Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Wed, 3 Jan 2001 09:23:48 -0500

Running by Heart


George Beinhorn worked with me in the early years of Runner's World. Since then he has gone up to ultrarunning and back down again to more standard distances.

Even though his work in the sport is long past, he still writes well about running. His good thoughts show up here from time to time.

George surprised me recently by saying that he uses a heart-rate monitor. He's as no-frills in approach as any runner I know, and he's the least likely to buy into costly gadgetry just to be cool. If he runs with a monitor, his reasons aren't faddish.

Before he explains, let me say that I bought a Polar device a few years ago, wore it only a half-dozen times and eventually gave it away rather than let it sit unused. George's story almost makes me want to retrieve it.

"I've been having some interesting experiences with a heart-rate monitor, he wrote. "I wouldn't normally mention it to you, except that it's intimately related to LSD."

Long slow distance, that is. I borrowed the term eons ago as the title of a book, then soon abandoned it as misleading. It urges runners to go as slowly as possible instead of settling into the right pace for them at the moment, which is neither too fast nor too slow.

Instinct and experience help us find that just-right pace. So does the heart-rate monitor. But I'm interrupting George's report.

"It's been about a year since I gave up ultrarunning," he said. "I enjoy SOME form of adventure, so I decided to improve my speed. Even though I tried all the standard variations on speedwork, I was unable to improve -- or, frankly, to develop enthusiasm for the project.

"Finally I picked up the HRM, which had been lying unused for two years. I immediately discovered that my tempo runs and track workouts were much too fast. When I slowed down to the appropriate speed, I had the feeling the body was telling me, 'This is the right way to do it'."

George also realized that much of his previous running had been too slow. "All those years of slogging along through six- and seven-hour runs with my heart rate in the warmup zone had done very little to improve my aerobic speed. As soon as I began doing 10-milers with my heart rate in the aerobic training zone, I immediately began to feel more fit."

Here's how he illustrated just-right pace on a longer run: "I did a 20-miler, wearing the HRM. I was very, very tired at the start (for non-running reasons) and probably shouldn't have run the 20, but go figure.

"When my heart rate rose just five beats a minute past the middle of the aerobic training zone (about 135 beats per minute for me), I immediately felt pushed and frazzled. When I backed off to 124 to 128 beats, there was that wonderful feeling of harmony."

He concluded, "Far from standing between me and my body's signals, the HRM has helped me hear them again. It urges me to alternately run harder and easier.

"There's a deep enthusiasm now that went missing for many years. The body is simply rejoicing."

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