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I am a 38 year-old male beginner runner with a history of sport in my earlier years (but hated running by itself), I started the C25K program in mid-december to try to get some fitness back in after having 2 kids.

Back story:

I got to Week 7 with no issues, and tried to find a comfortable pace that isn't pushing too hard (at least I thought) but without being too shuffle-along either. I felt comfortable, tried to follow the info I'd read about keeping at a pace that could still talk (though I wouldn't be giving long winded discussions probably). I'm not trying to kill myself, just find a rhythm that is comfortable. Certainly a challenge, but I never felt exhausted, always feeling like I could have kept going a bit more than the current program phase.

My resting heart rate measured first thing in the morning dropped from 62 at the start of the program to 49-50, blood pressure's gone down from 130/80 to 122/74 so that's good. Generally feeling really good about everything, I run 3 times per week and ensure I'm giving myself good rests between runs.

I'm 38, 6'8" but probably still 10kg over my ideal weight. My Max heart rate is ~182 according to the usual calculation methods. a 70-80% is 142-156. I didn't have a HR monitor earlier on so just tried to listen to my body and not stress it out but keep on running.

In Week 7 Run 2 I got my Wahoo Heart Rate Monitor (sort of as a present to myself). Week 7 is running starting 25 minutes non-stop, so it was my second non-stop run. During the initial warm up fast-walk, my HR was 130. Just After I started running my usual pace the HR monitor reported 164bpm. It remained steady near this until I went up a hill and went up to 170. This is in the 80-90% range. The peak for the entire run was 174 on the steepest spot. Average HR for the entire run, including a 5 minute warm up walk, and cool down is 158.

Heart rate recovery after 2 minutes was 150, and reduces steadily. Within the 2 minutes I'm breathing totally normally again.

I thought with this HR I was might be running too fast (not that I thought I was), so the next run, a 28 minute one, I tried to go as slow as I could. Practically no change in HR measurements. By the end of the run I was certainly a bit fresher than I had been and could easily pickup the pace near the end but no change in HR.

Obviously as a beginner runner, my body is going to have to adjust, and it's naturally going to be under some stress as the program develops, indeed it's the little bits of stress that is going to encourage it to improve. I don't know how to slow down much more than I'm going without just resorting to walking phases. My body feels totally fine, I'm enjoying the running, it's a good challenge without being crazy I feel.


Is my HR too high here? What can I do different? A friend of mine who does some long run's and has done a marathon just cautioned me not to run too hard, because it can train the heart 'the wrong way'.

With only 2 runs to go to complete the C25K I'm ready to keep going and go through the bridge program to 10k. I'm not after speed, just good exercise and some fresh air and some endurance building. I'm feeling good.

Here's my Runkeeper activity summary pic: (shown below) to show this last run in pictures.

I have a regular running route which is a nice series of left turns around the block which avoids crossing at traffic lights. It has some hills though, maybe the hills are where the major HR issue is, if I can find a flatter spot I'm pretty sure I could stay in the 164-169 range easily (though that is still 80-90%).

Any advice appreciated.


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It's now two years later, I'm reading this and I'm extremely similar to you. If you're still around and still running -- did your heart rate during a training go down over time, as you got more experienced? – RemcoGerlich Apr 15 '14 at 12:15
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I went through a similar situation with my C25K back in 2009. I was 45. According to a Garmin monitor, my HR hit 191 during one of my earlier runs while practicing a fast cadence. As with your question, I was a bit scared by that number and did not do that again. Even at my very slow, shuffle running pace, my HR would often be in the 165-170 range. A four mile one hour run a week after completing C25K resulted in an average HR of 165 for the last mile. Not long after this, I took a look at how I was training. I have done this periodically since then.

There are many schools of thought on HR training. Here are a few of those.

Dr. Timothy Noakes discusses heart rates for training in his book, Lore of Running. On page 281 is this text: "One popular training dogma is that maximum benefit is achieved by training at between 60% and 90% of maximum heart rate. Ideally, heart rates should fall between these values for most of the training time." Table 5.3 shows Maximum heart rates and target range for different ages. Your age of 38 would fall into this category:

Age: 30-39 Maximum HR: 190 Target HR: 114-168

You seem to be mostly within that target range.

