Tag Archives: easy running

Heart Rate Training Zones: A New Approach

Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on Pexels.com

Heart Rate training zone systems take for granted that a fairly high level of sustained aerobic effort is comfortable or consistently sustainable for most people, which of course it’s not. Most runners just take for granted that it’s normal and never consider that what they consider “easy” or “recovery” is in fact still too hard.

One of the reasons a runner’s aerobic development improves more quickly than their neuromuscular development is because running itself is very demanding. On both fronts you’re being pushed very hard. However, your aerobic and hormonal capacities bounce back much more quickly than your muscles, bones and joints.

Still, it’s incredibly stressful on your body chemistry to go that hard that often, and the fatigue can snowball too quickly for you to be able to handle a high volume of that kind of aerobic training.

In my cross training, I find I need to go pretty hard to get to Zone 1 in most heart rate training zone systems… somewhat too hard for the purposes of whatever cross training I’m doing. The level of effort require would leave me rather tired and possibly sore. This supposed recovery exercise ends up not helping me recover much at all.

It’s not that most runners are just stronger. They just spend all their lives in this perpetual fatigue, physical and adrenal. The long term effects on their health are taken for granted as aging or wear and tear, when in actuality it’s probably preventable… without compromising your fitness or development.

My most recent heart rate zones of choice were a standard 50/60/70/80/90/100 split based on the Karvonen Formula, which uses heart rate reserve. This is a function of your resting and max heart rates, and the zones are proportioned against those rates. Zone 1 for example would be 50-60% of the gap between your resting and max heart rate (your “heart rate reserve (HRR)”), zone 2 60-70% of the HRR, etc.

With a max HR of around 184 beats per minute, this sets my minimum training heart rate around 120 (depending on what my resting heart rate is at that time), with zone 1 peaking at about 130-135. This is about where most heart rate zone systems would put zone 1, and is considered a “recovery” heart rate.

On the spin bike, even at a brisk but easy effort, my heart rate is around 105-110. On the ARC Trainer I can get to 125-130, but only with a more moderate effort. On the rowing machine, a concerted effort typically gets me to about 110-120.

However, when running, I rarely can cruise at a heart rate below 130, no matter how slow and easy I run. I basically have to stop and walk/run to average a zone 1 heart rate. This is not a product of lacking fitness: Even at my peak condition and training in Chicago, it took the right combination of circumstances for me to average 125-130 at an easy effort.


All of this is to say that maybe our view of heart rate zones and “recovery zones” is a bit warped and could use an adjustment.

This is especially true in our coronavirus circumstances, where if we go to the gym (and in many cases train outside) we need to wear a mask while while exercising. We can’t huff and puff at full volume and expect max results if a mask is filtering much of the air taken in or expelled. I’ve talked before about this being a long term training benefit, but in the present it makes the effort required for aerobic training a bit too much.

Bear in mind as well that, to maintain the typical intensity for a full volume of training, you have to consume a lot of carbohydrates, which can cause a variety of inflammatory health problems if consumed in the large amounts that most endurance athletes tend to require.

One of the reasons low-carb diets tend not to work well for endurance athletes is because they train at an intensity where they need a lot of glycogen, and that can only come from and be replenished from a carbohydrate rich diet.

Could it be possible to scale back carb consumption to a more (shall I say) human level, rely more on slower fat burning, and still be able to train, perform, and develop at a high level.

I say yes, and I say the key to doing so is combining (now-)traditional 80/20 training principles with a revised approach to heart rate zones.

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Half Marathon Training and Finding A Faster “Easy” Pace

Training for a Half Marathon, and running quicker on eays runs than before

Ambivalent about forming any 2021 training plans, I decided none the less to use one of Garmin’s automated training plans to build up for a hypothetical half marathon by the start of next year. Being in shape to run a half by January would get me in line to be ready for a late spring marathon… if coronavirus allows it to happen.

(Incidentally, BBSC Endurance currently plans to host the Lake Mead Marathon, Half Marathon and other races on January 9, 2021, which incidentally fell 18 weeks after I had started the half marathon program. So, if that Half Marathon happens, it would be a good goal race. We’ll see.)

Garmin’s automated training plans prep for either the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon or Marathon distance. You select a desired training schedule and time goal. You choose from one of three coaches, whose identity determines the algorithm that automatically prepares your training schedule. Garmin then has you do a brief 5 minute “benchmark run” to estimate your current fitness, from which your initial workout distances, intensities, schedules, etc, are set. This benchmark also clues you into how realistic your chosen pace goal may be.

I’ve built my own training schedules for years, but for many reasons decided this time around I’d prefer to let Garmin build it for me.

