QT: One Year of Heart Rate Training; Good, Bad, and Ugly


My oh my!

Has it already been a year that I’ve been doing this whole heart rate training thing?

Time sure flies when you’re running slow!

Time Flies False

Ok, so maybe time doesn’t fly.

But it is hard to believe that it’s been a full year since I completely overhauled my diet and training philosophy for a year-long experiment.

The results? We will get to those in a moment.

Pre-Heart Rate Training Diz

If you’ve been following my exploits for more than the past year, feel free to skip ahead a bit.

But if you’re new to these parts, allow me to give you a bit of backstory so you’ll better be able to understand how we got to this point.

A few years ago, I read the book 80/20 Running and that really turned what I thought I knew upside down.

Before reading that book, I operated under the (false) assumption that to race fast you have to train fast.

All. The. Time.

Turns out, that isn’t the case.

Reading 80/20 Running really opened me up to the idea that running easy most of the time is required to build a base, stay healthy, and race fast.

After reading that book, I committed to running 80/20 for a while.

But one thing led to another, namely my watch literally falling apart, and I started drifting away from monitoring my heart rate while I ran which led to me not running as easy I should have been most of the time.

Yes. My Garmin Literally Fell Apart on a Run!

When I got my Soleus watch, which didn’t have the functionality required to track heart rate, I started to drift into that “no man’s land” of running.

You know, not running easy but not running hard either.

Just kind of running meh.

Fast forward to 2017, and one of my athletes started to ask me what I thought about runners adopting a high-fat and low-carb diet.

I had heard that it was possible, but I didn’t have any experience in the practice.

I decided that as a running coach, it would behoove me to do some more research into the practice and, potentially, try it for myself.

So I jumped on Amazon, ordered a copy of Primal Endurance, and started reading.

Turns out, the first chapter of a book dedicated to reducing the endurance athlete’s need for carbs to fuel performance was all about heart rate training.

As I read the chapter, a couple of times, I decided that if I was going to get the most out of going low-carb I also had to slow down.

Slowing Down Helps Speed Up Recovery

So I decided, then and there, to commit to heart rate training for the next year.

No matter what.

One Year Later…

I’m a fan.

The science behind heart rate training is pretty much undeniable, and my results support the science as well.

I know I’m not a one-size-fits-all kind of guy, but I can’t think of a scenario where heart rate training wouldn’t be helpful for any distance runner.

But instead of me just telling you why you should adopt the principals of heart rate training into your regimen (you should), I’ll break down my experience.

And while I’m 100% pro-heart rate training, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some things that are less than ideal with slowing down to get faster.

The Good:

Let’s start with the good.

Heart rate training will improve your aerobic fitness which will help you get faster at any distance that requires strong aerobic fitness.

And for the record, unless your race is less than a minute in duration aerobic fitness is required.

So if you’re running anything longer than about 400m, heart rate training will be beneficial for you.

What does that look like for me?

My first MAF test, on 11 December 2017, took me 41 minute and 50 seconds (10:22 pace) to run a 4.04 mile route through my neighborhood.

One year later, on 11 December 2018, the same 4.04 mile route took me 35 minutes and 42 seconds (8:52 pace).

In one year, I improved my pace by 1:30 PER MILE!

That’s huge!

I wish…

And from everything I’ve read and everyone I’ve talked to, the real benefits of heart rate tend to compound over the years.

So, hopefully, I’m just scratching the surface when it comes to the benefits of heart rate training!

The Bad:

Heart rate training works.

The science is clear.

However, it’s a slow process.

Painfully slow. Frustratingly slow.

In order to start seeing real progress, you have to stay the course when it feels like you’re not making any progress at all.

It took me a solid three months to make any meaningful progress in my MAF testing.

I got a little slower, then a little faster, then a little slower again over the first four times running the test.

Then I had a nice jump forward, but more or less held steady for several months.

None of my results were troublesome nor unusual, which means that patience is required.

Running 80/20 Requires Patience

And, sadly, us runners aren’t exactly known for being the most patient of creatures.

When we try something new, we want instant results.

And heart rate training does not provide instant results.

Not even close.

The Ugly:

The thing that really sucks about heart rate training, from my perspective, is that it’s pretty much killed my running social life.

Prior to last year, I used to regularly train with a local group of runners known affectionately as The Pack.

Between a couple of good workouts a week and the weekend long run, I ran with friends the majority of the time.

But since I took up heart rate training, I’ve been running solo.

Occasionally I’ll see my running friends at the coffee shop after a long run, or I’ll join them for an occasional speed workout, but otherwise, it’s just me and Bailey running at a comfortable pace.

And as much as I love running with my dog, it’s not quite the same as running with friends.

Ultimately, the tradeoff is worth it.

I’m fitter than I’ve ever been and feel like I’ve made a huge leap as a runner this year, but I definitely miss running with my friends on a regular basis.

Should You Get on Board?

If it was up to me, there is no doubt.

But it’s not up to me.

You have to choose if you’re willing to slow down in order to get faster.

Can you get faster without slowing down?

Yeah. You definitely can.

You also run a much greater risk of wearing yourself down, beating up your body, and suffering more than the occasional fluke injury.

Now, don’t get it twisted.

I’m not saying that if you commit to heart rate training you’ll never feel worn down or sore or wind up injured.

All of those things are absolutely still possible.

But slowing down definitely reduces the risk of any of those maladies.

And couple that with the fact that it just works, and for me it’s a no-brainer.


After a year of heart rate training, I'm unquestionably a faster runner. Are you willing to slow down to get faster? #runchat Share on X

What are Your Thoughts/Experiences with Heart Rate Training?

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