5 Things I Have Learned After a Month of Heart Monitor Training

For a month now, I have been running with a heart monitor and running in an aerobic zone also referred to as zone 2.  If you are interested in learning more about my reasons, you can read this post.  Although I knew it would require me to slow down, I have really been struggling with the snail’s pace.  To be honest, it has been a blow to my ego and most days I have to remind myself that the benefits of building a solid foundation far outweigh the present emotional discomfort.

Here is a table to get an idea of my training zones:

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These were established following Joel Friel’s Lactate Threshold calculations.

Between the heat, humidity, and running aerobically, my pace has slowed by 2 to 3 minutes per mile.  While this is normal in the beginning, as I shuffle down the trails I can’t help but feel silly about what I am doing.  In time, I know I will be back to running faster miles while in zone 2 however the challenge is having the patience to endure and keep at it.

Running itself is without a doubt easier, but I am having to dig deep to find mental and emotional strength.   I am worried that I will not be prepared for my 50K in September.  I am feeling embarrassed by my running, worried I will be seen and laughed at.  Usually I would keep this whole experiment to myself for fear of being judged.  I wanted to share it however to both make it known that feeling this way is normal and that it shouldn’t stop a person from building the house strong.

Additionally, I am finding that when I stop listening to the negative chatter in my brain, I am learning quite a lot.  Slowing down has a profound way of letting us see and hear things around us and inside us that we might otherwise miss.  Here are some of the lessons I have learned so far:

  • Foundation Building is Essential and BioFeedback is the Only Way to Know if We Got it Right– Biofeedback is a technique that uses a tool, like a heart rate monitor, to gather information about the the body and making adjustments in our movement, breathing, pace, etc. to help improve.  To gain longevity and success in running we must build a solid foundation.  I thought I had one and thought that I was doing well building up my training this past winter and spring.  Once I strapped that heart rate monitor on however, it was like an inspector showing up and finding all the shortcuts I had taken.  Without biofeedback, I would have continued on my merry way believing that my house would withstand the test of time.  With true information about my biology, I can now adjust so my “house” will truly be built strong and sustainable.
  • Weight-loss and Finding an Ideal Weight are Easier – Between 2013 and 2014, I had a series of life events that were incredibly stressful.  Not surprisingly, I gained weight. Most people are aware that stress causes weight gain through increased cortisol levels that prevent fat loss and the associated over-eating that most of us do when under pressure.  Unfortunately many believe the solution is exercising as hard as possible until the weight goes away.  When done properly, exercise is a good stressor on the body and during recovery we grown stronger.  But when running above an aerobic zone on a regular basis, our body is under added stress all the time.  You may lose weight at first but eventually you will hit a plateau and never reach your ideal weight.  The natural response when this happens is to work out harder but what the body really needs is more recovery.  Even though I knew this to be true, I have continued to struggle to lose the all the weight I gained in 2013.  No matter how clean I ate and how much I exercised, it didn’t want to budge.  A pound here or there, but not much.  Running within my zone 2 has shown me that exercising in a TRULY aerobic fashion is key to melting off weight.  Over the last month, I have lost 6 pounds and the only thing I changed is running slower according to my heart rate.  I am back to my pre-2013 weight, lighter than in high school.  I even got to wear a skirt on Tuesday that I haven’t been able to wear in 4 years.  What an incredible feeling!!!!
  • Stopping and Smelling the Roses Comes Naturally –  In the past, I was so concerned about the pace of each run and what those final numbers looked like and how each mile compared to the day before that I had a hard time even wanting to stop and take in the sunrise.  I have gotten better as I have embraced the meditative quality of running, but when running in an aerobic zone, it comes naturally.  Your mind is calmer, more carefree, and able to take in the beauty of the sites and sounds around.  It is also easier to be forgiving of oneself and to keep focused on the why we are doing this thing called running.  It isn’t only about getting where we are going as fast as we can, but, at its core, running is about living life to its fullest and unleashing the happiness that resides within us all.  We just have to take the time to choose to acknowledge that it is there.
  • Rising Early to Run isn’t as Hard – It is a fact of life that those who start the day with some form of exercise have smoother and happier days.  We are better able to deal with conflict, remain calm under pressure, and keep a positive perspective when the going gets tough.  This is valuable for everyone, and more so for someone who struggles with depression.  Starting my day with a run is the best medicine for coping with my disease.  But getting up early is tough when a cozy bed calls your name or snuggling with your partner just seems like so much more fun.  When running aerobically, it becomes easier to get up because you know the run ahead is going to be easy and refreshing.  Additionally, getting truly aerobic exercise leads to better sleep, more energy, and a brighter outlook on the day so getting up to run becomes rather addicting!
  • Finishing Runs Wanting More and More is Normal – For many, the majority of a run is done wishing for it to end.  I hear often from others “Are we there yet? Are we done? How much farther”?  Running aerobically leaves you with a feeling of “When can I do more? Do I have time for 10 more minutes of running? Why does this have to end?”  Enjoying the journey is essential to unleashing happiness.  If we always are only thinking of the destination, then what is the point?  Running within a zone 2 makes enjoying the journey automatic.  I never want the run to end.
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Stopping to take in the gorgeous views

