I’ve heard a lot of runners say that their running watch came with a heart rate strap, but they’ve never used it because they don’t know how to run by heart rate. Lucky for you, once you figure out which zones to target, it’s really easy! I personally run with the Garmin Vivoactive 3 which has an optical HR monitor in the watch. I don’t even need a strap!
Monitoring your HR while running (and working out) can be incredibly helpful, especially when it comes to racing. By running by heart rate (essentially, running by effort), it removes all the guesswork of what pace you should do for each training run and what to pace target for each race. Once you master your heart rate zones, you can finish every race feeling like you truly gave it your all. You might even start throwing down some massive PRs.
The most helpful article I’ve read is from RunnersWorld.com: How To Use A Heart Rate Monitor. It explains everything pretty clearly without a lot of technical terms. After reading that article, to make it easy to calculate heart rates, I created this spreadsheet: Calculate Your Heart Rate for Running/Training. You can also check out this calculator from RunnersWeb.com.
OK, so now you know your target heart rates, or at least, what one article suggests … now what? Keep in mind, I am NOT an expert, not a coach, not a personal trainer, etc etc etc. But this is what I’ve noticed for me. And this is after monitoring my HR on every single run for well over a year.
Photo by Micaela Bernal
Heart Rate Zones are averages
I tend to think of the heart rate zones on that chart as averages. And they are also suggestions. After tracking my heart rate during every run for awhile, and doing a variety of distances, paces and running in various conditions, I started to notice my own personal variations.
For most runners, the “easy/long” zone will feel really easy. Maybe too easy. But there is a reason they call long runs “LSD” – long slow distance. I will admit sometimes for my easy/long runs, I let my heart rate go a little bit above the suggested zone.
For the race zones, I definitely treat the zones as averages (of my overall HR during the duration of the race). With one exception. I find that the suggested HR for a 5K is generally where I should be at the very end. But I have to build up to that point. If I try to hit that HR as soon as possible after the start and hold it … I know I would vomit and/or choke. Maybe that’s just me, and other runners are able to maintain that effort. Or maybe I don’t do enough speedwork. (Probably.)
For the longer races, I find that I can build up to a HR higher than what that chart suggests during the last 1-3 miles. So again, these are averages – you’re starting every race in the easy zone, warming up, and then building up to the end, when you should leave whatever you have left on the course. So I’m generally only in their suggested zone for any give race during the early through middle miles, then build up above the zone for the end.
Weather Affects Your Effort
This isn’t news, but the weather affects your effort. Running by heart rate can make it much easier to adjust in the summer when temperatures heat up. It’s been than just guessing (or trying to run your winter fall/winter/spring paces) and being disappionted that your usual pace feels so hard.
Time Off Requires Rebuilding
When I’m building back up after taking a long break from running, I can’t just jump right back in and expect to do those heart rates for those durations. Especially not for races. Like anything else fitness-related, you have to build back up to be able to maintain elevated heart rates for extended periods of time.
You’ll Start to Improve
I personally feel that training and racing by heart rate is far more effective and efficient for me than just targeting the paces that I think I should do. Because that doesn’t take into account my current fitness level, and things like hydration, temperature, if I got a good night’s sleep and fueled properly, etc. But I found once I started training by heart rate – keeping easy and long runs truly easy, and pushing myself appropriately during intervals and tempos, I found that I could achieve faster paces with the same effort. And on race day, I could pace myself approrpriately to achieve a PR, or, at the very least, feel like I left everything out there on the course.
Also, for longer runs, be sure to put on some Body Glide between you and the HR strap.
More reading on this topic:
MarathonGuide.com: Heart Monitor Training
CoolRunning.com: The Power of Pace & Heart Rate Training
Competitor.com: Training with a Heart Rate Monitor
RunnersWorld.com: Heart Rate Training – Is It Right For You?
Do you run by heart rate? Any other suggestions?