This Heart Rate Training Thing Worked For Me and I Have the Strava Data To Prove It

Metabolic efficiency training. Heart rate training. Slow down to speed up. The Maffetone Method. Just do whatever Sally Edwards tells you to do. Just drink UCAN all day. Eat nothing but liver and avocados. Whatever you want to call it…it kinda worked for me.

Here is how it happened:

It all started in December 2015.

It actually started in 1999, when I first read one of Sally Edward’s books on heart rate training (I think this is the book I read: Heart Rate Monitor Guide Book). Sally Edwards has a new book which is pretty good: Be a Better Runner.

Long story short, I bought a Polar heart rate monitor and started doing my easy runs at the slow heart rates recommended in the book. It was slow.

Too slow.

I didn’t stick with it.

I couldn’t.

I wouldn’t.

I was impatient.

I was embarrassed.

Running that slow was awful and so unintuitive and a seeming anathema to speeding up that I could not stick with it.

Fast forward to December 2015.

I listened to two Trail Runner Nation podcasts about metabolic efficiency training and one with Phil Maffetone about speeding up by slowing down. Something in these podcasts clicked for me and I decided to go for it. The best part of the Phil Maffetone podcast was when Maffetone talked about Mark Allen (the famed Triathlete he trained. Allen: "I can’t train that slow." (implying it being embarrassing). Maffetone: "Train at night."

I immediately bought Maffetone’s book. You should too: The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing.

When I started off….my heart rate target was 135. I did not get tested in a lab. I didn’t want to spend the money, so I just used the Maffetone formula. That put my heart rate target at 135 beats per minute. So, when I went for a run, I would not allow my heart rate to exceed 135….I wanted to burn fat a fuel and train my aerobic system. 

My pace from a run in December 2015. Avg HR 133.

In other words, just do what these experts said to do. They were my coaches, right?

So, when I ran, I ran slow. And I mean slow. 13 minute mile pace. Sometimes it was 14 minute mile pace. It was not running or even jogging. I was trotting. Frankly, I could have walked at the same pace, at a slightly lower heart rate and saved some energy.

I feel you, Mark Allen. It was embarrassing.

For the most part I stuck with it. Embarrassing as it was. It’s not like I made steady, linear, “up-and-to-the-right” progress, either. It seemed like a long, frustrating plateau of slow misery.

But I stuck with it.

What made it more frustrating was that my heart rate monitor (a Polar FT60) seemed very unreliable. I would be going along at 132 beats per minute……then all of a sudden, it jumped to 155. Nothing changed. I did not hit a hill. I did not speed up. A black bear didn’t just appear out of that bush on the Juniper Mountain Trail between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows like it did in 2013.


The heart rate monitor just spiked. As soon as I started walking, it skipped back down to 132. Cool. I started running again. Boom. Back up to 155. That happened all the time. I changed batteries. I washed the chest strap. That helped a little. This went on for two months. I finally gave up and just ran based on breathing out of my nose as a gauge. I figure I was running at basically the right heart rate if I could run and breath out of my nose. Its not perfect. But I was able to overcome the frustration of technology that seemed to make things worse.

By the way. Is this normal for a heart rate monitor? For a Polar? What’s your experience?

After going along with this “nose breathing” method for a month or so, my pace did not seem to pick up. Looking at my Strava data my pace did increase. But, I thought, maybe because I was running at a faster heart rate. And since I was not using a heart rate monitor, I did not know for sure.

Finally, I sent my heart rate monitor in to Polar to get it serviced. That charged me about $25 and repaired the transmitter.

I guess they did. Who the hell really knows?

It seemed to work, so...since April 2016, I went back to using the heart rate monitor. I noticed my speed did increase. I was running in the 11-12 minute per mile pace on runs now. Hmmmm. That’s cool. Still slow. But better. Is it really working?

Maybe so.

I was inspired.

And with the InsideTrail Rodeo Valley 50K coming up in June, I was gaining confidence.

Anyway, in December, when I started this. I had a secret goal that I would run under 10:00 min/mile pace at that heart rate. I mean…..if this works, and I speed up, why not go for a big goal. 9:59 pace consistently for these “easy” runs. Maybe even on my long runs.

That would be awesome.

April and May were productive months of running for me, with a (mostly) reliable heart rate monitor, I stuck to the plan. Except for one day a week, when I ran the trails at Rancho San Antonio Open Space and just bombed straight up for 4 or 5 miles before turning around and running down. No heart rate monitors on those days. I just ran as heard as I could without bonking to the point when I would have to walk up the hill.

I stuck with it.

I did get faster.

Way faster.

In June, I did a five mile run. All splits were below 10:00 min/mile. Can you believe it?

When I did this run, I did not go out with any goal to do any split targets. It was not a test run. I just did an easy, normal 5 mile run. On the morning route a take for many of my weekday runs. 

My pace on a run in June 2016. Same route about the run above. Soooooooo fast for a slow run. Avg HR: 134

It was just a normal run.


Now I am hooked.

I love running slow. Because I am speeding up.

Love it.

Because I love running fast.

I ran the Rodeo Valley 50K in Marin on June 11. I ran it pretty slow…..but I was not that sore afterwards and was running by 3 days after the race. Feeling great.

Then I ran the Broken Arrow Skyrace 52K 7 days later. I dropped, but not from being tired. That’s a long story worthy of a blog post.

I am hooked.

Did I say that already?

I am also hooked for another reasons. Running at this pace provides other benefits:
  1. It takes the guess work out of what’s an easy run. That's “easy" now. Run at a pace just under that heart rate. Done.
  2. It takes the guess work out of how hard or fast run run on any given day. My heart rate tells me that.
  3. I don’t get sore anymore. Hardly ever. So I can run more consistently, and I can run more. 
  4. I don’t carry food or water on runs up to 2 1/2 hours, unless its hot.
I left out a lot of details. But that is the story.

What questions do you have? Has anyone else had similar results?