Zone 1, Cross-Country & Chiggers

Heart Rate (HR) zone training isn't a new practice for me.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with HR zone training, endurance athletes measure exertion/lactate threshold (how hard/long you can push your body at max exertion) according to heart rates.  There are several different ways to establish zones, which isn’t important to this discussion.  However for your general edification (and possibly mindless  water-cooler chat later), Zone 1 (Z1) is considered really easy effort; Z2 is considered the “aerobic” zone where most endurance athletes live during training and racing and is about a 6/10 on an exertion scale.  

Zone 3 is a bit grayish, not in color, but more so in definition.  Where you should be able to talk in Zone 2, Zone 3 requires effort and Zone 4 & 5 are (forgive the expression) “balls to the wall.”  You’re laying it out there, taxing your body…think of high Zone 4 into Zone 5 as you being the only participant in the running of the bulls and there's no way out, just walls on either side and bulls bearing down full speed at your get the picture.

While HR zone training isn’t new to me, the way my new coach executes it is.  He tells me how long to run/bike and what zone my HR should stay in for the entirety of the run/bike.  When my HR exceeds that zone, my HR monitor on my wrist, alerts me by vibrating and I stop and walk (or slow my speed on the bike) until my HR has recovered into the prescribed zone, then I start runnig/riding again.  And thus is the cycle, run, walk, run, walk.  That’s new to me as before my new coach, I was training to HR average, not HR actual.  So I could hang out in Z3 for most of the run, but as long as my average for the run was Z2, I was good.    That no longer is the case.

The higher the zone requirement, the less I have to walk (unless I start climbing hills which of course artificially drives up the HR) because it’s easier to maintain a pace that will hold the HR within a certain zone…ANYYYYYYYYWHO as your eyes glaze over, I hear ya, less scientificey jibber, jabber and more story relaying. Lately, I’ve had a lot of Zone 1 runs on my schedule.  For the record, maintaining a running pace that keeps my HR  in Z1 isn’t easy.

Recently my 60-minute Z1 route took me through an area that is heavily occupied by major corporations; the Toyota North American Headquarters, Frito Lay North American Headquarters, Pizza Hut/Yum Brands Global Headquarters, Snapple/Dr. Pepper Global Headquarters, you get the picture.  

Huge billion dollar companies.  Gorgeous sprawling campuses all set far back from the road with magnificent grass lawns stretching majestically to the extra wide six-lane shaded street that gently meanders its way through glass palaces (on either side) built by human consumption and nary a sidewalk or drop of concrete to mar the well-kept fields of green.

A set-up PERFECT for cross-country runners, squirrels, chipmunks, bunnies and your occasional triathlete marking off the minutes of her Z1 recovery run with every foot fall and every chigger in the DF-dub aspiring to make their mark on…well, anyone who dare step foot in the grass.  And, BONUS, if planned well and one runs  at dusk the amount of chiggers that will lend a snippy pincher to contribute toward your eventual misery come morning, will increase as well.

“Keep it in Z1,” he said.  “Run on a flat, soft surface,” he said.  Hey chiggers YOU WERE NOT A PART OF THE PLAN, BACK UP OFF A SISTAH!

The evening following that Z1 run, I sat in church mindlessly scratching my legs. The person to my right, concerned, leaned over and asked if I had an issue.  How was I to explain that I "gots-the-chigger-bites" from running?  How was I to explain that being obedient and running on soft surfaces in Z1 (where I also had to WALK through chigger-pah-loozah) gave the buggers overly-abundant opportunities to sample the chocolate?

 Should I have said that I now understand why cross-country runners run so fast and have such a beautiful kick?  They’re dodging the chiggers, the longer and higher the stride, the less chigger bites (or so I now have proof enough to believe and with (questionable) authority assert).  I had no idea how to answer her question and not irritate the people around me listening intently to the message being delivered by the youth pastor.  So I didn’t answer.  I shrugged my shoulders, twisted my face into a “sorry to disturb” expression and put both hands under my rear-end while dialing into a fierce hope that the service or chigger season would end soon.


TrainingNovia Plummer