 

Ultimately of course I am eager to see results and look forward to the day that I can look back and see how much I have improved my pace within zone 2, but the journey to getting there is looking brighter when I see all the lessons I am learning along the way.  If we never slow down, is it ever possible for us to truly grow?

The journey continues……

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My Heart Rate Monitor Experiment…The Beginning

As the summer heat of Phoenix envelopes us, running and other outdoor athletic endeavors become quite a challenge.  Perceived exertion gets harder when dry heat sucks out all our moisture, then humidity kicks in with the monsoons and we struggle to breathe and cool down. We dehydrate quickly, melt a lot and slow down more than any of us would prefer. PRs are not being set during the summer months when temps routinely hit 110 degrees.

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This made me laugh when it popped up on my Facebook feed.  Apparently, running in Phoenix is rarely recommended since we don’t see temps below 80 degrees for very long.

Many runners will hit their stride, pun intended, in spring, and use the summer as a chance to rest and recover, lowering mileage down to a maintenance level.  Not me or my husband.  We decided that running an early fall 50K in Oregon was a GREAT idea!  Our plan is to run the McKenzie River Trail run to celebrate our 15th anniversary.  In Oregon, September weather is usually quite beautiful.  Unfortunately, we forgot that we don’t live in Oregon anymore.  We live in Phoenix now.  It is HOT here and once monsoons start HUMID (despite what everyone thinks, Phoenix heat is not always dry heat).  And we have to train here.  What….were….we….thinking?!?

After coming off a great winter and spring of training and racing, I knew I needed to readjust my expectations if I was going to survive this summer, both physically and emotionally.  I am a sucker for beating myself up if I am not exceling at everything I do  (did I mention I am a Type A Overachiever?).  Going into this training cycle, I knew that if I didn’t hit the same paces or better that I was going to beat myself up to no end.  Treating myself this way will only feed that monster called Depression that I have lurking inside.  Enter Heart Rate training which forces me to run to my HR and ignore pace.  Seems like a good solution.

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Pondering if this HR thing is a good idea..

 

I have read all the great info on how heart rate monitor training can help you become a better endurance athlete.  This article by Dr. Phil Maffetone does a great job of laying out both the how-to and the subsequent benefits.  Joel Friel also has a great method that you can read here and which produces amazingly similar numbers to Dr. Maffetone.  Most runners, especially those of us who do it recreationally, run too hard on easy days and not hard enough on hard days.  Frequently our pace is the same from one run to the next, always a little afraid of what it means if an individual run is slower than the last.  A heart rate monitor serves as a coach of sorts, providing instant biofeedback that tells us to speed up or slow down (usually slow down…haha).

