Listen to Your Heart

This post is in collaboration with Braun. 

Listen to your heart - heart rate training for marathons

What does your running watch show you?

Time. Distance. Pace. How about your heart rate?

My current plans have had what my target heart rate should be during my easy runs, as a way of thinking about a recovery run being more about my body than about the speed of the workout.

And for many runners, it isn’t just during their easy runs that they’re paying attention to their heart rate. In fact, a whole method of training exists called Maffetone Marathon Training, that concentrates on low heart rate training.

Listen to your heart - heart rate training for marathons

Benefits of low heart rate training include;

  • transition from carb to fat burning
  • reduce risk of overtraining
  • build a really strong aerobic base
  • increase speed without having to do speedwork

My friend Amanda wrote a great blog on the Maffetone Method: Low Heart Rate training here.

Personally, I know it’s not for me – I love my speedwork – however it is something that works for a lot of people. And the more I train, the more aware I am of my heart rate. I can tell if an easy day needs to be even easier than usual or dropped altogether for a rest day if my heart rate is too high. Similarly, I know I’m tired, stressed or getting ill when my resting heart rate increases.

summer running

Training runs based on heart rate are divided into four categories;

  • Zone 1: 60 to 70 %; very comfortable effort; use this for warmup and cooldown
  • Zone 2: 70 to 80 %; comfortable enough to hold a conversation; most training is done here
  • Zone 3: 81 to 93%; “comfortably hard” effort; you may be able to say short, broken sentences.
  • Zone 4: 94 to 100%; hard effort; the pace is sustainable, but conversation is a few words at a time. For most people this is around 5-K pace.

It can be quite tricky, especially for those in their teens/twenties, to get up to the zone 4, max effort zones. Similarly, it can also be quite tricky to stay in Zone 1 if you’re living at altitude, especially to start with, and you may require a lot of walking breaks to stay in that zone.

Polar have written a helpful blog about how to work out your max heart rate here. 

If training by heart rate sounds like something you’d be interested in, I’d highly recommend chatting with a specialised coach to create a tailored plan. It isn’t as easy as ‘hit these paces’.

summer running

As well as becoming more aware of my heart rate during my easy runs in particular, I’ve learned a lot more during my dietetics degree about my blood pressure/

During my gestational diabetes and bariatric clinics in the hospital I was taking blood pressure readings from patients. Although genetics do play a role, high blood pressure is most often linked to poor lifestyle and dietary choices. It can be affected by weight, high sugar and salt diets, low omega 3 intake, stress, fitness level and smoking status.

A healthy BP reading should be around 120/80. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, increases your risk of cardiac incidences, like heart attacks, strokes, but also kidney problems.

blood pressure readings  

Since I don’t visit the doctors very often, I had no idea what my BP reading was, but I was interested, especially since my stress levels fluctuate a lot. I was excited to be sent the Braun  iCheck® 7 to check my blood pressure at home (and avoid the anomaly readings that can happen with nerves at the doctors office!). The machine uses a cuff around your wrist to take a blood pressure reading, then helpfully colour ordinates it for you, in green for normal, yellow for slightly high, orange for moderate hypertension and red for hypertension. I have to admit, when I tried it at the end of a stressful day, I did have a red reading, but mostly they read green!

It’s quick and easy to use, doesn’t require charging and gives you an almost instant answer. The device has a very interesting system to help you position it the right way, to make sure you use it correctly, for an accurate reading. You just have to place a small ball in a hole, helping you this way to find the correct position at heart level.

blood pressure readings

You can also use the Braun Healthy Heart app to monitor your BP readings. The app allows you to log in some lifestyle factors info, like diet, sleep, mood and exercise.  This way, you can use it as an indication of when you might be more stressed/tired, but also as a good indicator when talking about blood pressure and lifestyle with your doctor, especially if you or they have any concerns.

Something I was made aware of recently was a link between headaches and low blood pressure, something that my father in law suffered from him the past. I was pleased to see that I didn’t have the same issue (although I would have quite liked an answer to my migraines!)

Do you have your blood pressure checked regularly? 

Have you ever tried heart rate training? Do you think about your heart rate during your runs? 


  1. June 22, 2018 / 6:55 pm

    Very interesting information. I’m aware of my heart rate during my runs because my dad has a heart condition that is hereditary. I run for my heart health, but I also worry overtraining. It’s a crazy balancing act. Thank god for heart rate monitors!

  2. Simon Canning
    June 25, 2018 / 1:07 pm

    HI Charlie,
    For the less informed I am not sure how much sense this all makes. Ref low hr training, if one does not achieve overload, then there will be no improvement. And I wonder how low hr rate training can achieve improved speed.
    With regards to the zones you mention, and the percentages, are these referring to % of max hr? If not what is the reference.
    Hr training can be really effective but really unless one has experience you are best referring to a club or coach for advice.
    You point about rest is crucial; over training is likely to reduce gains, potentially lead to injury and will eventually be detrimental to ones goals.

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