On page 283 is Table 5.4, Exercise prescription according to five training heart rate zones. The methods of Sally Edwards and Edmund Burke. The middle or Aerobic zone has a target heart rate of 70-80% of maximum heart rate.

Coach Joe Friel recommends using your lactate threshold heart rate as a basis for determining your training zones. Information on calculating that yourself is here. Zone 2 would be used for building endurance.

At a more conservative level is Dr. Phil Maffetone. He advocates doing an aerobic base building phase using a maximum aerobic function (MAF) HR calculated by 180-age +/- for some factors. There is more on that here. There is a forum specifically devoted to this low HR type training on the Running Ahead web site.

As you can see, there are a variety of thoughts on how heart rate should be used to guide your training. You can plug your numbers into the formulas mentioned to see how they apply to you specifically. In the two years or so since completing my C25K, I have tried several methods. Which you follow may depend partly on your goals, losing weight, gaining speed for shorter events, or building endurance for longer events. And, as already mentioned, if you have concerns, check with your doctor.

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My Max heart rate is ~182 according to the usual calculation methods.

At the risk of not actually answering the question: have you considered the possibility that this estimate of your maximum may be quite different from your actual maximum? You mentioned that your age is 38, and I noticed that your supposed max of 182 conveniently fits with the questionable1,2 "HRmax = 220 - age" formula, which may be pretty close for some statistically significant percentage of the population, but can be quite a bit higher or lower than your actual maximum.

The point being: if your starting assumption about HRmax is wrong, zone/percentage calculations following from it will also be wrong. So you have to make sure that's properly accounted for before anything else based on it.

There are a number of ways3 to determine your HRmax or at least get you very close to it. This generally involves some physical (not mathematical) exercise while monitoring your pulse. If you have any medical conditions, you may want to consult with a doctor first, or even have a doctor help you determine your actual, not estimated HRmax (via cardiac stress test).

1 Kolata:

2 Personal anecdote: when I was 38 I had a stress test performed (on a stationary bicycle), and hit a measured pulse of 188 BPM, 6 over my "max" of 182. I'm now 42 and have recently 185 during a recent ride; 7 over my "max" of 178.

3 Edwards:

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thank you for your answer, this gives me more to read, and at least sort of partially/maybe explain while I feel pretty good (all things considered) while running. – tallpsmith Jan 29 '12 at 22:16
Also, keep in mind that actual Heart Rates fluctuate with different body types (tall & thin, short & thin, tall & thick, short & thick). These HR scales are trying to give you a guideline. – jp2code Feb 1 '12 at 19:13
This makes sense. I'm 37 myself, and managed a 200 bpm peak last winter. Won't do that again, though. The room started spinning afterwards. I usually do intervals that peak at 180. – Fuzzy76 May 24 '13 at 11:54

Max heart rate cannot be calculated, you can only try to reach max rate and measure it. I'm also 38 and my max rate was 204 last year. That was measured by a doctor during a test, I went to the doctor because everyone told me I probably had a problem because of my high rate, the doctor reassured my and explained the 220-age thing is just an average.

One interesting thing the doctor told me is to watch how fast your heart rate goes back to a normal value after an effort, if it your rate stays fast even when you slow down you probably exercise too much...

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Thanks, I think my heart rate drops fairly well after I stop running and finish up with a cool down walk. I certainly return to normal breathing patterns in a couple of minutes, so that's sounding ok. – tallpsmith Jan 31 '12 at 23:21

If you have concerns about your heart rate then I would see a doctor.

However, I wouldn't be concerned about the numbers you present above. I've run half-marathons with my heart rate sitting on 170bpm (at age 25 and I was 5'6 and 140 pounds).

I must temper that statement by saying that you're taller and heavier than most runners but not by enough for those results to be concerning.

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