Marathon training by heart rate

I've just started following the 16 week garmin-ready RW marathon training schedule by heart rate and wonder if anyone has any feedback on this? Or is perhaps in the middle of it at the moment. What it calls "slow" and "steady" seem more strenuous than I was expecting and I think my resting heart rate and max are about right. I do like the idea that my fitness can improve or weight can drop and I don't have to adjust the paces, I can just follow the target heart rate range and forget about everything.


  • So in case any is interested, by any small chance, here's my progress so far with this training plan.

    Week 1: missed the first day as I was too sore after playing squash two days in a row not having played for months. Followed the programme for the next few days, but slow at 73-78% MHR and steady at 79-84% didn't seem very slow or steady to me. I was definitely panting away. The week 1 long run at 12 miles from 73-78% max, wasn't the easy long run I'd previously been accustomed to, but felt like a half marathon kind of effort. Perhaps not that hard, but not far off.

    I started week 2 with an "easy" 4 miler at 69-74% MHR, but even that wasn't conversational pace. After the 4 miles, I slowed down to a pace that I thought was "easy" and my heart rate was 10 beats lower. Oh well. Today I looked at the schedule and was a bit apprehensive to see something that looked like 10k at 5k pace! i.e. 1 mile warm-up and then 3 x 2 miles at 90-94% MHR. Well I tried the first 2 miler and got to 88% and couldn't get any higher. After half a mile I stopped and reduced my max heart rate from 184 to 180 image I then restarted and managed just one of the 2 milers and gave up.

  • Hi nce, am a bit of a newbie to HR running myself (just finished 6 months of it) but it sounds to me as if your RHR and MHR might be wrong? care to share?. Most people I see starting HR running have to walk at sub 70% at first. I used to use WHR but am following HADD and that works best using MAX HR (even slower at 70%).

    Do you have any running history or just starting out?


  • Hi Andi, my HR now sat down just after eating breakfast with my Garmin on is 48-50. I had set 50 on the watch but I don't think it really matters as the marathon programme only seems to use % of max rather than % WHR. I've done three 5k races in July. A hilly race and two flat parkruns. My stats were 23:00/174/185, 22:30/177/186 and 22:10/169/181 (time/average HR/max HR). All three of them were very max effort possible and I did get faster in each one. I had set 184 as max on the Garmin, as I thought that's what I'd reached, but I guess I should have put 186.

    I have been running for many years on and off and I did a marathon a few years back but it went completely pear-shaped when I hit the wall and I haven't done any racing since. I then got a bit out of shape and earlier this year I decided to do something about it and got rid of 2 stone excess weight and am running and playing squash again.

    Looking at my Garmin, on Monday I did a mile in 9:41 at an average HR of 128, which is 70% of 182, so I don't need to walk at 70% HR.

    Anyway, a bit of rambling on there. I'm not sure what to make of this training programme. I'll carry on for a few more weeks and see how it's going. But it's hard work. Maybe that's what I should be doing rather than lots of the easy running that I did previously?
  • PhilPubPhilPub ✭✭✭

    IMO you can use HR effectively for easy runs, and maybe tempo and marathon pace runs as well, but you come unstuck with intervals.  3 x 2M @ something like 5k pace?  Yes, clearly that's nigh-on impossible (or your 5k pace is quicker); the fact that you're comparing it to paces you are familiar with should tell you that you're better off doing these sorts of sessions according to feel.  If you did manage to complete 3 x 2M with even pacing at a hard, but not impossible effort, I can guarantee you that your average HR would be a few beats higher on the last rep than on the first one.  Much better to have completed the session than to blindly follow someone else's stats and give up because they're not working.

    I'm not even sure about some of the other stats.  For easy runs I will rarely go over 70% max, maybe 75%.  If it isn't feeling as easy as it should, slow down... And there again, what you're basically doing is overriding what the HR programme is telling you to do with what your body tells you. 

  • Hi PhilPub. Yes, I guess I should do the interval efforts, or anything it labels as 90-94%, by feel. There seems to be one session a week like this, though in a couple of weeks there's a session of 6-7x800m with the 800m intervals at 93-97%HR. I doubt that's going to work out.

    Looking at the stats for my last 5k and my last few runs, it seems like my heart rate is depressed somewhat. Not sure why, but perhaps the sudden increase in exercise effort.

