Thoughts on heart rate training

There seem to be two approaches to training for speed: tempo runs and intervals. Intervals get your heart rate into its anaerobic zone, while tempo runs hit your “threshold” aerobic pace (almost anaerobic).

I’m a bit confused as to how to implement both of these techniques, however.

First, high-intensity interval training is supposed to hit 70% – 90% of your maximum heart rate during the “work” period. But 90% of my max HR of 190 is 171, which is well within my aerobic zone. Things only start getting seriously anaerobic at around 185; at least in the sense that I seem to be able to run at below that pace (under serious chest pain 180+) for at least a few minutes. So does that mean I need to up the intensity of my intervals from 171 to 185+, to keep them anaerobic?

Second, I often get my HR up to around 180 on runs. This seems close to anaerobic, and definitely higher than the “tempo” pace mentioned on Strava (153-169). I’m torn between the definition of a tempo run as one that is run at your threshold anaerobic HR, and one that seems to agree with things I’ve read elsewhere.

So the questions are: do I speed up my intervals, and/or do I slow down my tempo runs?

Morning Mile

After yesterday’s workout, which hit my heart rate max for a long period, I decided to do a short one today. A shorter run would help me recover, and also help me spread my mileage across the week. Ideally, I’ll run 7 miles this week. It wouldn’t do to ramp up too quickly and get injured.mile times

Today’s mile time of 7:16 was a bit slower than usual. The above plot shows basically no improvement in my mile times over the last two months, measured over a consistent course. Hopefully I’ll be able to break out of this rut, which to some extent was created by my Ironman training/getting distracted by work.

Breakfast of Champions

Based on a recent reader suggestion, I purchased an electric water heater for making tea and oatmeal in the morning. Today was my first day of testing.breakfast

I got up at 7:00 am sharp, turned on the kettle, and slept in for another ten minutes as it heated. Drinking some Earl Grey tea, having a nice bowl of oatmeal, reading Barchester Towers on my Kindle, and looking out the window was very satisfying.

You can see in the above picture the dim, bluish color that comes from the sun being low. It reminded me of days on which my mom would wake me up for high school, and I would walk to the bus stop at 7am.

I went for a quick one-mile run, which I hope to have time to write on more later.

Back to running


After a week of post-Ironman sunburn recovery, I reintroduced myself to running. My performance was pretty bad: I did 3 miles at a 10-minute pace. (This compares to, for example, a recent run of 4 miles at an 8:31 pace.)

I’m not too worried about this blip in underperformance. It’s sufficiently bad that it was probably just an off day for me. Maybe I was dehydrated, hungry, etc., various reasons for randomly bad performance.

I also know I pushed myself just the amount I wanted to, actually even more. I originally set out with the goal of doing an easy three-mile run, but as I wasn’t running too fast, an otherwise-easy pace actually ended up hitting my heart rate max of 180 for most of the run. (My watch tells me not to work out for another 3.5 days!)

Note that my pace is usually faster than 10″-mile in the above diagram, and pretty steady, but the average pace over the run is lower because of the times I stopped at traffic lights.

Speaking of traffic lights, I find that they provide one of the most interesting physiological sensations in running, and not in a good way. Somehow it is possible to hit my heart rate max and temporarily “tune out” my suffering. But if I stop short, I suddenly start feeling just how hot it is outside. A terrible feeling passes through my circulatory system like I’ve just floored the gas in a car with its emergency brake on. And my legs start freezing into a standing position, motionless. If  possible, it seems preferable to slow down gradually rather than stop short.

I also felt another interesting but unpleasant feeling I haven’t felt for a long time, whose source I’m still trying to understand. When getting out of breath, my face starts feeling awfully painful, like my teeth are being extracted. Is this because of a lack of blood to the face? Or maybe too much blood (blood pressure?). Actually, this feeling has become quite rare for me, and I associate it with the days before I started working out.

The current plan is to train toward two things:

  1. Running a 6-minute mile. (My record now is 6:41, so I still have a ways to go.)
  2. Doing a 5k. I’m not going to train toward this explicitly, but since most of my workouts will be in the 2 to 3 mile range, I expect to have decent prep toward that. My goal is 24 minutes.

Timberman Part 2

I recently participated in Ironman Timberman, a half-iron distance event. I didn’t end up finishing, but I exceeded my own expectations. I managed to do the swim in 1:03 and got 53 miles on the bike course before the cutoff time.

What I learned: practice long distance cycling is key, and the good news is that it isn’t terribly hard to train. I felt confident I could have done the run section, if I had managed to finish the bike.

The swim went well, although I was clearly going too slowly. I think it shouldn’t be too hard to fix my swim form. The key, I think, is kicking from the hip — I seem to have problems with my feet dangling. Everything else about my stroke seems much better after taking those swim classes.

Owning a new wetsuit would be nice as well. My old wetsuit just seemed too tight, and I ended swimming without it.

For the rest of the year, I think I’ll focus on running, a sport that doesn’t have as high setup costs. I’m currently looking to do a 5k at the end of October, with a goal race time of 24 minutes. Perhaps I will return to Ironman next year, or the year after (depending on my travel schedule after graduation). I definitely want to do it, and I think I have a much better appreciation of exactly how much I need to train each sport, and what I need to do, to finish.

I’m going to try updating this blog more often as well, to keep myself honest about doing research. I gotta up my productivity. I’m very excited for this fall and hopefully will have more to say soon on both work and running fronts.

Swim lessons

I’ve begun weekly swim lessons. Some key points for improvement:

  • Kick with knees locked
  • Face down always
  • Turn head to breathe when hand is already in air. (Raise leading arm if I start sinking here.)
  • Stab hands into water — don’t reach.
  • Keep a leading hand in front at all times.
  • Core should do almost all the work — kicking is a waste of energy.