August 02, 2021

Return to Running Recap: Week 10

I'm not sure what to title these Monday posts anymore now that I'm done with Couch to 5K! Like I said last week after completing Couch to 5K, I still plan to run three miles, three times per week; my main goal is to run three miles at an easy effort (to me, that means in my MAF heart rate zone--131-141 beats per minute). My plan to do that, at least as of right now, is to run at the same pace for the same distance each time and look for a downward trend in my heart rate.

Eventually, I'm hoping that it will take less effort (shown by lower heart rate) to run the same distance in the same amount of time. Less effort = more fit. I couldn't care less about being slow! I just want to be fit again--and running three miles at an easy effort will make me feel great.

Just a forewarning--these weekly recaps will likely get even nerdier than they already are. As you know, I love numbers and data, so this heart rate stuff is interesting to me ;)

Right now, I'm doing most of my running on the treadmill (always at 5.0 mph) and I'll probably continue to do that until running feels easier. Running outside at this point is still intimidating (which is odd, because I used to run outside almost exclusively). I'm hoping that when the weather cools down in the fall I'll feel ready to run outside.

This past week, I started a running journal to look for patterns in my heart rate--if my sleep or hydration affects it, whether I've eaten or not, taken my medication, etc. It's kind of a pain to log everything, but once I get some insight into what makes me have good or bad runs, I won't have to write out all these details. I like writing out numbers, but the other stuff is boring to me ;)

Here is a recap of this past week:

Run #1 (3 miles) :

The week went by so quickly--I didn't even realize until FRIDAY that I'd gone three days between runs (I like to keep it to no more than two). So I did my first run for the week on Friday. I ran on the treadmill, 5.0 mph.

I actually felt pretty good, and somewhat energetic to start. I really wanted to run with a low heart rate, avoiding Zone 5 altogether (the ultimate goal is to stay in Zone 2, which is my MAF zone). For the previous run, I'd spent 41% in Zone 5 and 41% in Zone 4... which was the worst run I'd had out of the entire Couch to 5K plan!

Thankfully, I managed to avoid getting into Zone 5, but my heart rate was still higher than I would have liked. The average overall was 151 bpm (with mile splits of 144, 153, and 155 bpm). Much better than the previous run, but definitely needs improvement.

Run #2 (3 miles)

I did this one yesterday a couple of hours after Luke left. I was feeling pretty good and I hadn't planned to run until the evening, but because I was feeling good, I decided I'd better take advantage of that. I got on the treadmill (5.0 mph again) and tried very hard not to think about my heart rate.

I read my book and told myself I can look at the timer on the treadmill only after I'd read X number of pages. That helped the time go by so quickly! The first mile flew by.

I didn't feel much different than the previous run, but when I saw my heart rate afterwards, I was sure there had to be a mistake. I couldn't believe that my average was 147 bpm and the maximum it had reached was 151. (Mile splits of 143, 148, and 149 bpm.) I spent zero time in Zones 4 and 5.

The entire run was in Zone 3--and not even at the high end. I was right in the middle. I looked over my journal to see what was different from the previous run and the only thing I could think of was coffee.

As I've mentioned several times, my body is extremely sensitive to caffeine. It gives me horrible anxiety for hours (sometimes all day long) from a single cup of coffee (or even black tea). However, sometimes I stupidly think I can handle it and I'll get in the habit of having a cup in the mornings--then I only drink it to avoid the inevitable five-day-long headache that happens when I don't have it.

Anyway, several months ago, I got in the habit of drinking half-caff (I mix half decaf and half regular). I only drink one cup of it, but it's enough to where I feel jittery. I want to quit (because of the anxiety issue) but I get "the headache" and I end up giving in. (Like I said, it's stupid.)

For this particular run, I'd only drunk about half of the cup (I was playing with Luke and simply neglected it). When I got on the treadmill, I actually felt calm; usually, I feel nervous. (I know there is no reason to be nervous--but I still feel that way every time I run!)

The coffee was the only thing I could think of that may have had an effect on my heart rate.

Run #3 (3 miles)

This time (today), I decided to test out the coffee issue again, and I only drank half of it before starting on the treadmill. Again, I ran at 5.0 mph. The only real difference from yesterday is that I started at 10:30 AM instead of 12:50 PM like I had the day before.

I actually felt pretty jittery after only half a cup of the half-caff, so I debated waiting until later to run. I wanted to get it done, though, so I drank 16 oz. of ice water (not sure why I thought that would help, but the least I could do was hydrate). Then I talked to Noah and Eli for about 10 minutes, which distracted me from thinking about running. And afterward, I felt much better about getting started.

I really had no hope that my heart rate was going to be as low as yesterday, but I didn't want to think about that. Again, I focused on my book and only looked at the treadmill timer sparingly. I felt like I put in about the same effort as yesterday. I wanted to look at my heart rate while I was running, but I didn't want to be disappointed if I saw it was in the 150's. (It's funny--I used to do the same thing with my pace. I wanted my pace to be lower, so I played games with myself not to look. Now, I don't care at all about my pace, but I want my heart rate to be lower!)

When I finished the run, I wasn't gasping for breath, which was a good sign. I always sit in front of the fan behind the treadmill while I upload my run to Garmin Connect, and while I did this I was shocked when I saw my heart rate! And then I thought, "Dang it! I bet the battery died in my heart rate monitor during the run, which is making the average lower than it should be."

But when I looked at the graph, it was all there--nothing abnormal--and my heart rate really was the lowest it's been since I started Couch to 5K.

My average heart rate was actually 141--which is my MAF rate! The first mile averaged 137 bpm, the second mile was 143 and the third was 144. (The goal with MAF training is to keep your heart rate in the MAF zone for the entire run--not just the average overall.)

I really hope that the coffee situation will continue to have an impact. I'm going to switch entirely to decaf tomorrow. If cutting out caffeine affects my heart rate this much, I'll be glad to put up with the headache in order to stop drinking it again. (Even when I try to cut back gradually, I get a headache--that's why it's so hard for me to quit. The logical answer is DON'T START, I know.) The thought of coffee in the mornings is romanticized and I get caught up in those thoughts. But no more!

I'm going to start doing my first run of the week on Wednesdays so that I don't feel like I have to squeeze in three runs so close together. I'll plan for Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. I'm excited to see if my heart rate continues to stay on the lower side next week--I'm definitely ready for three-mile runs to start feeling easier ;)


  1. The headache will go away after a week or two, don't worry! And then you'll feel better in general so it will all be worth it. (this is what I remind myself when I'm tempted to needlessly drink--I don't want to deal with feeling crappy in the morning, so having a few drinks really isn't worth it!)

    1. I've given up the coffee a few times before and I've dealt with the headache--but it's SO BAD (worse than a typical headache). I'm prepared to power through it, though!

  2. Oh yes, the headache. Interesting to see data about how caffeine impacts your heart rate. It makes it more real.

  3. Remind me again, what is the MAF rate? I understand that you're focusing on heart rate as your guide to fitness level. How can I find what my HR goal should be?


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