Turn on Your Heart Light


Just saw that Colby graded her blogging in recent days with a “See Me.” I don’t even think the teacher would want to see me. I expect a note in my box asking me to withdraw. Where have we been?  Where do the days go???

I think I'm dating myself here. But it's a classic! Turn on your heart light!

I think I’m dating myself here. But it’s a classic! Turn on your heart light!


I got a heartrate monitor for my birthday this year, and like the Garmin I received last year, it’s been a blessing and a curse.

Blessing: it’s cool and useful and I think it will help improve my running.

Curse: Like my dear frenemy, the Garmin, it doesn’t hesitate to tell me I’ve been doing this running thing all wrong.


I hate doing things wrong.

I always suspected that I ran too fast on regular runs, but it was easier to ignore when I didn’t have an absurdly high heartrate number staring me in the face. My friend Laurie had been hinting for a while that she thought I was probably running too fast too often and overstressing my body in the process. She’s a lifelong triathlete and studying to be a nurse, so when she says something about training, it’s worth a listen.

I don’t know how many of you train using a heartrate monitor, but the general gist is this: if you run at a pace that overexerts your heart too often, you will risk injury and burnout. I have been very lucky in avoiding injuries (knock wood) and I don’t think I’ve ever had runner’s burnout, BUT, but I did feel incredibly wiped out a lot last year when I trained for the Marine Corps Marathon. I could manage, but still – I was pretty tuckered. Maybe that was burnout? Mentally I felt fine. I dunno.

My life is A LOT busier this year than last fall – work is busier, my kids are busier, everything is busier. I want to be able to do everything and enjoy everything without feeling wrecked while I train for the Philly Marathon on November 23. I figured I would give training in my proper heartrate zones a try to see if I can train in a way that allows for proper recovery, etc.

I don’t have high expectations for my performance at Philly anyway –particularly since I’m doing the Fenway Spartan the week before, which is not the number 1, or even number 100, recommended activity during the taper. Stupid, I know, but there’s no way I’m missing the Fenway Spartan!!! I figured it was worth a shot to mix things up a bit now with my monitor and see how heartrate training goes. If it screws me up, I’ll train differently for the next marathon.

What I realized from just a few test runs with the monitor is that I never really ran recovery runs before. Ever. My heartrate was at the same level whether I ran long, short, mid or recovery. That’s not good and does nothing to improve performance. When I ran “easy,” recovery runs, I did run short. But I still ran too fast and too hard. That’s not a recovery run at all. Those are just junk miles.

This is pretty much how I ran my recovery runs. TIP: Don't do this.

This is pretty much how I ran my recovery runs. TIP: Don’t do this.

I have run 49 miles in the last 8 days, attempting to control my heartrate for each run – checking my Garmin obsessively and staying at or below the low 150’s as much as possible. It can be frustratingly slow, but I’m already getting better at managing my heartrate – yesterday I ran 13 and I never saw anything above 155. And you know what? I felt great afterward. I didn’t feel like I had run 13 miles. Or many miles in the preceding 7 days. Other than tired legs, I felt fine, and still do today. NO exhaustion, no fuzzy head, no overall weariness. Today, I ran a 3.5 mile real recovery run at a slow pace, and feel terrific. I’m going to keep going with this for a while and see if I continue to feel so good.

This is what goes through my mind during my runs now...

This is what goes through my mind during my runs now…

The super slow pacing is annoying, but I am going to try and stick it out. Laurie suggested doing all runs at the lower heartrate for a few weeks, and then working back in some harder and faster runs. I figure it is worth a shot. I have that stupid monitor, after all.

Who else trains with a heart rate monitor? Any tips? Success stories? Things to watch out for?


20 thoughts on “Turn on Your Heart Light

  1. Pretty interesting to read your experience and I’m looking forward to reading about how you get on with the heart rate monitor. I’m a new runner and I don’t have anything like that but it’s certainly food for thought.