  • I have more schedule flexibility.
  • I’m doing other strength and cross training
  • Garmin tends to book shorter workouts, which is easier to get done.
  • I’m studying for certifications and working on other projects.
  • I wanted to train and build volume, but didn’t want to worry too much about how to go about it.
  • Not to mention… with coronavirus cancelling everything for a while, I had nothing to lose in trying things this way.

So this time around I used an automated plan.

Garmin’s three choices for coaching styles are:

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Finally Running A Lot Again

With today’s 4.5 mile run I earned this August Rundown badge on Garmin, for running 40 miles within 2 weeks.

This sort of thing should not be a big deal if you’re running regularly. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t been running like I was before. After I stopped training due to Coronavirus cancelling everything, and since I pivoted towards strength training once I resumed training… I hadn’t been running all that much. Before beginning the badge challenge in mid-August, I had averaged zero or single digit mileage every week since March 15.

When I finished the week of August 16-22 with 14.6 miles, it was the first double digit week of mileage I had logged in 5 months. And with today’s run I finish this week of August 23-29 with 22.6 miles, my first 20+ mile week since mid-February.

Granted, I had one other practical reason for not running, aside from Coronavirus or wanting a break or wanting to focus on swolework:

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Heat Acclimation and Blood Volume In Running

One of the subjects Jonathan Savage (the FellRNR running guy) discusses at length is heat acclimation training, where you train specifically in hot conditions to either prepare yourself to race in hot conditions or to successfully race in less extreme, even more normal temperatures.

This is of course amusing to me as we in Las Vegas (and most of the United States, admittedly) are currently suffering through a bout of extreme heat. And in Vegas, we’re used to high heat, with summer days topping 100° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius), but the 110-120°F heat we have now is even above our typical pay grade.

Thus, those of us who run in Vegas get to practice heat acclimation training whether we want to or not!

Of course, Savage refers mainly to winter training for a spring marathon. In the winter temperatures fall below freezing in most parts of the country. If eventually you have to run a marathon in 60-80°F weather (15-25°C), you’re going to get hit hard by relatively warm conditions, even though you’d love to have those conditions in the middle of August. Your body will have acclimated to the other extreme of those cold conditions.

On top of that, Savage typically runs ultra-marathons in more extreme conditions like the hot and dry Badwater 135 race. So he’s not just dealing with a slightly warm marathon in London or Boston. He’s dealing with potentially 100°F heat with doubly dehydrating dry conditions. So even if it’s negative celsius or fahrenheit outside he needs to bundle up to prepare for running in 100°F weather.

Now, all that said, just because you or I have no intention of attempting such a race coming out of winter doesn’t mean that heat acclimation isn’t valuable.

Even with no races on the horizon, running in summer heat and the resulting heat acclimation (within healthy reason: Don’t go taking extended runs once the temperatures are over 100° without an abundance of cooling resources and support)… has one additional key benefit.

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Your goal pace has an easy run pace

Most runners train for a race with a goal pace in mind. Many will train for that goal pace by running it in varying distances and durations during their training.

Various authors, most recently and notably Matt Fitzgerald in 80/20 Running, advocate building a solid base of mostly easy running from which you can do a bit of tempo-specific running each week. This makes sense since your ability to run fast won’t matter much without the aerobic development to sustain a desired pace over your desired race distance.

Jeff Gaudette of Runners Connect takes this a step farther. He actually posits that most runners already have the desired speed to run a goal pace, that what they lack and need to develop is the aerobic and neuromusucular fitness to sustain that pace for their desired race distance.

Gaudette has a good point. Whenever you are able, go outside and run as fast as you reasonably can (i.e. don’t hurt yourself). I imagine if your pace was measured you’d easily exceed your desired goal pace.

I also imagine you won’t be able to hold that fast-as-you-can pace for very long. Running at max speed, you’ll be winded and your muscles will be neurally screaming in seconds. I’ve done max speed reps for giggles a few times, and I find the longest I can reasonably go at that intensity is about 30-45 seconds.

When we do speedwork, we’re not really training ourselves to run faster. Most of us already can run pretty fast. What we’re training is the ability to hold a given speed over a desired distance, whether that distance is 400 meters, 5K, or a marathon. (Ultra distance runners by and large have other aerobic and endurance concerns during training aside from speed)

This is why many coaches say the goal of speedwork should be economy, i.e. refining your form and taking every step as efficiently as possible, so that when you run your races you’ve honed and improved the efficiency of every step.

I realize I’m digressing a bit. I mentioned easy pace for a reason. We focus a lot on speedwork, on our goal pace, while forgetting that every goal pace has a corresponding pace at other distances… as well as a corresponding regular and recovery run pace.

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