Heart Rate Training | Why It Is Important For Runners

Heart rate training was something I never considered when I was in high school. I had no idea what I was doing as a teenager and was still learning as a collegian.

Unfortunately, heart rate training was never on my mind and no one ever told me the importance of implementing this form of training until I arrived to Malone University in the spring of 1996.

Early Days

My focus was in the wrong areas. I was too concerned with breaking my stadium record, this record, that record or trying to run an all-out mile in 4.24 in duel meets when I could have won with a 5.10.

The focus was on the event, not where it should have been, on the process.

You can’t run hard all the time.

I missed the state meet, running a 4.26 in a highly competitive mile and finished 6th (top 4 went to state) but a few weeks earlier I ran a 4.24 totally by myself and second place in that race was 5.13.

It was complete non-sense. There was no focus on the long-term and I didn’t believe in delayed gratification.

What I should have done was conserved when I needed to and attacked at the right time (the regional final where I took 6th and missed the state meet by two places, 4th was 4.24)

We see someone who runs a world-class time and we want that. We see a shiny sports car, we want it.

‘The event’ is glorified, while the process, the sweat and disappointment that comes along with effort is never seen or talked about as much.

It is sad because that is the most powerful part of training. It makes me think of a quote by the great Mohammad Ali,

The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road; long before I dance under those lights.

I received an email from a gentleman I coach who said this beautifully,


Yes, maybe people would envy some of the things I’ve accomplished.  I believe, as I think you had mentioned before, that people tend to focus on the end result, not the process.  Recently, I’ve had friends congratulate me.  One friend said it was ‘amazing’ what I did. I was not trying to diminish the accomplishment, but I said that there was nothing amazing about it.  In my mind, it happened due to a lot of hard work and persistence.  Still, I was very grateful for the compliment. 

It happened due to a lot of hard work and persistence. THAT is the key and bill is 100% right.

PERIODIZATION

You can go out for a run, thinking you are running easy, but your heart rate is sitting at 160 beats per minute. You are running too hard.

It takes patience to hold back. If you are running in a group and you have an easy run planned and your heart rate is at 168, you need to back off.

It takes more common sense to have the knowledge and hold back, then it is to run faster then you should and go with the group and not get the benefit from your hard work by not listening to your intuition and heart rate.

Jack Hazen, introduced me to heart rate training. He has coached at Malone University for the past 45 years and was the head mens and women’s distance coach for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Hear me out. That is a reason for pause. This is a man, along with world-renowned exercise physiologist and elite running coach, Joe Vigil, who advocates implementing heart rate training into your training routine as do many of the world’s top coaches and experts.

I have never stopped usingheart rate monitors since I started in 1995. I have used them religiously on my long runs and tempo runs for the past 18 years.

I have never used a heart rate monitor before? How do I know what heart rate to hold while I am running?

Here were the guidelines Jack gave us when I was competing at Malone University.

1. Easy Pace – 130-40 beats per minute

2. Moderate Pace – 140-150 beats per minute

3. Hard Pace – 150-160 beats per minute

Anaerobic Threshold - 160-75 beat per minute  AT training is one of the best training zones you can sit at. The problem is it hurts but there is a trade off to that pain, the ability to tolerate and maintain the pace you want to hold in a race.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN NATHAN?

Training adaptation is key. Heart rate training will help you get there because it assists and guards you from overtraining. You spend time training at the optimal training zone armed with the knowledge of knowing you are not running faster then you should.

You want to get to a point where you are gradually, over time, extending the amount of time you spend at the point where lactic acid starts to build in your blood stream.

Heart rate training makes that process easier. It is isn’t easy, by any means, but it is much easier to wear a Garmin heart rate monitor and be able to look down and see where your heart rate is.

If you have a long run planned and you know you need to hit around 150-55 beats per minute or about 60-70% of your maximum heart rate to get better equipped to attack your goal race pace, then all you have to do is look at the watch to know if you need to speed up or slow down.

This takes patience.

4. Aerobic Capacity – Aerobic capacity running is very intense. You are working at near sprint speed and heart rates exceeding your race heart rate levels.

There is another term for this form of training in the elite running world, Vo2 Max, it is the maximum oxygen uptake your body can produce.

Below is a picture of me undergoing a V02 max test administered by world renowned exercise physiologist, Dr. Randy Wilber, at the USA Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

THE HAZEN-VIGIL TRAINING PHILOSOPHY

Coach Hazen, during the last three weeks of our cross country season leading into the National Championships, based our training around the philosophy of Dr. Joe Vigil.

Three weeks before the national championships we did an all-out two-mile followed by three, 1-mile repeats working at 94% of our maximum effort.

The best I did on this workout was 9.27, 4.32, 4.41, 4.38.

We had full recovery after the 2-mile as this is an extremely anaerobic workout, the idea is you are working with such high volumes of lactic acid in your body that it super compensates.

Volume drops but intensity goes up. This was the tapering philosophy being our training regiment at Malone University.

Two weeks from the championships we would do an all-out 2-mile and two, 1-mile repeats and the week before we did an all-out mile and jogged the rest of the week.

Vigil is one of the world’s leading authorities on exercise physiology and elite running coach and he is one of the main reasons why I take heart rate training so seriously.