    I'll keep it going for a while and see how it pans out. Today's workout was "slow" 6 miles at 73-78% MHR which averaged 9 minute miles and 139bpm. It felt pretty good actually, but that was since I reduced the max heart rate setting to 180
  • Hmm, I'm not sure if I've really been bothered by the heat, and surely I'd slow down if it were affecting me? Your different stats are interesting. Maybe that's a good sign for me and marathon training if I can run faster at lower heart rates?

    Yesterday I had another speed-ish session. 1 mile warm-up, 2 miles "brisk" at 87-91% and 1 mile cool-down. I get the feeling that nobody has tried this programme before. Trying to go straight to 87% is really difficult (for me). I think it should be graduated, so that you perhaps have a target of 75-91 for the first half mile, then 80-91, then 87-91 for the last mile, or something like that. If I get a chance, I might go through the workouts and add that in.
  • PhilPubPhilPub ✭✭✭

    This is why I think HR is only really useful when you're getting beyond shorter distance efforts, i.e. from continuous tempo runs upwards.  On a typical long tempo or marathon pace run, my HR for the first mile will be ~7/8 beats lower than the average for the rest of the run (even after a couple of miles' warm-up); hence you're much better off getting used to working to the right level of perceived effort, then once you're into your running you can keep an eye on HR to make sure it's an even effort.

    You can then use this in the race itself; by the time you get to race day you should have had lots of practise of race pace, so you can ease yourself in over the first couple of miles before checking that HR has stabilised. If you try to hit a prescribed HR straight off, you'll probably start off too quickly.

  • Is perceived effort really optimal either though? If I take my 5k from last week, my average HR for each km was 153, 167, 172, 175 and 176 with a peak of 181 at the end of the last km. Even though the first km was the fastest, it was also at the least perceived effort as I was holding back so that I wouldn't slow down later on. I still did slow down anyway with my last km being 15s slower than the first at a much higher perceived effort and heart rate.
  • PhilPubPhilPub ✭✭✭

    Obviously you need to allow for the fact that you'll always be feeling more uncomfortable in the last mile than the first mile, but that's half the art of good pacing. Once you've got an idea of what paces you should be running for your given level of fitness, you can use your km splits as a cross-check.  If it feels about right, and is about the right pace after 1k, this'll tell you more than whatever your HR has managed to creep up to at such an early stage.

  • Marathon training by heart rate is looking more and more like an art than a science!
  • Also-ranAlso-ran ✭✭✭

    Nce - just so we are reading from the same page, 3 x 2miles @ 10k pace doesn't seem right on week 2 . Have the sessions loaded up correctly. Later on there is a 3 x 2KM session on some of the variants. 3 x 2M is the sort if session I built up to over a few weeks for 10k training.

  • Well, 3x2 miles at 5k pace was a bit of artistic licence. It actually says 90-94% MHR for the 2 milers, but that seems about the range my average HR for 5ks falls in. The programme is linked off this page: but the actual workouts are fairly different from the written pace version compared to the HR version. I didn't realise that until I started doing them. I couldn't figure out where the 12 miler for the very first long run came from.
  • Also-ranAlso-ran ✭✭✭

    I can't see any 3 x 2 milers on the written version. That sounds a bit manic so early in a training schedule. I did see some 4 mile runs with the middle 2 miles @ 10k pace.

    As has been said, focus on the effort level on reps. Heart rate will lag and rise throughout, so don't try to hit the heart rate targets early on.

    Best advice I can give, is sit back, look at the plan, and work out if a) It has downloaded and scheduled correctly, and then b) is it realistic for you. There is nothing more demoralising than being unable to complete sessions.

    I suspect a) in this case

  • Definitely heat. All your capillaries will have opened up and you'll be pumping far more blood than usual. Leading to higher heart rate for slower paces.

    For LSRs I'm aiming for about 75% max and last Sunday's 19miles was a killer even at very slow pace (for me).

  • Well I don't know how good this programme is for marathon training, but it's a killer for 5k training. I just knocked over 30s off my 5k time in a week. From 22:10 to 21:38 at this week's parkrun! Will report back after tomorrow's 13 mile week 2 long run. Thanks for the feedback. Lots to think about.
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