Week 7: A Little More Self-Control, Please!

Penelope Cairns |

When hard is easy and then easy is too hard…


I could sense that I wasn’t going as hard as usual with the runners that I normally struggle to keep up with. It was just something in the way that I could hear their laboured breathing while I felt I still had some petrol left in the tank.

We had embarked on an 18km long run (see it here) and the plan from Coach Mo was some Long Slow Distance. So I took to the trails and scampered up the mountainside trying hard not to look at my heart rate skyrocketing and keeping my effort level somewhere in the zone that Coach Mo had suggested.

You see that’s the real challenge of training wisely with a HRM. Despite feeling great on Sunday and feeling stronger than ever before after a 18km long slow run on Saturday, when I downloaded the data I could see that I spent way too much time in the upper reaches of Zone 5. So much for Long Slow Distance Doylie!

But it hadn’t felt like a particularly hard session despite what my heart rate data was telling me. I had run a similarly long session on Saturday as part of Coach Mo’s back-to-back strategy and felt strong and comfortable for the entire run. But it was the Tuesday hill run session where the effects of the run on Sunday hit home. I was broken. My legs battled to hold the effort level I needed to hit the hills and the penny dropped.

It is now becoming abundantly clear that the key to effectively using heart rate training to improve performance is understanding the effect it has on recovery. Sure, you can go hard on, in what is supposed to be LSD (Long Slow Distance) but going hard means you don’t recover and slow recovery means wasted training sessions down the line.


I’m into the final four weeks of my training with Coach Mo ahead of the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon (Soul Running Programme). Most of the sessions involve relatively low intensities with some quick fire strength and intensity stuff just to keep my muscles fired up during the week.

One thing I’ve learnt is how hard it is to maintain a consistent effort level running on the trails compared to the road. On the road you can more carefully control your effort but, if you’re clambering up steep climbs, running turns to walking and walking turn to almost crawling.

I’m learning some self-discipline here. I’m learning that training hard means training easy, but more consistently. Follow the programme and each training session is a building block to the next and the final goal of a decent marathon in three weeks time.

I admit that ego sometimes pushes me to run harder than I should. I question the data even through, deep down, it’s starting to make sense and I can see how much my running has improved.

It is a journey towards a goal race but a journey towards understanding how better to train.

Alana Doyle is a committed trail and road runner and has completed events like the famed 160km UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc) run in France. This year her target events include the Hout Bay Challenge Trail Run and the Sanlam Cape Town marathon.

Follow Alana’s running journey here:

Week 1: Running Hard Is Easy

Week 2: My First Win… But at What Cost?

Week 3: When The Heart Says Go, But The Body Says No

Week 4: Life’s Curveballs

Week 5: The Race of your Life

Week 6: When The Heart Falls In Line

Learn more from Polar about how Hill Training Increases Performance And Muscle Fitness.


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