The most challenging thing for me about running by HR lately has been the terrain in my town. It's all hills. Some short ones, some long ones, some steep ones, some shallow ones... but I can't find a truly flat place to run around here that doesn't involve the track or the treadmill. And when you're trying to keep your HR low, and you're not really that fit, and the road turns even slightly up, well, you're walking (if you're hard core about not going above your zone).
I don't think there's been a run in the last 5 weeks that I did not walk (at least partway) up the hills. This has been very frustrating. But I am committed to fixing it so I'm sticking to it. Dammit.
Today my schedule called for the staple... 50-60 min run, HR 140-155max. Get used to this, he told me. So ok, I head out on a loop I've done a couple times before. It starts downhill so that's nice- gives me a chance to warm up and keep my HR low enough. But then its rolling in the middle and of course pretty much the whole second half is up up up and I end up walking a lot so I usually finish this run with my head hanging low, and sometimes, I'll admit, there have been tears of frustration.
But not today! I could tell right from the start that this was going to be a good run. HR was lower than normal from the first step. Sweet. I actually felt like I was approaching my old 'easy' pace, and every time I looked down at my HR monitor (which is less often these days b/c I'm got a pretty good feel for it now), it was a few beats lower than I guessed it would be. In fact, I was running down a slight hill today and it crossed my mind that I didn't even really want to go any faster, and my HR was 142. Five weeks ago it was not possible for me to take a single stupid slow jogging step at 142. So this was huge progress.
I still had to walk partway up 2 hills on the loop to stay under 155, but these hills are rather steep and I think it'll be a while before I'll be able to get up them without walking. Later in the run I was going up another longer, less steep hill and as usual, backed the effort WAY off in an effort to avoid walking for as long as possible... but then I look down and my HR was 147. Running. Uphill. 147. Seriously? So I pick it up a bit and look down again... 149. Nice. I ran what felt like a comfortable effort up that road and never went above 151. That was different. Look, coach! No walking!
Eventually I got to the last hill leading up to my house. I have yet to run this whole thing with HR <155. In fact, I think I've always ended up walking more than once over the half mile climb b/c my HR usually wants to be 158-160 on this last part. But not today! I couldn't believe I was running up this hill and kept looking down at my watch for confirmation- thinking, "Who's heart is this, anyway?" Can't be mine. But sure enough, I ran up that whole darn hill and never even went above 151.
What a freakin' relief. Seriously. All this slow slow jogging can really take its toll on an athlete mentally, so it's nice to see some concrete gains... Man, I needed that today. And now I've got my sights set on conquering a few more of the hills around my house at <155. There are some I haven't even attempted yet... but at some point I am going to get them. All of them.