Elevated heart rate when racing - any advice?

I’ve noticed that when racing my heart rate runs significantly higher than when training. For example at a recent marathon my heart rate was 15-20 bpm higher at my easy run pace than it would be when in training. This means that although I was running an easy pace my heart rate was more like that for a tempo run – not ideal for marathon running! Ultimately this affects my perceived effort, my times and plays havoc with pacing on the day.

Does anyone else experience this phenomenon? And in particular have any advice for how to overcome it? It’s getting hugely depressing to put in all the training and then to have performance affected on the day.

Any advice gratefully received…


  • SorequadsSorequads ✭✭✭
    Hi Kelvin. Was it hotter on the day? This can elevate it. The adrenaline of race day certainly affects mine, initially at least, before settling in due course. And when you say you were running at easy pace, was that definitely the case? I know for me, marathon pace feels pretty hard. Beyond that, I think it is just a matter of getting used to what occurs during races and being mindful of it. It shouldn't really affect you. For shorter races, a good warm up should also help in this regard.
    Sorequads is right, adrenaline certainly can make a difference as of course warmer conditions.

    Why not run to heart rate and after a few miles you should find that you can increase or certainly maintain pace as the adrenaline factor should wear off.  My average MHR for a marathon is 83-86%.

  • Hi both - thanks for the advice. I was thinking that maybe adrenaline was playing a part, however my heart only seems to climb even higher and does not settle down.

    I've had the same experience in various kinds of weather and distance (marathon and half marathon). I was definitely running at easy pace (5:55 per km) but at a heart rate of 165 bpm right from the gun.

    In comparison I did a tempo session a couple of weeks ago where I was hitting 4.55 per km for a similar heart rate? The extra effort certainly affects me later in the race, finding it hard to breathe etc and ultimately ruining my pacing and race. I like the idea of running by HR initially although I suspect it would mean starting off very slowly....
    kelvin - in a race if you start at too high a heartrate it's very hard to then get the heartrate back down to the level that you want.  I try and keep my HR down to a certain level in the first half of a marathon, if I let it get too high it won't come back down and I will end up with a slower and more difficult race.  In warm weather it's exactly the same, the HR is too high and doesn't come back down so again a difficult race.

    I think you're right, if you ran exactly to HR you would have to start slowly, and you'd also have to stay calm to keep that adrenaline down.  That might be good practise.

    Have you ever tried running to the Marco formula?   It would need a flattish course and a lot of discipline, I'm going to try it one day.   https://albanien.immobilien/fr.pl?th=_Marco

    I'm assuming you are using a chest strap HRM?  The wrist type are not so accurate.
  • SorequadsSorequads ✭✭✭
    Why don't you try taping your watch up next race. So only running to feel, and then looking at the data after. Worth a shot?
  • Shades - completely agree with what you said about getting the heart rate back down during the race. It just seems to stay high regardless.

    The Marco formula sounds interesting but unfortunately the link doesn't seem to work any more? Had a quick check elsewhere but all links seem to point to the same URL. How does it work?

    Yes, definitely using a chest strap - I noticed too many inconsistencies with wrist based, especially when it's colder.

    Just to check my understanding on the theory of HR. I'm working on the theory that higher heart rate = higher effort/intensity and therefore the shorter amount of time you can maintain the effort? Does this make sense?

    Shades - I've had mixed results with not looking at my watch and running by feel. It's worked ok on a couple of half marathons but failed spectacularly at a recent marathon where I felt like I was running easy effort but blew up about half way - and at a slower total pace than some training runs....
  • rodeofliprodeoflip ✭✭✭
    Kelvin, was your recent marathon London by any chance - as a pale-faced Scotsman more used to the cold and wind, I found my heart rate in the first mile at London to be 172 bpm, running at target pace. Yikes! Might explain why I crashed and burned later on. The heat meant that I was working much harder to maintain pace than I had in training.
  • SorequadsSorequads ✭✭✭
    Higher HR doesn't necessarily mean high effort level - it can be caused by anxiety, adrenaline etc. But long term trends would indicate that though.

    How often do you race? What is it like if you do an all out time trial, say like a parkrun?
    Kelvin - the Marco link still works for me, I've just tried it.  If you can't get it to work tell me your MHR and your half marathon PB and I'll try and paste the result on here!

    I wouldn't advise not using your watch in a race, the primary reason I use mine is to stop me going off too fast and/or at too high a heartrate.  I will sometime train by feel as it is important to be able to assess your effort as much as you can without using technology, for instance I never use the alert on my watch just glance down now and then.
  • Jonny BeachJonny Beach ✭✭✭
    I have suffered in the past .... as a rule I now never look at my HRM during the race. Run just to target pace on my watch !
  • Rodeoflip - No it wasn't London, it was the Milton Keynes marathon last week. While it was v.hot and no doubt contributed, I've had the same issue in autumn and winter races too.

    Sorequads - I generally race 2-3 times a year but am planning to race more with a view to getting a better understanding of what happens. Funnily enough I was planning to run a Park Run tomorrow with just that intention to see what insights that can provide.

    Shades - Just checked the link again, seems like it was my work's over eager firewall stopping me from accessing it. Just tried the calculator - seems like a good sensible way of pacing.

    It has calculated I would start out running 5:52 per km with a HR of 145. In my recent race I was running at 5:55 with a HR of 165. In comparison I did an easy run yesterday at circa 5:55 per km with a HR of (you guessed it) 143! Baffling and somewhat annoying. I'm tempted to enter another marathon using the target heart rates suggested and see how I get on.
    kelvin - glad you got the Marco link to work.   I only personally know one person that used it in a marathon and had a great run as lots left in the tank for the 2nd half.   

    But I know I would struggle to start at such a low HR in a race but still want to try it, I think for me would need to be after I've had a really good spell of training, maybe later this year. 
  • Training to HR is great but I personally wouldn't use it in a race such as a marathon. The reason is because of heart rate drift -a phenomenon that affects us all. As your core temperature rises gradually over the course of the marathon your HR rises too for the same effort. therefore, if you were to run to a consistent HR you'd have to slow yourself down. I think if you've done all your training to HR then on race day run to perceived effort and pace as I think it will produce better results
  • If you only race 2 or 3 times a year it's always going to be a bit exciting for you. 

    Get some parkruns in where you can practice the starts and maybe calm down a bit ?

    I agree with SSLHP - if you've trained for a marathon then you should have a pretty good idea of the time you want - so just race at the pace you need to. Your HR will definitely drift by the second half. 

    I just use the timers on my watch - If I'm after say 7 min 15 miles - then I just set a timer for 7.15 and when it beeps i should be at a mile marker. You get 26 chances to adjust your pace that way. 
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