Martini Fridays: Affairs of the Heart (Rate)

I’m desperately trying to embrace the new training regime.

You may be asking yourself: what new training regime? To which I say: don’t you follow my every utterance on this very website? I mean. Really.

I kid.

To make a long story short: I decided to work with a coach  — Sara Dimmick, in case you wondered — for the first few months of 2015 just to see if she can help me run the fastest Pittsburgh Half in May that I possibly can. After that race, I’ll revaluate.

For now, however, I’ve given myself over to letting someone who knows what they are doing plan what I do, running-wise. I’m also interested in hiring someone more qualified than I am to take over dressing me for work every day, by the way. Just putting it out there.

Sara D. has been posting my workouts on Training Peaks for two weeks so far. While I like having direction, what I’m struggling with is what we’re focussing on until the end of the month: base building and strength training.

Laps around the local high school aren't terribly scenic but at least it has been plowed

It makes total sense, mind you, to back off a little on the intense running work in order to give all of my over-worked bits and pieces time to heal. It also makes total sense to build up my much neglected upper body and core by lifting heavy things in order to put them down again. I get it. I’m on board, intellectually.

The problem is that I find the lifting and the crunches so blessedly boring. It’s not even that Zen-type of boredom where you can find bliss in the monotony. Strength training requires just enough of my attention that I can’t completely check out and that makes for a long hour at the gym.

I am running, mind, but Sara has made me strap on a heart rate monitor — and it’s my first experience running with one. For the record, I’m not a fan. It’s one more bit of gear to keep track of and to obsessively check Herr Garmin for. Plus, I can’t find a way to get the buckle-y part to not dig into my right underboob. First world problems, I know.

And then there’s what the whole heart rate monitoring tango has done to my pace. Runs have been all about a pace that keeps my HR in zone 2, with the occasional hedonistic leap into zone 3. For me, zone 2 is about a 14-minute mile, which feels so much more glacial than my already pokey 12-minute miles. While I know I shouldn’t compare my pace to other’s and listen to my own body and yadda yadda yadda. Turns out, these HR specific runs make it hard for me to keep my eyes on my own mat.

What also isn’t helping is the weather. The extreme cold has forced me to do these slow runs on the treadmill, the place where time stops moving. My husband and I have a long running joke about Ohio, a state we’ve often driven through diagonally to get to points South. You never feel like you’re making any progress when you’re driving through Ohio. The treadmill is my Ohio — and I can’t even run fast so that I can just get it over with already.

Yeah, I know my attitude could be better. For what it’s worth, I did manage to get through Sunday’s six-mile long run with relative grace.

My relatively sanguine attitude came more from finding a window between the bitter cold front and an oncoming snow storm to actually run outside. Twenty degrees feels downright tropical when you are used to single digits. The sky stayed low and gray for the entire 90 minutes but didn’t really bring me down. There’s a lot to be said for how simply being outside, even if one is merely running around the local high school, can boost one’s mood.

Plus I get to see this same Dumpster again. And again. And again....

By the time I made it home after my run, I noticed two things. Thing number one is that an iPhone-sized chunk of my upper left thigh was cold enough to store meat on because I hadn’t noticed my water bottle leaking through my jacket and soaking that part of my pants.

Thing number two is that these long, slow runs make me kinda sad. My goal is to run faster so it feels all kinds of wrong to focus on running slower. I get the thinking behind it but its just emotionally fraught. I feel like a loser because my heart won’t do what I want it to do, which reminds me of all of the worst parts of junior high, when I had a huge crush on a boy who would never, ever crush back.

Which makes me want to know: who else has trained using their heart rate as a guide? How did it make you feel?

26 responses to “Martini Fridays: Affairs of the Heart (Rate)

  1. Sorry for the late comment. There is also the sosche rhythm + that is a heart rate monitor that goes on your arm. I could never get the ones for your chest to work correctly, too many dropouts, especially when it was cold and dry outside.
    DC Rainmaker ( has reviewed it on his site. It has worked great for me and is ant+ and Bluetooth capable. So you can connect it to your phone or your watch (garmin).

  2. great writing Adrienne! Once again you are soon real! good for you setting a new goal with a trainer ! I too am on board for 2 halfs this year and will see you at wineglass! love your blog great job!

  3. For underboob chafage: My friend swears by waterproof first aid -type tape. As long as you aren’t messing with the sensor, it should work. I’ve been meaning to try it for weeks but instead let too small bras rub my too big pregnant boobs so I can scream in the shower. It’s really great for everyone.

    Don’t worry about LR pace. I have been where you are, had the thoughts you had and winced all too often when I would put in slow paces into my log. I did work, though, during the week and ran my LRs slow. It paid off on race day. Just focus on the work.

