January 26, 2019

Reverse Heart Rate Training

I just made up the term "reverse heart rate training" because I wasn't really sure what to call the little experiment I've been doing.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I wanted to get back into a good exercise habit--ideally, running 3+ times per week, even if only for 30 minutes. I chose to follow my own Base Building training plan, a running plan meant for new (or returning) runners who haven't been running regularly and need to build up a base before training for a race or adding speed work.

Building a base is actually very important. According to the RRCA (who I have my running coach certification from) a solid base is when you've run 300-500 miles. By running regularly, and building up mileage slowly, your legs adapt to the stress from running and get stronger for next time. If you try to do too much too soon, your performance won't be optimal and risk of injury is high.

In the beginning, running even one mile at first seems SO intimidating, but by building up a base, eventually that one mile will feel like an easy walk in the park. When I first started running, there was no way that I ever would have believed I'd one day run 26.2 miles. When I did my 12, 14, 16+ mile training runs for my marathons, running a mile was barely a warm-up!

When you're first starting out, though, it feels like it will take an eternity to get to that point. Right now, I feel like I am a true beginner again. Well, a little step up from that, actually--I knew I could run three miles, even if it was super slow.

The Base Building training plan starts at 30 minutes, 3 times per week, so I thought it would be a good way to ease back into running regularly. There isn't any speed work; it's all easy running, which is SUPER important.

A quick explanation of low heart rate training:

When I was training to run a personal best in the 10K (November 2015 to April 2016), I experimented with low heart rate training. My goal overall was to run my easy runs at a truly easy pace; to do that, I used my heart rate monitor. I had to keep my heart rate under 146 (180 bpm minus my age, which was then 34).

At the time, this was slow for me. It was about an 11:00/mile pace, and I did this for 80% of my time spent running. The other 20% was spent doing intervals or tempo runs. And you know what? I ran my fastest 10K time (49:03), despite training at such a slow pace.

What happens is that your cardiovascular system gets more efficient as you run at a lower heart rate. When starting out, your pace might be 13:00/mile when keeping your heart rate low, but as you train, you will eventually get faster while keeping your heart rate the same. So after several months, you may be running an 11:00/mile pace while maintaining that same heart rate.

Running at that heart rate feels very easy (as it should, because it's for "easy" runs) and it helps build endurance. Doing the speed work for 20% of the time spent running per week is what makes us faster overall, but it's the 80% of the time spent doing easy runs that help us to maintain that pace for an entire race. (I highly recommend reading 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald for more info on that method.)

So, in a nutshell, low heart rate training is when you keep your heart rate at or below a particular number (I like to use Dr. Phil Maffetone's formula of 180 minus one's age), and train regularly at that heart rate. Eventually, you will get faster while maintaining that same heart rate, improving your endurance.

So, what the heck is "reverse" heart rate training?

This is not an actual training method that I'm aware of; it's just something that I decided to experiment with, mostly to keep from getting bored with training. When I have a purpose for running, like this little experiment, I have a different perspective.

Anyway, since I expect to be on the treadmill most of the time this winter (I just don't have the drive to run outside when it's super cold; hopefully I will again someday), I decided to try something different. Instead of running at my low heart rate and allowing my pace to get faster, I have been running at a set speed on the treadmill to see if my heart rate gets lower over time.

I'm super out of shape right now, and even running at 5.0 mph on the treadmill felt tough during my first run of this Base Building training plan (I started on January 15). I didn't think of this "reverse heart rate training" until after that first run, so I didn't maintain that speed the whole time. During the first run, I added a couple of "sprints" at 6.0 mph (and wow, that felt SO hard--I remember when my easy runs were done faster than that).

After seeing how far "off" my Garmin's distance and pace were compared to the treadmill, I knew that heart rate training was going to be hard to monitor. However, doing the reverse (maintaining same speed, and monitoring my heart rate) would work regardless of what my Garmin read. It's not ideal, because easy runs should feel very easy, but I only plan to do this until I run outside again.

For the second run, I set the treadmill at 5.0 mph and didn't touch it during the entire 30 minutes. And I've done that for each subsequent run.

I've only run five times since January 15 (per the schedule) but I already felt much better during the fifth run than I did the first. And my heart rate has gotten lower during each run as well. I wasn't expecting to see much of a difference so quickly, but it's been really interesting to see it actually working.

My average heart rate for the last three runs has decreased--151, 150, and then 147 bpm.

I really wish that my Garmin would be more accurate on the treadmill, but considering all the trials I did with it before, I was never able to get it to read correctly. A lot of it depends on the speed I am running, too.

I know that my treadmill isn't reading correctly, either. The treadmill's timer goes faster than "real time". When 1 minute of real times passes, the treadmill counts it as 60.5 seconds. That doesn't seem like a big deal, but during a 30 minute run, it adds 15 seconds. I always start my Garmin exactly 10 seconds after the treadmill (to allow the treadmill belt to get moving).

So, when I finish a 30-minute run, the timer on the treadmill reads 30:25 (or a little after, because I stop the Garmin first). The timer on the Garmin works correctly, but the distance for treadmill running is off--there is no way that I'm running close to a 13:00/mile pace.