Based on the formulas and trial runs, I need to maintain a heart rate between 141bpm and 151 bpm for all easy runs.  Easier said than done.  No matter how much the science makes sense – IT IS SO DAMNED HARD because you have to run SO DAMNED SLOW!  Majority of people have never taken the time to build the foundation of good aerobic capacity and it comes as a huge surprise when you start training this way.  You are unable to run very fast or fast or quick….you must run slow.  And I am no exception.

In the past when running with a heart rate monitor, I have told myself that I am unique and that is why my heart rate is higher at my “easy 10 min/mile” pace.  I naturally have a higher heart rate and it has nothing to do with my non-existent aerobic foundation.  I have told myself that I know better than the coaches and scientists who have used these methods successfully hundreds of time.  Ultimately, I give up because my way is better of course.  Silly me!!

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Before is what is how I usually feel running a 10:00 min/mile.  After is what my HR is telling me that 10:00 min/mile feels like

 

Given that this summer will slow me down anyway, it seemed like a good time to give it a go again, admitting to myself that all my excuses are false.  So as I embark on this grand adventure, I have no idea how long it will take to see results (hopefully not forever), how patient I will have to be (infinitely I am sure), how much my ego will get bruised (a ton no doubt).

I have been at it for almost a month now.  Many days I find it hard to believe I am actually doing any good, but I keep coming back for more.  Excitingly, I have already learned a few things which I will write about in a follow-up post.   My pace remains slow however  so “Be Determined. Remain Strong” might as well be my mantra for the time being.

My journey continues…..

Is Antelope Canyon 50 Miler Meant to Be?

Read my “Upcoming Races” page and you will see that I am debating between running the Antelope Canyon 50 Mile Ultra in February and the Monument Valley 50 Mile Ultra in March.   Both offer a sacred experience on Navajo lands and views of some of the most spectacular landscape features in the west.  Either choice will be epic and leave me with memories that I cherish for the rest of life.

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Can you say awe-inspiring?

I first started considering the Antelope Canyon 50 mile ultra when I got an email letting me know that registration would be coming up soon.  I don’t recall signing up for the race companies updates, or for information about this race specifically, yet somehow my name got on the list and I was notified.  The notice was timely as I was just contemplating what I should do for my first 50 mile race.  In no time, at all my heart became set on this race.

So like any good ultra runner, I started to do a little homework, visiting the website, checking out cut-off times, studying the course details, getting excited.  Next, I reached out to a friend I knew had run Antelope Canyon to get her thoughts.  It was at this point that I read her race report and boy did I get spooked.  Not because of the sand, even though there is 40 miles of it.  Not because of the climbs or ladders or narrow slot canyons. Spooked because of the proximity to the edge of the cliffs.

This race winds “alongside” the iconic Horseshoe Bend.  Though alongside is a bit euphemistic as “alongside” = 5 to 6 feet from the edge of an 800 foot drop!

Just thinking about being that close to the edge makes me sick with fear.  My vertigo sets in with just the thought.  I can even feel the terror as I fall to my death.  Twice already I have had nightmares about sliding off the slickrock and hanging from the edge of the cliff with my fingertips.  Yeah, it’s that real.

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You will never catch me doing this….ever….ever

Yet even with this terror so palpable, I can’t let go of the dream of running this race. Surely it will be tough enough and do I really need the added challenge of overcoming my biggest fear?  I pause however to ask myself, “Is fear the right reason to not do a race”?  A conflict with a kid’s sporting event, an anniversary, a birthday, illness, a broken leg….these are good reasons to choose a different race.  But if the only reason is my fear, is that enough?

As I pondered this, I started looking back through some old photo folders.  About five years ago, I made a vision board.  A vision board gives voice and life to dreams that are only in your heart of hearts.  The photos for my vision board include things like camping with my family, doing yoga, trail running, growing old with my husband, drinking wine with girlfriends.  You could have knocked me out of my chair with a feather when I scrolled down and found a photo of Horseshoe Bend.

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I put this in my vision board folder long before we ever even dreamed of moving to Arizona.