  4. Stick with it!!! I have only used HRT for the past 2 years and have had some amazing results. The first year killed me because I never wanted to dial it back and was constantly in zone3, but after a few races and finally listening to my personal trainer husband who actually did my cardiovascular test and made My Personalized workouts, I decided to dial it back, build my base and stick to the program. Yes, the treadmill is the devil sometimes, but it forces you to run at specific speeds and follow the workouts, especially for your zone 3 and zone 4. I am sooooo much faster! It’s not a quick fix, by any means, but it really does work. Intervals and recovery time works for me, not everyone…but stick with it, you’ll see the huge benefits come race day!!! I love reading your post, spot on! Change is uncomfortable, but necessary to progress;)

  5. Never done it, and I’m afraid I’m not serious enough about running to try it… My life is so structured, I don’t need to overthink my runs as well – although I, too, use my Garmin on every run. I’d say, stick with it, and I’m sure it’ll help your goal – and that’s the whole point, right? Let us all know if it works, and if it does, maybe I’ll convert. No pressure there…:)

  6. I’m not much of a runner but I am the mother of a runner. Last year as he started his senior year of track, the coaches started having the runners train with HR monitors. Like you, he has a fast resting heartbeat, especially after four AP classes. He had to slow his pace to keep his heart rate at the right level. In practice, he went from being one of the fastest runners to being passed by most of the team. As you might imagine, he was very frustrated. The coaches were not sympathetic and felt he wasn’t open to the idea. The first time he ran without the monitor was in a meet. He had no confidence in his abilities and did not have a good season.

    I told him your story and that you were running about two minutes slower. He said that sounded right and suggested I share his story.

    Good luck!!

  7. 1st- I just love when I come on here Friday morning and it’s Martini Friday!

    I started HR based training last year, and it seemed ridiculously slow, even for me, who’s slower than slow. That said, I posted some of my fastest race times in years last year, which I can only attribute to my HR training. Everything I’ve read lately, says to train slow and race fast and I can’t argue with the results.
    I will say I’ve tried everything to not chafe with the HR monitor on long runs, anything over about 13 miles (I’m full training) I chafe no matter what, so I just don’t use one. I run slow enough on my long runs, anyway 🙂

  8. Stick with HR training. I did it for my first marathon in October. And while the beginning was a mind mess with my pace and what I know I could do, I saw the transformation. You do get faster. I felt great while running. Hell, I even enjoyed training. I loved it. Hang in there, you will get stronger and faster.

  9. A group for HR training is a great idea! Especially for those of us (ok, me) who are also super slow (as in my HR pace is also around 13:30 per mile, and I feel like I’m flying if I run under 11:30).

  10. For your HR strap, I have two thoughts, based on my own experience. One is that there are several different models of Garmin (or whatever brand) straps. I like the one that is a continuous band; the one that has a snap-on piece always chafes me really badly. So you could try a different model. They should all sync with your watch fine if same brand. Thought two is use lots of Body Glide on the entire under-boob area and wherever else you chafe. As for HR training, I sympathize. I am supposed to stay in Z2 also, but whenever an uphill stretch comes along, I am unavoidably in Z3. Hang tough!

  11. Good luck finding someone to dress you in the morning 😉

    I haven’t used a HR monitor. I am looking forward to seeing how your training w/ one works out. I agree, it seems counter-intuitive to run slower than you are used to running.

    Strength training is beneficial. I take a Tabata class. All the squats, lunges, burpees etc have made me stronger, which has helped w/ long runs. Is taking a class a possibility?

    I give credit to anyone who can do long runs on a treadmill. I can’t (or more accurately, just don’t want to). I am 4 hours north of you, so I know all about snowy, icy roads and bitter cold weather. And the dark. I think once the roads are clear and I am not all bundled up, running will feel effortless. Looking for that window of opportunity to run outside is harder when you are adhering to a training plan (which I am not) and have to get a specific workout in. Switching to trail running shoes (Saucony Xodus) has made a world of difference.

  12. “I feel like a loser because my heart won’t do what I want it to do, which reminds me of all of the worst parts of junior high, when I had a huge crush on a boy who would never, ever crush back.”

    OH-this one hit home!!!!!!

    I have never used a heart-rate monitor for training, but I did want to just offer some encouragement and say that I am so proud of you for getting out there and lapping that dumpster. It’s all the little times that you get out that when you don’t wan to that add up to what your body needs to finish the race. You’ve got this!

  13. I have tried to do heart rate training- I love the idea of using something non-emotional to determine optimal paces. But like you, I found I practically have to walk to stay in a sustainable zone 2. It seemed to confirm this long held belief I have that my genetics are against me being anything but a sloth, because so much work and effort and I am so SO slow.

    I have heard that continuing with a well planned program will help your heart not spike, but I don’t know what I’m doing and can’t really go the coaching route for now. I’m really interested to see what your results are – so far it sounds so familiar. I hope your perseverance and coaching pay off!

  14. Never used a heart rate monitor. I really don’t want to know how fast my heart is beating.

    I love your posts and devour them like candy. Then I go back and savor the juicy bits that I liked best. It’s really the best of both worlds.

    Thank you for writing what you write. I feel like we could be BRFs if we lived closer to one another.

  15. I just started using the PEAR app that is linked to heart rate, but I was literally talking back to it every time is said to back off because I had to WALK to get it in the correct zone. I’ll have to re-test to see if I am calibrated wrong. Also, how do I stay in the zone on hills?????

