Please Note: I am not a coach or professional runner. I am writing this blog using my own experience with HRT. You should check with your doctor or medical professional before starting any exercise regime.
Also note that my HRT plan is based on the book:
Heart Monitor Training for the Complete Idiot by John L. Parker, Jr.
There are different books with slightly different plans, choose which is best for you.
As a runner you have probably seen something like this…
Admittedly I love this slogan! Why? Because I believe every runner fast or slow is still a runner. We cover the same miles in the end no matter what the time! But did you know running slow may actually be the key to running faster with less effort?
Welcome to the world of Heart Rate Training or HRT.
So where in the world did I even hear out about HRT?
After reading “Finding Ultra” by Rick Roll (in which he touches upon his experience with Heart Rate Training) I remembered reading a blog about HRT on Shut Up + Run (click here to read her post) a while back. Being August (at the time) and with a half marathon on the schedule for October, I decided that book was a good place to start. I was not in great long distance aerobic shape at all since I hadn’t run a half in almost a year.
I bought the book, “Heart Monitor Training for the Complete Idiot” by John L Parker, Jr. and got started. Now I have to tell you Heart Rate based training is first and foremost HUMBLING. It will knock your butt off your running pedestal after run #1. But we will get more into that later. The basic idea is that most people train far too often in their anaerobic zone, even when they don’t realize it. That was totally me and most likely, it’s also you. While most gains are actually made in the aerobic base building zone.
Aerobic vs Anaerobic training
For the sake of keeping things as simple as possible (you know keep it simple stupid) I will use the following colors for each word to help us keep track:
- Aerobic (pink, easy runs where most of HRT takes place)
- Anaerobic (red, faster running, less time is spent here in HRT) Not that there isn’t a place for faster running because there absolutely is. But it’s how often should you be in this anaerobic zone that might surprise you.
OK so lets step back a minute and discuss the differences of Aerobic vs. Anaerobic.
I found this on My Food Diary :
“During aerobic conditions, the muscle cells have adequate fuel and oxygen, and they can contract repeatedly without fatigue.”
“During anaerobic conditions, muscle cells must rely on other reactions that do not require oxygen. This anaerobic metabolism in the cells produces waste molecules that can impair muscle contractions. This results in fatigue. Fatigue causes you to experience added discomfort and weakening muscles. Eventually you will need to lower your intensity level and allow your body to remove the waste molecules.”
Using the above definitions we can conclude the idea behind aerobic training is training without fatigue to build your running base. The heart of HRT (no pun intended) is building your aerobic base.
Less fatigue = less stress on the body = less injury = stronger base
Build a strong base and eventually the faster pace will come. The science behind HRT is actually pretty cool and I enjoyed learning about it. However I won’t be going all scientific on you in this post.
If you do want more info you can check out this great article from Runners Connect it’s worth the read.
Note: There are a few different books out on HRT and they do have some variations.
As I mentioned earlier the book I am basing this post off is the one I started off with:
“Heart Monitor Training for the Complete Idiot” John L. Parker, Jr.
So how exactly does one build their aerobic base with HRT?
Well that’s the kicker. You do MOST of your weekly running slow at or below your aerobic training heart rate. And by slow I mean…
How slow? That depends on your specific training heart rate. And will differ for each person depending on factors like age, health, injuries etc.
Wondering what your easy training heart rate might be?
An fairly simple formula to use is called the MAF 180 (Maximum Aerobic Function)
Click here to find out more from
TriFind.com about calculating your MAF training heart rate.**
**MAF is not the formula used in Heart Rate Training for Idiots but it lined up pretty darn close. And is popular among those using Heart Rate Training.
And so it began: Time to set aside your pride and get humble, really humble.
The hardest part of HRT for me (and it seems most participants) has been realizing how slow my base building pace really should be. In fact in the beginning I had to walk…a lot. Even today I still have to run/walk on my easy run days. Seriously humbling. On a happier note I have read about elite athletes (i.e.: Rich Roll) having to walk hills when beginning HRT. That made me feel a lot better. In other words you can be a fast runner and have a crappy aerobic base.
It’s also NOT easy to give up your “get out there and get it done as fast as you can” mentality. I have read about people ready to throw the towel in after day #1 of HRT. So if your going to do it your really need to commit to the process. Check your pride and the door and dig in. I admit I have strayed off the path a few times myself, but I buckled myself back in and am seeing benefits.
So what can HRT do for you?
Let me break it down in layman’s, or even better Runfyhp cupcakey (yes it’s a word, don’t judge) terms. You will be doing most of your weekly running slowly, at first possibly even painfully slow (maybe even walking like me). But this is how you will begin building up your aerobic base. In our “cupcakey” example the base is the bottom half of your cupcake. You know the part that holds up all the good magical stuff (the frosting!). Strong, sturdy and the biggest part.
If your base is not strong you won’t be built to last. And I don’t know about you but I would like to keep on running for as many years as I can. I’m not saying you can’t get fast any other way, BUT training at your anaerobic threshold on a regular basis is more likely to get you injured, fatigued and at some point dare I say it….you’ll drop your frosting!!!!! Gasp!!! And no one wants that.
Injury / Fatigue =Pain / Frustration =Time off
However over time using HRT at your aerobic pace you build a strong base and will begin to reap the benefits of your running potential. That’s when the sweet stuff happens “the frosting” if you will. You begin to reach your happy pace with less effort! Easy runs become easier at a faster pace, tempo runs become quicker AND you don’t feel beat up after a run. Then when the time comes to race you should be strong, healthy, injury free and able to hold up and enjoy every bit of it.
OK so there is some bad news:
- Progress is slow, running at first is also slow. It will take time, probably more than most of us would like.
- Patience and persistence are key. This WILL NOT happen overnight.
- Once you begin to reap the base building benefits you have to push yourself harder on tempo and speed work days to get your HR up. But this is actually a good thing!
Benefits will happen. I am starting to see progress with my pace. And best of all I feel great after a run! It works if you have patience and stick to the program.
You might ask….Do you run slow on every run? No. The program I have followed from “Heart Monitor Training for the Complete Idiot” includes a weekly tempo run (at a specific Tempo Heart Rate) and weekly speed work (also at my specific Interval Training Heart Rate) These heart rates are different from my easy run HRT. But yes all other weekly runs should be done at my easy pace. I’m trying I swear!
- You will build up a solid aerobic base
- You will run more efficiently
- Most runs are done at an easy comfortable pace (which gets faster with time I promise)
- It will prevent over-training or under training by working at the right intensity for each run
- You don’t feel beat up at the end of a run
- You should be less prone to injury
- Eventually your pace will improve (you will be running longer and stronger at an easier effort)
- I would, at least, get a HRT book, or a coach if your so inclined, to help walk you through the steps of HRT
- Be prepared to run slow (and possibly walk) in the beginning (like painfully slow, I’m not gonna lie)
- Progress takes time (how much depends on the starting point of your aerobic base)
- You will need to invest in a Heart Rate Monitor (if you don’t already own one)
- Humility and Pride need to be checked at the door BEFORE you leave for your run
For me Heart Rate Training has been a huge blessing. I don’t feel as tired and beat up after a run, my times and paces are beginning to show improvement and I have been able to find my happy pace on almost every run. If your worried about your pace or training I would suggest starting HRT in your “off-season” That may help you with persistence at sticking to the program.
I would love to hear if any of you decide to try HRT out. Its working for me, maybe it can work for you too!
So who’s ready for the challenge?