Shocked beyond belief, I just stared at the photo, my heart fluttering.  What does it mean that I chose this photo years ago to represent my dreams?

Often times, our dreams don’t manifest in the way we planned.  At the time, I was likely thinking that I wanted to visit the southwest someday, maybe even specifically the Grand Canyon.  We were living on the Oregon Coast and desperate to explore somewhere that wasn’t wet and gloomy.  Now, I am beginning to believe that by putting this photo in that folder 5 years ago, I paved the path that is leading me to this 50 mile race.

I am a BIG believer that everything happens for a reason.  Maybe running this race is what is meant to be….maybe it is something else.  I am still not certain if I will do this race, but I can’t help but wonder, “What will my decision be”?

 

Do What You Can’t

One hot fall day in the mountains of Kentucky’s Natural Bridge State Park almost 15 years ago, my husband and I set out for a long hike.  We had prepared the day before for the 9 mile hike by filling water bottles and freezing them.  We knew that it was going to be hot and we wanted our water to be cold.  Inexperienced as we were, 9 miles didn’t seem overly far so we only brought a bar each to eat sure we would be back at our cabin in an hour or two.  Much to our surprise, the hike took several hours and despite the heat, the water bottles never melted.  By the time we got back to the trail head, we were parched and famished!  

At the time, I wasn’t yet a runner, but I have always been a dreamer.  Regardless of my lack of running experience, I remember telling Kenny during that hike that I had a dream of running a marathon one day.  Forget that I have never even run a 5K.  Given how difficult the 9 mile hike was though, I grew afraid that I would never be able to accomplish that goal.  I distinctly remember thinking, “How is a marathon even physically possible?”

Looking back on that day, I realize how, in that moment, a marathon was genuinely something that I couldn’t do.  And I was the voice telling myself self “You can’t”!  Somehow here I am 15 years later and I have run 5 marathon, two 50Ks, numerous half marathons and more long training runs than I can count.  Of course all this in addition to the 5 and 10Ks that I got started with when I first started out.  I have proven to myself time and again that I CAN DO all the things that I have and others have told me I CAN’T.

What’s more is that I have accomplished these endurance goals while also building a successful career at a younger age than most, having two beautiful little boys, buying our first home, selling it and repeating 3 more times, living in Tennessee, Eastern Oregon, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Western New York, the Oregon Coast, Wyoming, back to the Oregon Coast, Oregon’s Willamette Valley again and now in Phoenix, Arizona.  (yes, in that order…crazy huh!? Even crazier, Kenny left the Army so that we wouldn’t move a family all over the country!)

These experiences and many others like it have taught me that when I face the unknown, the scary, the seemingly impossible, I need to pause and look for the path that will get me through.  It is always there, though maybe overgrown by brambles or difficult to traverse.  The road through isn’t always easy, often the exact opposite, but it is there.  And the more times I take that road, the more I come to embrace the challenge.

Today when thinking about what’s next, I ask myself, what scares me?  What seems impossible?  For what things does my heart always say “If only”?  This set of questions helps me to head in the direction that will be most fulfilling in the long run.

So where do the next 15 years take me in terms of accomplishing things that I once or currently believe I CAN’T DO?  What dreams do I have at this moment where the road through isn’t quite clear (or maybe completely hiding!)?

  • Complete a 100 mile race, then another and another…never letting the difficulty of the course scare me away
  • Become a yogi master and a teacher
  • Obtain 100,000 followers on my blog
  • Write a book
  • Hike the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, the Arizona Trail, the Continental Divide Trail….you get the idea
  • Live in an RV going wherever my heart desires with my family in tow, experiencing all that life has to offer
  • Help those struggling with the weight of depression learn to find strength in the delicate by getting dirty on the trails and in the wilderness or their own version of that.

By stating these dreams out loud, I can begin to give them thought and weight, which only allows action to be that much closer to achievable.  This list will grow and change, stuff will be added and fall off, but what will not change is that I will continue to DO what I believe I CAN’T

Do what you can't