I have attached the video where he speaks about the training we did and about the respiratory threshold and what heart rate training at aerobic capacity can do (starting at 4.18 in)

 THE PROS OF HEART RATE TRAINING

  1. Knowledge of where your heart rate is sitting during exercise
  2. Prevention from overtraining
  3. Great way to track your training i.e. knowledge of mile splits, overall pace, calories burned
  4. Knowledge of knowing when to speed up or slow down
  5. Your heart will not have to work as hard as it did, once it adapts to the stress load, because it will be able to deliver more blood to the muscles of your body.
  6. Once adaptation occurs, approximately within a 3-week period, you are easily able to maintain heart rates that previously were much harder to maintain

THE CONS OF HEART RATE TRAINING

  1. Heart rates vary during the day. Your morning heart rate is usually 5-6 beats lower then in the afternoon. You can expect to run a little faster in the morning then in the afternoon when basing your training with heart rate monitors
  2. Heart rates increase as temperatures rise.
  3. Dehydration causes a rise in heart rate so if you are running with a heart rate monitor and you are dehydrated your heart rate will be higher so having that working knowledge will help you the next time you have a harder workout planned.

Several scientific studies have proven that our heart rate varies from day to day, although they have not found a reason for this.

There are some days where you simply are not going to run as fast as other days so don’t be alarmed by that if one day you are just not hitting the splits. It happens.

YOUR HEART WILL NOT LIE

A good way to guard yourself against overtraining is to check your resting heart rate in the morning. I have received this same advice from some of the world’s top coaches, Jack Hazen, Joe Vigil and Lisa Rainsberger (winner of the 1985 Boston Marathon in 2.34.04).


If your resting heart rate in the morning is 6 to 8 beats higher then usual, you need to either take the day off or jog. If you had a hard training session planned on that particular day, back off and do it the following day.

One last key bit of advice. You want to always run at a heart rate of at least 130 beats per minute. Jack would tell us while I was competing for Malone that if you are running at a heart rate of 120 or below all you are doing is burning blood sugar (glucose).

You are not burning fat.

Remember, the key is to utilize fat as your primary fuel source in training and especially at speeds mimicking the pace you want to race at.

If you simply want to burn fat you need to run at least at a heart rate of 130 beats per minute and around 65-80% of your max heart rate when doing long runs.

Long runs on the lower end of your heart rate will help you burn fat but remember the trick is to burn fat at speeds relative to the pace you want to race at.

TWO HEART RATE MONITORS I HIGHLY RECOMMEND

THE GARMIN 405

The Garmin 405 is my favorite heart rate monitor and when my Garmin 610 dies I will be going back to it.

The only real downside to it (and most GPS watches) is the time it takes to track satellites.

This time varies but usually this watch will pick up a satellite to track your progress in a matter of seconds.

Depending on the weather and cloud cover, it can take up to or just over a minute but overall one of the best heart rate monitors you can buy.

It tracks everything from distance run, pace per mile, average pace per mile, altitude etc. Highly recommend it and it is still my favorite of all the heart rate monitor models.

THE GARMIN 610

The Garmin 610 is the model I currently wear and is the most current of the garmin heart rate monitors.

It has all the same features the Garmin 405 has but has a swipe feature similar to most smart phones.

You can swipe from screen to screen showing data from your workout.

It also has a virtual partner function that the Garmin 405 doesn’t have that allows you to pair up and plug in a time you want to try to run and have the watch programmed to try to match you.

If you are serious about your running and want to have all the extra gadgets that track other areas of your training then the Garmin 610 is the way to go.

That being said, when it comes to heart rate training. All you need is the basic heart rate models like the Garmin 110.

The Garmin 405 is reasonably priced at $129 to $189 but the 610 is costly but it just depends on your presence.

I would also highly recommend the Nike GPS sport watch. I had this watch for about a year. It has generally good functioning capability but the downside is poor satellite reception and tracking.

Hope you enjoyed my heart rate monitoring novel and if you have made it this far I would like to commend you and your eyes from not falling asleep.

Hope you find the information useful. Happy running.

About Nathan Pennington

Nathan Pennington

2 Comments

  • Bryan says:

    Thanks for the informative post! I ran a lot in the Army, but we never really learned about heart rates (except the occasional measuring of how long we needed to return to resting pulse). I am now, 10 years after leaving the Army, getting back into running; this time because I want to! I have debated picking up a heart rate monitor. My goals are not to compete but to run for the fitness the extra energy and the pleasure. I am about 20 lbs heavier than I want to be, so that’s my first goal. Especially important for me was the part where you said under 120 only burns sugar. The computers on the treadmill were computing 118 (to burn fat) for my data inputs (which didn’t feel like enough).

  • NatePennington says:

    Hi Bryan. Thanks for serving. I know that it isn’t easy serving in the military and yes, the army never talks about heart rate training. The treadmill computers are basing the heart rate off of age ranges, as you get older your max heart rate drops slightly. They usually if you take 220-your age should give you around your max heart rate so 118 perhaps for you could be right. The 120 was just the estimate he gave us but it varies. Burning fat running at easier speeds doesn’t hurt. It is when you are trying to burn fat at race pace that takes a great deal of patience and time to learn how to do. I am sure you will burn off the extra weight and continue to make gains in your fitness. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my article and welcome to rundreamachieve.com

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