.

Going back to the Garmin heart rate alert feature, I could set it to alert me if I go below or above zone 2 (which is 65-75% of max heart rate).

I start a run and run. As soon as the high alert hits, I slow to a walk. I walk until the watch alerts me that my heart rate is too low. Then I take off running again.

On a given day, I could go as fast as I could comfortably go, to work on stretching that 5:00-7:00/mile speed, until the alert kicks in. I could just run a sustainably easy pace, which ideally would last longer before the alert kicks in.

In each case I walk as long as I need to. If I can’t get the heart rate to come down after a few minutes, it’s probably time to end the workout. But ideally I can go at least half an hour with these intuitive intervals.

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