Recently I interviewed mother runner, Alyssa Bloomquist, about how she qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon doing track workouts running with a stroller. How in the world? All of us know that running with a stroller is really difficult and trying to hold a fast pace is nearly impossible. The trick was paying attention to heart rate zones.
As I wrote in this piece about stroller running, the trick is to ditch thinking about pace and think about heart rate. Now, I want to go into more detail about heart rate training and how to do it.
What are heart rate zones
Your heart rate is the best indicator of how hard your body is working. Therefore, how fast your heart is beating is more reliable in tracking your fitness than how fast your legs are running when it comes to training with a stroller.
No matter the distance you’re training for, your training plan will have a mixture of runs including easy runs, long runs, intervals, tempos, etc. The reason for the variety is that you’re wanting your heart to work in different zones to build different systems in your body.
The five heart rate zones
- Zone 5 (90-100% of maximum): This is your max. Your heart and lungs are working as hard as they possibly can and lactate is building up in your blood. You won’t be able to run at this level for more than a few minutes.
- Zone 4 (80-90% of maximum): This zone is where the hurt begins. You’ll get better at running faster for longer as your body gets better at tapping carbs for energy and learning how to withstand higher levels of lactate in your blood.
- Zone 3 (70-80% of maximum): This zone improves blood flow throughout your body and also is where lactate starts to build in your bloodstream.
- Zone 2 (60-70% of maximum): This zone improves your general endurance, making your body more efficient at burning fat. It also helps your body get better at moving oxygen through your muscles.
- Zone 1 (50-60% of maximum): This zone boosts recovery and readies your heart for more intense training.
How to use heart rate zones running with a stroller
To calculate your heart rate zones, check out this calculator, or use the standard formula of 220 minus your age. Many Garmin watches have heart rate monitors built-in, but the best monitors use a chest strap which you can buy to go with your Garmin or GPS watch or separate like a Polar brand.
Typically, training plans will specify different paces for a variety of runs. With heart rate training, you’ll want to look at the corresponding heart rate zones to the assigned stroller-less running paces.
So, say you have a training plan that calls for 3 one-mile repeats with one-minute interval rest. Instead of trying to run those at your threshold pace, run them at your threshold heart rate which is heart rate zone 4.
Related: 12 Genius Stroller Running Tips
Examples of workouts and corresponding heart rate zones:
- Zone 1: warm-up, cool-down, recovery runs, and shake-outs
- Zone 2: Long runs, easy runs
- Zone 3: Fartleks, progressions, tempos, and hilly route runs
- Zone 4: Tempo and progression runs (near the end), longer intervals like mile repeats
- Zone 5: Intervals like 400s, 200s, 800s, and hills
Most training plans will include about two to four easy run days, a long run day, a tempo day, and a speed day. The run you have for the day will dictate the heart rate zone you should train in.
Think time not distance when running
For easy days, it’s likely easier to run for time with kids in tow rather than miles. So, if the schedule says to run 4 miles and it typically takes you 40 minutes to do it, then run for 40 minutes instead. Also, if you’re training for a marathon, you’ll want to get childcare for your long runs. It’s important to get the distance in and most kids won’t ride happily for hours at a time (unless they are taking a REALLY long nap).
Finally, it’s important to give yourself grace and be flexible. Training with a stroller can be extra challenging for the reasons listed above but also because you’re trying to keep your kids happy while running. Sometimes it doesn’t matter the number of snacks you give, games you play, toys your bring, or songs you sing—the run just isn’t going to happen. Remember that you’re showing your kids that being active is important for lifelong health and happiness. You’re showing them a passion you have and the importance of chasing goals. This goes a long way—even if your stroller didn’t that day.
Related: The Best Running Strollers on the Market