Learning to Train with a Heart Rate Monitor

My primary race this season will be Barcelona Olympic Distance triathlon. While I have a fairly good aerobic base and training experience for endurance events, you will know from my previous entries there are a few difficulties I’m contending with …
·         I’ve come into the season late
·         I have some serious work to do in swimming and cycling
·         I don’t really seem to have many options when it comes to joining a group or finding a coach in Amsterdam.

So what’s my plan? I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and think I can coach myself for a while. I figure I’ve been coached for long enough by some truly excellent coaches that I can work on my own for a while. (Plus, my new ironman training buddy coached himself to a 10 hour ironman, so I know it can be done!)

I’m reading Joe Friel and Gale Bernhardt, and making my training plan around what I learn from them. They recommend a lot of stuff by heart rate training, so the first thing I had to do was take out the heart rate monitor strap that accompanied the Garmin I bought last year. And I was kind of shocked. Both Joe Friel and Gale Bernhardt recommend a lot of training in Zones 1 and 2. Basically, at this rate: Breathing rate and pace increase slightly. Breathing slightly deeper. Conversation still possible. Legs still comfortable. A lot of the workouts are in this zone.

Running in Zone 2

When I run, I’m having a lot of difficulty training at this level. I feel like I’m not working at all, and therefore couldn’t possibly be getting fitter. But according to Joe Friel, this is a really important level to train at:
Riding two or more hours at this effort challenges the body to make some improvements. One is to become better at using fat for fuel while sparing muscle glycogen stores. The longer your races are, the more important this shift is. The other critical shift has to do with increasing the capillary bed in the working muscles. The more capillaries you have the easier it is to get fuel and oxygen to the muscle.
See: http://www.trainingbible.com/joesblog/2009/11/aerobic-base-ride.html

Listening to podcasts and doing some other reading where triathletes find gradually their pace increases within Zone 2. So I’m tryin’!

Cycling in Zone 2

On the other hand, I realise I have barely worked at all when I have done cycling training in the past. Wednesday night I had to do my training at the gym, so sat on a spin bike and started “working”. My heart rate was exceptionally low, and my cadence exceptionally high. I know your cycling heart rate is lower than you running heart rate, but not by 50 bpm! I started increasing resistance, trying to find the resistance where I was in Zone 2, with cadence at 90. I eventually found it. Immediately, I thought, “How on earth am I going to sustain this? I’ve never even cycled this hard in a race!” Yep – it seems I’ve never cycled at even Zone 2 in a triathlon … No wonder I’m so slow on the bike!


So here’s what I’m going to do: for running – slow down to get faster; for cycling – speed up to get fast (yep, not just fastER – but FAST)! And how does this fit into my training? Quite well – considering my issues dealed with finding running partners it’s good I can run by myself and not be pressured to run faster; and for cycling I have a small group who will push me to reach my potential.

So I’ve done two weeks of solid training. This week I take my foot off the gas – until Sunday, when I have my first triathlon in more than a year: the In Flanders Field Triathlon in Belgium. 1km swim, 40km bike, 10km run. Wish me luck!

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