  16. Thank you for writing this! I’m now 8 weeks into my journey of slogging along keeping my HR below 141 at a pace that is 3-4 minutes slower than I usually run. My muscles and joints feel great and I’m consistently running more miles/week and I can see how running this way would result in the benefits I keep reading about.

    But I feel like I can’t go fast enough to “run off the crazy” that builds up because of life, work, kids. Is there an AMR low heart rate group where we can support one another through this early, frustrating phase?

  17. Trust your coach and the HR training. It IS completely deflating at first, especially on a treadmill. “Well, I think I can power walk faster than this!” But that base work is important: You’re making your slow slower so that your fast can go faster without actually dying.
    Sorry about the strap. The current one I use actually helps prevent chaffing for me. But I think you should be comforted by the thought that there are many women who are out there with something shoved up under their ladies.
    I also don’t know how to make the lifting less boring to you but maybe you can think about how fab you will look and how strong you will feel and how your clothes will fit differently and your husband… well, I’ll stop there.

    Thought on the dumpster: Maybe you should slap it when you start, kind of like the Dylan Panthers logo on Friday Night Lights before a game then a final slap with the last pass.

  18. Oh, and one more thing about zones (sparked by Angie’s comment about equations) – they should be determined by a field test, generally a lactic threshold test (painful but necessary), and most coaches do it this way (or you can google it). Don’t ever bother with a formula like the 220 minus age, etc. – every individual is different, and it’s not going to give you the zones that actually apply to you.

  19. I’ve been training with a Mio wrist HR monitor for the last year or so, also with a coach (prior to that I’d been following HR training “in spirit” but I was completely unable to get good data from a chest-strap HR monitor so obviously my RPE was only an approximation of HR). It doesn’t happen overnight, but I have had a couple of instances of “breakthrough” drops in my zone 2 pace. Most recently, I spent late October and all of November almost entirely in zone 2 after the end of my triathlon season. By the end of November, I noticed a consistent drop over several runs in my zone 2 pace from where it had ever been before. In early December I ran a 5K and broke my PR by 30 seconds – a PR that was essentially three years old (and not for lack of trying to break it!). So running slow to run fast *is* a thing and it can totally work. It’s not sexy, but it will take you to new places over time.

  20. I get where you are coming from with heart rate training. Just realize my runs have been in PA mostly. Ice is a huge issue so they have been slow. I know how annoying it is. It fits help you get faster.

  21. I can’t deal with the chest strap heart rate monitors – they have scarred me with severe chafing. BUT, I found the most awesome FOREARM monitor EVER (after reading many reviews by the online triathlete reviewer extraordinaire dcrainmaker). It’s the Scosche RHYTHM plus Heart Rate Monitor Armband. I ordered it off of Amazon. It works great. It talks to my Garmin 220. I have never tried it, but it supposedly also talks to a large number of iPhone apps. It’s awesome. No chafing.

    An ultrarunner in my running club has done that heart rate training. We were just discussing it a couple days ago. He said it sucked when he started. He was about a 9 minute miler who had to drop to 12-13 minute miles to keep his heart rate in the zone. But over a few months, he kept getting faster and faster at that heart rate, until he could run really comfortably 8-9 minute miles but with a low heart rate. He says with patience it really works. And he also says he can FEEL when he is in that zone without a monitor now. It’s like his whole body relaxes and is in a groove and his shoulders stop being tense and it’s autopilot. My heart rate is at 90%+ of VO2Max when I run 11:30 with walk breaks so I don’t know how the heck I’d ever have the patience to apply this method – but I have definitely seen this guy have major success with it.

  22. I ran Ohio for many years (back in the 70s) and moved to AZ when I got tired of slipping around on ice (I can NOT do a treadmill!!)
    I have had a couple coaches for my Ironman races and they are big believers in HRMs-once I trained with the HRM and finished my race I found there was no difference in looking at my HRM results and my self-preceived pace/effort. Maybe because I have been running for so long I can do that….I don’t know…but I don’t use one. (HRM or coach)

  23. I could have written this column. I read the Maffetone book over the Holidays ( yes, I should have just kept baking instead) in an attempt to gather all the info that I could to keep myself running healthy as 60 approaches. Running with the monitor is beyond depressing. The worst part is it isolates me from my running buddies – my goal training pace after the calculations keeps me somewhere around walking backwards. Maybe Winter in Upstate NY was not the best time to start this?? It will be interesting to see how you do with it. Please keep us updated on your thoughts and progress.

  24. I find it takes a little while to be “all in” with a new training program. I really like the idea of HR training, but I’m skeptical of the equations to figure out the different zones. Never had an issue w/the strap- I like seeing how many calories I’ve burned!

  25. I hope telling you that reading this post is going to be what sparks me out the door today will make my inability to answer the actual question acceptable.

    Regarding your post, Route 80 through PA is my Ohio but I have heard others experience similar gloom about my home state. What you should feel like is an EBAMR for sticking with a training plan that makes you feel like the opposite. You look like that to me.

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