In the Zone – adventures in heart rate training

This week I’m embarking on a something new with my run training.  Spurred on by Stacey’s training recap, wherein she talks about MAF training, I started to do a bit of thinking.  After looking back at my Reston race report, I know my aerobic engine needs some work if I want to enjoy the run leg.  The final decision was made after accepting my deep desire to do everything within my power to avoid feeling exhausted as DC’s notorious humid summer sets in.  I’m taking the plunge into heart rate training.  Zone 2, here I come!

This is the data from my Tuesday run.  You can see from the cadence and pace where I walked to bring my HR down.

This is the data from my Tuesday run.  You can see from the cadence and pace where I walked to bring my HR down.

The idea behind heart rate training in general is that your heartbeat can be used as a data point to help you improve.  There are so many theories and programs floating around online, it’s enough to make your head spin.    With summer upon us, maybe you’re missing that “homework” feeling of your younger days?  Never fear!  Just try to research heart rate training online and figure out which method is right.  I’ll wait.  No, I won’t, because I’m not that patient.  After some reading, I’ve decided on Zone 2 training.  According to Joe Friel, elite endurance coach, Zone 2 is the easy aerobic zone.  Working predominantly in that zone will give my body the stimulus it needs to adapt and create a more efficient aerobic engine.  Sounds good to me!

There are some caveats.  First, to truly determine the zones, Friel recommends a Lactate Threshold, or LT test.  I’ve been told that these are somewhat painful.  Sometimes puke-inducing.  Come Saturday morning I will be heading over to the high school track and busting out 30 minutes of steady high intensity running.  I need to pace myself evenly over the 30 minutes, but finish knowing I don’t have any more left in me.  Sounds like a great way to start the weekend, no?  My average HR over the last 20 minutes of the test will be my threshold, the number use to determine my zones.  From there, it’s a matter of programming the numbers into my Garmin, and setting it up to buzz at me when my heart rate goes too high.

Second caveat, and the one that people seem to struggle with the most: Zone 2 is slow.  Like, molasses in winter slow.  I’ve read accounts of people who usually head out and run in the 9:00/mile range having to slow down to 11:30 or more to keep their HR in Z2.  Many people seem to give up on Z2 training because they can’t take the blow to their ego, or they find it demoralizing and boring.  As someone who usually trains in the 12:00/mile range, it sounds like I’m going to be slowing way down and doing some walking.  Perhaps an awful lot of walking.  Taking 14+ minutes to cover a mile doesn’t sound particularly riveting, but hey, I’ve never been a speedster.  I plan to keep a positive attitude, and come fall I hope to see some measurable improvement.

So that’s where I’m at.  I want to develop a better aerobic base and eventually run faster.  I’m going to try Z2 running for the next 20 weeks, and see what kind of results come of it once the end of the season rolls around.  I’m pretty sure this weekend’s test is going to be quite painful.  I’m positive that at some point I will want to give up on it.  I’m also more than a bit nervous about what slowing down means as far as getting race ready for an Oly.  My training plan is based on minutes, not miles.  If I’m so slow, will I actually be prepared to race the distance?  After careful consideration, I believe that this is the right course.  I’ve picked a plan, and now it’s time to execute.  That, and always believe in race day magic!