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Heart rate training is an advantage: Fact or fairy tale?

I was glancing at a chart in Appalachian State University's rec center, which was designed to tell me and other patrons how we're doing when it comes to heart rate zone training.

The most common approach will tell you to subtract
your age from 220; that's your max heart rate.  Then take 60% of that amount for low range, 80% for high range, and you'll have the fat burn/training zone. This system will profess that it's good to work hard so that you elevate your heart rate, adapt to higher bpm's, and perform at a faster pace.

Pump the heart faster and faster and pretty soon you'll be hoisting the trophy at Boston or wearing the yellow jersey at a tour stage. Solid advice or silly input?

I was listening to Competitor Radio (one of my favorite podcasts) and heard an amazing fact. Dean Karnazes was laying out the training plan he used for his 50 marathons in 50 days expedition. Dean went to Chris Carmichael, Lance's former coach for the Tour de France, and asked about how to approach the relentless schedule. Carmichael brought tactics from the tour to Karnazes' effort and set the goal of running 4-hour marathons - at 100 bpm throughout.

It's my opinion that less is better. I can remember running a 50 miler in 1993 while not letting my heart rate top 130, due to health problems I was having that year.  Fast forward to 2012 and I'm still competing in the snooze range.  My resting pulse is in the low 40's, I train at 100-110 and max at 130.

Of course, I'm not a world beater, but how many master competitor athletes are? If you're attempting to finish races and have fun, stay relaxed and see how far you can go with your pulse in low gear.  Guess what? When your pulse is low you hurt less and smile more.  Lower pulse equals a longer distributed effort.  When I'm on my feet for 5-7 hours in a 50K, I'm not looking for 60 or 80 percent of my max; I'm looking for easy footfalls, relaxed breathing, and my engine at idle.

There are advocates who will encourage you to jack up your heart rate and there are people like me who will tell you to keep it low and loose. Your call, it all depends on where you're headed and how you want to get there.


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