A Change of Heart - Chi Running

A Change of Heart

Posted by Michelle Muldoon on Wed Oct 10th, 2012, 8 comments

A Change of Heart

If you read my blog you will know I have been training to heart rate since late last year.  This has been frustrating at times but on the whole I’ve enjoyed it and it has allowed me to focus and improve many aspects of my running form.  However, after 10 months I am not making the progress I thought I would and something had to change.

I had some tests done at the time to determine my training zones and the aerobic zone is where I have done most of my running.  Although I have seen some improvements in pace for the same heart rate, there has not been enough for me to want to continue what I am doing.  Frankly, running was becoming less enjoyable and I couldn’t let that happen.  I may be busy trying to unleash my inner athlete but I also run for fun and the pure enjoyment of it.

I am still a huge fan of a heart rate training approach though and so have looked at other ways to use it.  I rarely race but as I mentioned in my last blog, I recently ran a 5k and have decided to use the maximum heart rate reached in that race as a basis for my training.  This has given me a few more beats per minute to work with and allows me to run more fluidly.  Most importantly for me, I am able to run without having to stop and walk because my HRM tells me I am no longer in the zone yet again.  This was soul destroying especially when you have put months of work into it.  Mentally, this has a negative effect and only causes your heart rate to rise in any case.

I am a tall long-legged creature.  Having to run as slowly as I did for a few months is fine but not on an ongoing basis.  My body was screaming at me to stretch out, increase the range of motion, run fast for goodness sake!

I was reminded recently by fellow instructor Ryan Miller about the four chi skills taught in Chi Running; too often, he said, the focus on running form is just on the mechanics.  I thought how right you are.  As a reminder to you, the four chi skills are: focus your mind; body sensing; breathing and relaxation.  Body sensing was the key one in making this decision.

Stay mindful of what you are doing and why.  Most importantly, listen to your own body, if after giving it your best shot something doesn’t feel right, change it.

Three weeks in, I am much happier with my running and enjoying this new phase of my training.  If you are training to heart rate, I would be really interested to hear your experience.

Happy running.



  • mindful running,
  • running form,
  • relaxation,
  • breathing,
  • heart rate

8 CommentsLeave a comment below

I just had my heart rate zones tested and was thinking about using this.  Interesting that my long runs end up being about 10 beats below where my zones say I should be training for the aerobic zone.  The higher zone seems a little fast for long runs.  Not sure how to proceed.

Jacquie Peterson Oct 10th, 2012 04:10pm

Hi Michelle,

I run with a heart rate monitor regularly. I have to say that rarely do I stay within my target heart rate after warming up for 5-10 minutes. Usually I am over 10 - 20 beats. I think part of the reason I am over my target heart rate is because I run in high elevation (and then there are those physical limitations too). I can definitely feel the difference when I run at a lower elevation though.

I’ve been running with a heart rate monitor for about five years. I’ve been doing it for so long I feel naked without it (and could probably do without it now that I’ve found Chi Running). When I do try to stay in my target heart rate, my run feels sluggish. I also feel a little impatient, wanting to get it over with.

I found the section about heart rate training in the Marathon Chi Running book interesting and right on with what I’ve tried to practice. But I’ve always wanted to ask the questions 1.) What if you are running in high elevation and have a hard time staying on target? and 2.) If you have a normally high heart rate, what should you do? I’ve never wanted to hear that walking to recover is the answer because the minute I start running it’d be right back up within 30 seconds and have to walk again.

Even though I run outside my heart rate, by being consistent I have improved my cardiovascular muscles. I can run and not feel winded if I stop. I also know when I need to slow down to catch up. With that, I’ve finished eight half marathons and two full marathons.

As you’ve found, I think the best way to run is by practicing Chi Running body sensing techniques. They have definitely helped me have more quality runs, and I have found I don’t even pay attention to the heart rate monitor anymore. I pay more attention to my C and wheels.

Since I started practicing Chi Running over a year ago, now, the only time I notice my heart rate monitor is at the end of the run. I check to make sure my heart rate has dropped 25-30 beats within a minute, purely out of habit. Somewhere along the line I read that if your heart doesn’t recover after a minute it means that you’re over trained and need a break (I wondering if it’s time to revisit this theory). That’s how I justified running outside of my heart rate, anyway.

Feel free to give me an email if you have any questions Michelle. Thanks for posting a very meaningful article.

Jacquie Peterson

This is really useful feedback on this method.  Only read about training to heart rate recently (with respect to running at least) and the writer expressed some of the same frustrations as you - slow, interrupted the flow, restricted that feeling of freedom that running produces. I’m going to try it for staying in the aerobic zone for weight loss for awhile, but from what you wrote it might not be something I use beyond that.  Maybe it would be good for the treadmill during winter days when it’s just too miserable outside…

Michelle Muldoon Oct 15th, 2012 09:23am

Brian, The aerobic zone is where you should be doing your long runs. It is extremely unusual to find that you would be running 10bpm below your suggested range.  I believe anyone who starts out training to heart rate almost always has to slow down to stay in the range.  I would have them checked again or perhaps you need to pick up your pace to get into your aerobic zone?


Michelle Muldoon Oct 15th, 2012 09:40am

Hi Jacquie, Thanks for your comments. Yes, elevation is definitely a complication!  I don’t have to worry about that where I live.  In the early weeks, I felt the sluggish feeling you describe when trying to stay within the zone but I used that to practise different elements of my form.  With Chi Running, you should be able to run fluidly even at a slow pace.  Patience is indeed tested too.  However, I think that there is a necessary period of feeling frustration when starting out with HR training especially in the early weeks and months.  Discipline is required to see the benefits.

You have to cut yourself some slack with the elevation but the advice would of course be to walk to get it back down again.  You could try it for a few weeks.  It’s easier to justify the walk on a hill than on the flat!  It’s also good form practise to transition from running to walking and vice versa. Certainly on level ground, try staying within the zone.

You are right too that how quickly your heart rate recovers is also a good indicator of progress.

Well done on your half marathons and marathons.  Keep up the good work!

Michelle Muldoon Oct 15th, 2012 09:47am

Colleen, As I said to Jacquie, it is inevitable that there will be a period of frustration when starting out with heart rate training and practising your form can help you with that.

I personally much prefer to run outside but the treadmill can be a good place to work on heart rate as you don’t have to deal with the elements and elevation and so on.  Don’t let my experience put you off.  As I said in my blog, I am still still training to heart rate just using a different approach.  Let us know how it goes for you.


Hi Michelle, thanks for your feedback.  I contacted the place that did my testing and they had me walk at home on my treadmill for 3 minutes on 3.0 and report my heartrate which was 86.  They said my numbers were accurate.  There is no way they can be.  When I run at the supposed aerobic zone of 150, I am just about at my 10k race pace!  There is no way I could sustain that pace for a few hours.  Something is amiss.  I may test my heartrate on my own, can you recommend a protocol?  thanks

Michelle Muldoon Oct 17th, 2012 04:54pm

Hi Brian,  You can have a look at the Maffetone method. Danny talks about this in the Chi Marathon book too. Also look at Karvonen, this formula uses your max heart rate to calculate your zones. There are a number of ways to approach heart rate training.  Lots of information out there. Do some research and decide which approach might work for you.


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