    • I will keep you posted! For now, I am grateful that I could run lots of miles and still have energy after a 13 mile August run to play sports with my kids and enjoy a day out on the boat without feeling tired. Maybe that’s the success story right there. It’s just hard not to break out and run faster during my runs….but supposedly, that will come in time. I’ll let you know. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Oh, it’s really stupid. At least it is a sprint, so only a 5K. Still stupid, but the most fun ever!!! Not to be missed. And the Philly marathon is the only non-lottery marathon that I could work in this fall. Should be interesting!

  2. Dial it down, T-Bone. Dial it down. I am curious to hear how your science experiment goes. My guess is that if you felt great after 13 with the monitor, something is right. I don’t run with a heart rate monitor on the road—not since it bit me and left a scar. But I will tell you that I intentionally vary my runs with respect to perceived exertion. So it’s not—Balls Out!—-all the time. It seems to work for me and I appear to recover well. Post 20 on Saturday I was less, old german shepherd and more young pup. Besides, I’d totally listen to Laurie’s advice. That chick is FIERCE! xoxox

      • No. No she did not. We should get her to guest blog post!

        I know you hate dialing it down. But, It’s a Marathon AND A GODDAMN Sprint. It’s NOT ALWAYS A SPRINT. Now my heart rate is up.

        And I would have naturally assumed you would have giggled at ‘Balls Out’.

        Did you pull the trigger and register for Philly? Please advise. That means I have a Half Marathon to register for. And a room at the Ritz to book. I mean really, Tina. Priorities.

      • My bad. I thought “Marathon AND Sprint” meant you should sprint the entire marathon. Honest error.
        I have not registered for Philly yet but I’m running it. Yes, we need to book the Ritz. And we need to see if Diva Cindi wants to come run the half, too. I’ll put it on the agenda for Friday at Cindi-By-The-Sea!!!

  3. Ahhhh, the dread HRM. I naturally have a higher heart rate and could never figure out how to make it all work. No matter what I did, I always seemed to be way out of the correct range. The only way it seemed I could keep it in th proper range was to crawl. Backwards. To bed. See where I’m going here???? 🙂

    • That’s kinda how I feel. And I might have a higher heartrate, too, based on my current pacing (backwards, as well. haven’t reached bed yet). But I’ll give it a few more weeks of trying to stay within zones/
      I will admit that I don’t like math encroaching on my run. 755? 85%? 65%? I want the 80’s back so I can just grab my Walkman and sprint 10 miles of ignorant bliss.

  4. I have a heart rate monitor but since I don’t wear my glasses when I run I can’t read it so the point becomes moot and besides my training runs and recovery runs are all at the same pace so it becomes double moot. Really, The Ritz? Well, La, Dee, Dah.

  5. Totally agree. I consider myself a conservative runner and really do run my long slow distance runs, well, slow lol! I’ve seen way too many friends go balls out on all their runs and then wonder why they’re constantly injured 😦

  6. I don’t use a heart rate monitor and don’t plan to, although I do own one. It chafes and slides around.

    But also, and this is more a question, but I’ve heard that you need to get your heart rate professionally tested in order to be accurate because everyone’s low/high heart rate varies and that for some people, a 155 might not be all that stressful. The only way to know is getting a medical professional stress-test. But that’s just what I’ve heard and not necessarily gospel.

    • I know I read that somewhere as well, although most sources I have looked at say that although that is the most accurate measure, it is generally not necessary. I think that if I was going to follow the HRM training religiously and my numbers seemed off, I might consider doing that. What I am mostly focusing on is now, though, is how my HR varies and I feel afterward. For example, some places say I should be in the 140’s. Well, I can’t run and keep it there. But I did notice that a 4 mile run in the 160’s wiped me out afterward while a 4-miler in the low-mid 150’s energized me for the day. So I know that the first 4-miler was not a “recovery” run, whereas before tracking I would have thought that a 4 miler was a short, and therefore, recovery run. Running the same pace on a hot humid day has given me higher readings than a cooler day. So I now find it more informative for whether I have gotten in enough recovery miles during the week than whether I strictly stayed in the appropriate zone. not sure if that makes sense. It’s still very new to me.

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