Change of Heart


Let me begin way back in January.  I had signed up and began training for my second marathon in March.  Training went off without a problem.  Well actually, my only problem was that the scheduled day for my longest training run, 22 miles, we had an ice storm.  I grappled with running outside and settled with running it on the treadmill.  Yes, you may be shaking your head at this moment - 22 miles on a treadmill - is this girl crazy?  Suffice it to say I am. I did it.  It wasn't my favorite.  My training runs were all around 8:30-8:40 minute mile pace outdoors and my treadmill run was at a 9:10 overall.  I also remembered that I did it on 2/22 and yes it was 22 miles.  Never underestimate your potential and about 30 episodes of Friends to watch.

Fast forward to the race and I knew from the start that something was just off.  By mile 3 or 4 I noticed my heart rate was exceedingly high and I was right on pace.  I progressively slowed my pace down in an attempt to reduce my heart rate but it wasn't working.  I started to intermittently walk and run to try to lower the rate as much as possible. By mile 15 my husband had planned on meeting me at mile marker 18 and running the remaining part of the race with me because I wasn't looking good.  I finished my marathon with an 1h and 15 m personal record but not where I wanted to be time-wise.


Clearly my max heart rate was too high to the point of dangerous.

After much heart testing and meeting with cardiologists - I came out of it with one of two suggestions.  Reduce my running down to 20 minutes 3 times a week or find another sport.  Both of which were not acceptable.  In a weird coincidence on a random Saturday at a swim meet I met up with an old running friend.  I shared my story and he laid it all out for me.  I needed to train my heart.  Wait, what? He proceeded on with explaining that I needed to slow my runs down and keep my heart rate in a certain zone and train it there.  How long I asked? He said until my heart rate learned and that it could take many months or years.

I researched heart rates, used calculations found online and figured out what zones I needed to work within.  My Garmin watch also shows my zones and I started there.  Zone 3 and 4 on the left were my targets to start with while running. And the chart on the right chart corresponds with my Garmin watch that provides my training effect and recovery required after each run.


I started running slowly and kept adjusting my speed each run. The heat, humidity, hydration etc. all impacted my heart rate. Every run I paid attention to my heart rate and not pace.  Yes, but isn't pace everything?  All everyone talks about is running a 6 or 7 minute mile.  Sure speed work is one thing but I'm running to train my heart and the benefits I discovered were astounding.

Within about 3 weeks I started to notice that I was able to run longer distances without any issues.  No stomach or GI pains.  My legs were tired but turned over really quickly.  I was adding distance each week with no problems.  I was enjoying running instead of beating myself down.  WHAT IS GOING ON?! I then hit my first 200 mile month.  Then July was 227.05!  Again, it was slower but that distance was the most I had ever done in a month.  My highest weekly mileage was 69.22 miles!

As my mileage was increasing and I was able to do back-to-back long runs, 24 one day, 8 the next with no issues. My REM sleep was increasing each night.  I felt great.  Had I found nirvana?  Maybe my running version.  I started running some easy trails.  I entered the world of possibility of doing an ultra marathon.  I then jumped and signed up.  Training was awesome.  I was prepared to tackle this challenge.

October 4th arrived after a week of heavy rains.  I knew I was ready.  I tapered.  I had installed spikes in my sneakers to help prevent slippage on the muddy trails.  And the next memory was running and navigating over muddy single foot trails.  Rocks, wet leaves and a ski mountain were all thrown at me.  My heart rate remained steady.  My legs felt like they were on fire but I was doing this!  This was a picture from early on in the race.


Doing an ultra marathon on a trail is nothing quite like anything you've ever done before.  Trails were intense.  People were slipping and falling on rocks, tree stumps and wet leaves.  Cliffs lined the slippery trails to my left and right at various points.  Mountains that felt like I was climbing Mt. Everest stared me straight in the eyes.  I tackled it all.  Luckily, I teamed up with a running angel, Pete, who was navigating this journey at the same speed and we decided to run together.  Miles ticked away one by one. I remember him saying we just hit 27 and thinking I just ran more than a marathon.  He said we haven't hit the wall and we're still going.  And we were.  When I wanted to stop he reminded me that it was simply one foot in front of the other.  And when he wanted to stop, I made him run to the next hill we would face. That's the awesome thing about ultra marathons - trail runners talk and laugh with you.  They embrace the pain of the moment.  Commradere is king.  Oh and the rest stops are like hotel buffets filled with the best food to help you endure.  I think I ate my share of vegetable soup, Twizzlers and gummy bears to fuel me along with my sports drink I use.

The course cut-off time was delayed a bit due to the course being so wet/muddy and harder to navigate.  I had no time goal other than to finish under the 8 hour mark but even that was questionable with all the rain we had prior to the race.  I had never run a trail like this before.  Happily,  Pete and I finished at 7:43 for 31.4 miles.  Officially now an ultra marathoner with a heart rate that finally behaved during the hardest run of my life.

I continue to train my heart and no longer care about pace.  I love running distance and I am embracing this journey I'm on even if those 7 minute miles are eluding me now.  Life is so much more than just the pace ... it's about the distance.

I've never been more proud of finishing a race. Post race in my finisher 3/4 zip award.

And lastly a picture as Pete and I approached the finish line laughing hysterically that we finally made it.


related articles