Heart Rate Zones are the Devil!

So I mentioned in a previous post that I was going to take a step back in my training and work on improving my aerobic base by focusing on my heart rate. Its been over a month now and I can honestly say……I hate it!

First of all, can I just say how incredibly confusing it all is?! I’ve done a lot of research about how to properly calculate your target heart rates and there are so many methods out there that trying to pick just one has my eyes gone crossed! I read about the 220 method, the 180 method, perceived exertion method, lactic threshold, metabolic assessments, blah blah blah blah. After giving it careful consideration (and due to confusion), I’ve just decided to use the ‘ol 220 method. Primarily it’s because the 180 method seems humanly impossible and every other method was just way too confusing for me.

When I took my swim class for all of about week (which totally makes me an expert now, by the way) my swim instructor had us take our resting heart rate, recovery heart rate and we also used the 220 method to calculate our maximal heart rates and target zones. In my opinion, if they are willing to use this method in a college class then good golly it’s good enough for me!

The 220 method:

Basically I took my age, 30 (ok FINE I’m 31 now but still), and subtracted it from 220. This gives me my maximal heart rate (MHR) of 190. Then, I just calculated percentages to find my target heart rate zones for exercise. Target zones are determined by age and intensity of exercise. The table below illustrates zones:

Table courtesy of the American Heart Association


If you would like a fancier explanation of the 220 method you can check out the American Heart Association’s article here

So according to this method my target zones for training would be 50-85% of my MHR which translates to roughly 95-162 beats per minute. This keeps me in a fairly “aerobic” state also know as the cardio zone. This is important because of how our bodies utilizes oxygen in aerobic vs anaerobic states. You can improve the way your body utilizes oxygen if you maintain an aerobic state. Anaerobic is meant for strength training as opposed to endurance training. You may be able to sustain an anaerobic state for a short period of time but after longer distances (like when training for Olympic, half or full Ironman distance triathlons or even half or full marathons) you really need to be in an aerobic state to properly utilize nutrient stores and maintain healthy oxygen usage.

If your interested in learning more about the difference between aerobic vs anaerobic exercise you can check out this Livestrong article or if you would like to know how aerobic training can benefit you, you can read about it here.

Now that I had my numbers I thought to myself, “Oh this will be easy! I’ll just strap on my Garmin and HR monitor and in a few weeks you can just call me Miranda Carfrae!” HA! Whatever. My first day out I was able to get through one measly mile before I started struggling with keeping my heart rate down. After mile 1 I had to slow down to a 10 mile/min pace. Then after 1.5mi I slowed down to a 12min/mile pace. I found myself walking even when I wasn’t breathing heavy just so I could keep my heart rate down! Walking!? Really?! Don’t even get me started about when I headed back to the house after mile 3. The whole leg home is uphill, I walked about 90% of it. Keep in mind, all the while, I’m not tired in the least bit. I’m a little sweaty but from what I can tell, I’m doing just fine. I gave it a few more days until I started to notice I was doing just fine for the fist mile then I had to maintain a run/walk pattern with about 30-40sec running, 60-90sec walking. This was horrible and it kept on for weeks!


I know I have never trained according to HR zones so I may be more out of shape than I thought but to say that I cant even get two miles without having to walk just doesn’t make sense to me. I ran my last 13.1 in darn near under 2hrs. I know I’m in decent shape! I went back to look at my previous training and racing stats on GarminConnect and according to what I can see I’m averaging 160-180 BPM at any given time, racing or a training run. Thinking back to race days, I never feel extremely winded. I mean, they say you should be able to hold a conversation while you run and if you cant you need to slow down. I always felt like I was doing ok; I can talk and run! I was getting so overwhelmed that I was beginning to feel more frustration after my run instead of relief. I haven’t done more research on the topic but I feel like I’m missing something here. Why is it that I can run a half marathon comfortably averaging 160-180 BPM but my target zones say I need to stay UNDER 160?

I’m trying not to get discouraged and give up because I know this style of training is going to be imperative if I ever want to have a chance at racing longer distance triathlons and marathons but I’m baffled.

Last week I decided that it was extremely too hot to run outside (we’re pushing triple digits now in Tejas) so I took to the treadmill. I did notice that my HR was more controlled indoors. I still had to walk two or three times to slow my HR down but I stopped much less and it took much longer to push it up that high. I never realized how much the heat can effect my HR. With that being said, I don’t how to fix it either! I’m going to continue with my training and try to maintain my target zones whether it be indoor or outdoor but this has to be the most frustrating thing EVER!

Have any of you readers ever struggled with this? How did you overcome it?

Stranded and struggling but I’ll keep on running. Happy running fam! 

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