In this photo, for example... I had started the treadmill, and then when it read 00:10, I started my Garmin. (I stopped the treadmill three seconds after stopping the Garmin)

After years of running at all different speeds, I know what general pace I'm running. If the treadmill's distance is correct, then the pace I'm running would be 11:48 (using a correct timer). That's nearly a minute per mile faster than the Garmin reads, and 12 seconds per mile faster than the treadmill reads.

Regardless, I can at least monitor as my heart rate (hopefully) decreases over time while running at the same pace during each run, no matter what pace that is. Once my heart rate is able to stay under 143 (eek! I turned 37 yesterday, so 180 minus my age is now 143 bpm), then I will increase the speed to 5.1 mph for each run. Each time my heart rate is able to stay under 143, then I'll increase the speed again.

And hopefully, by the time spring is here and I start running outside again, I will be in better overall shape. Then, I can go back to doing traditional heart rate training.

I'm starting to think of the running in the same mindset that I have for giving up alcohol. With the alcohol, I just stopped altogether on January 1st, and now there is no question about it--I simply don't drink, no matter what. As for the running, I've started to look at it as something that I will do no matter what. It's only 30 minutes, and if I want to get back to doing it regularly, I have to just suck it up and do it. It feels hard right now, but I know that it gets easier. Eventually, it will be habit that I don't even question.

This new way of monitoring improvement in my fitness feels like enough to keep me interested for a while, at least! Haha

I'm supposed to be in Arizona right now. My flight was yesterday morning, and I was planning on going there to visit my friend, Sarah (whose wedding I attended in 2011). Her birthday is on January 22 and mine is January 25; when we were kids, we lived a couple of houses apart, and we used to celebrate our birthdays together. We thought it would be fun to get together for our birthdays this year.

However, on Thursday morning, she woke up very sick. Her kids have had croup a couple of times this year, and she ended up getting sick the day before my visit. We had planned to go hiking in Sedona, but that would have been miserable for her. So, we ended up canceling the visit. We'll try again another time.

I was looking forward to the warmer weather there! While we had temps in the 40's and 50's here in Michigan a couple of weeks ago, the temps dropped drastically last week. Check out the weather from Monday morning!

The day before, we had gotten dumped on with snow. A ton of it.

I shoveled the driveway three times during the day so that when Jerry got home from work, the driveway would be clear. The snow was coming down hard even while I was shoveling, and it was so windy that the snow was flying in sideways. It was SO cold.

I took this picture to show Jerry what I looked like after shoveling, even though it looks more like I had just gotten done doing a sweaty workout. Instead, I couldn't even feel my toes, my face was stinging, my nose was running horribly, and the snowflakes had embedded in my hair as they melted. You can't tell from the pic, but my hair was actually frozen when I came inside. The wind made my hair go all over the place, even while wearing a hat. We're supposed to get more snow on Monday, too.

In other news, we are almost done installing the new flooring. I love love love it, and I will post pictures as soon as we finish the floor and move the furniture back into place!


  1. Can't wait to see the new floor! Your reverse heart rate training sounds interesting as a stop-gap until you get outside and start your regular heart rate training again. I remember reading that as you were doing it and how wrong it felt to you at first but how fast you go!

    1. Thanks! :) I love heart rate training because it takes all of the focus off of pace. It's refreshing!

  2. Go Katie Go! Awesome work!!!!!

  3. Thanks for explaining the heart rate training principles so well! I'm so interested in that approach and I think I might try your adjusted method (I'm in MN and it's cold here, too, so there's no chance of me reliably running outdoors!). I hope you share your speedwork when you get to that. Can I just, like, copy you? :)

    1. Hahaha, of course you can ;) I am not even going to think about speed work until I have a good base built up again, but it's definitely more fun to write about than, "Well, I just ran at 5.0 mph for 30 minutes... three times this week."

  4. Interesting about the "building a base" concept. I'm working on cardio, too, but by doing spin and I'm wondering if I can borrow this concept/practice to improve on the bike. I may try it! Thanks for the suggestion.
    Sorry about your trip getting postponed. Would have been a nice break from winter. But - it'll be a nice break whenever it happens, I'm sure.
    Happy Birthday!

    1. Heart rate training is great for any sort of cardio! The correct way of doing the low heart rate training would be to do your activity without letting your heart rate go over your target (180 minus your age). The more frequently you do that, then the more your body will adjust and you'll have to work harder to get your heart rate to that target. Regardless, you can use it for any sort of cardio--it helps you to condition your body to be more efficient. It worked great when I was training for my 10K!

  5. Thank you for explaining this in detail! I'm not a runner, but I love following what you are doing. I made the same decision about my treadmill, that I'll walk at least 30 minutes, three times a week. I just have to suck it up and do it! Happy, happy birthday! Mine is the same day! Can't wait to see the floors.

    1. That's great! I think starting with 30 minutes, 3 times per week (whether it's walking, running, swimming, biking, etc) is doable for pretty much anyone. That was the biggest commitment I was willing to make when I was losing the weight, and eventually I wanted to do more.
      And happy birthday to you! Hopefully it was warmer for you than it was for me.

  6. So glad to here you got back to running. I recently quit running for about 6 months and starting up again takes a lot of " sucking it up"! I'll be 60 in the spring and for me working 12 hour shifts the cardio is important so I can do my job. In iowa we have that cold too. So I'm on the dreadmill as well.


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