This last week I’ve taken a different tack with my running: pacing myself according to my heart rate.
(In full disclosure, I’ve hardly run at all through Winter, opting for walks instead, so I’m picking up the pieces here this Spring!)
The idea is pretty simple: keep your heart rate within a particular band of beats per minute. It’s based on a non-traditional approach called Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF), developed by Dr Phil Maffetone.
Training at a heart rate that’s higher than your current fitness level adds a significant amount of stress on your body, increasing cortisol/adrenaline, slowing aerobic development and increasing the risk of injuries.
Who needs that, esp. in this COVID terrain, where we’re living with heart-burnout on many levels, both literal and mertaphorical?!
Absolutely no one.
I love the idea, both literal and metaphorical, of pacing myself according to my heart. This embodied, sustainable pace feels like a true antidote to the ‘go-go-go, straight to burnout, do not pass go, do not collect $200′ story of mainstream culture.
So, how do you know what heart rate band to work with? Here’s the formula:
180 minus your age, minus more if you are injured, unwell, inconsistent in training, on medication, have asthma, get more than two colds a year, etc (full details here, if you’re interested).
What that means for me is, I’m working with a MAF of 134 (180 minus my age, 41, minus 5 for just starting/getting back into things). So I’m aiming to keep my heart rate between 124 and 134 bpm while I’m running.
Friend, that is SO unbelieveably slow! Hardly faster than a brisk walk!
I’m running like a grandma, which I think is cool, cos it means many more grandmothers could be out there running, or more to the point, giving their heart this kind of nourishing workout, whatever the pace.
(This also means I have to check my ego at the door, as well as ignore the scoffing voice that disbelieves that any progress could be made so easefully!)
Resistance & Presence
One of the immediate benefits of this heart-rate-based approach — entirely separate from all the biological benefits — is that my resistance to physical activity is much lower. It becomes a choice or intention, rather than something I have to psych myself up for.
And this is important – it means I’ve freed up some precious energy, which I was previous expending as either resistance, or fighting my resistance…
Another benefit is, it forces me to stay present!
Every time I start thinking of something and following an idea down the rabbit trails of my mind, I speed up and my heart rate increases! Running according to my heart makes me pay attention to my body and the present moment around me…
Gentle consistency = Natural Transformation
It’s gotten me thinking about my deep, old story that improvement requires hard work.
Because the most amazing thing about this approach is that your pace will increase over time as your heart becomes more efficient and powerful, simply by running at a pace that ensures maximum aerobic function.
(There are caveats to this, of course, if you’re not working with other ‘levers’ of health, including sleep, nutrition, stress levels, etc.)
There’s nothing hard about running my 124-134 MAF pace, except keeping myself slow enough (which requires awareness, not effort), and facing the weather (which, on a sunny day, isn’t hard at all!).
This honestly feels like a huge rewrite of my ‘story’ — my beliefs about fitness — perhaps because I live with someone who thinks going for a 50-mile run is an adventure rather than a disaster! (This is his July plan!)
Take Your Time
Here’s another part of the rewrite: the timeframe for this transformation, this slow improvement and resourcing of the heart (with obviously profound effects on the whole body), is 3-6 months!
This is no quick fix, people! I’m looking at weeks of running like a grandma! 😂😂😂
But the long-term benefits are significant, and include:
- burning more fat (as an energy source)
- increasing energy and brain function
- reducing the risk of injuries and disease
- building endurance, speed and strength
We live in a culture that demands instant transformation (don’t get me started on mothers feeling compelled to “get their pre-pregnancy body back”), but that’s not how nature works.
Demanding instant change is a a false economy, and leads us to this month’s lunar prayer…
This month’s lunar prayer is:
We are Activists
In this mid-COVID world, thoughts of any kind of activism bring me pretty close, pretty quickly, to thoughts of burnout.
I start worrying that people (myself included) might take this prayer as an admonishment to DO MORE.
It’s why I’m finding the heart rate metaphor such a balm, knowing that we can improve things (ourselves, our families, our communities, our world) by moving more sustainably, which often means more slowly.
This makes me feel hopeful…
And anyway, what are we in service to, as Activists?
For me, it’s Maat’s cosmic order, which I was talking about at the Full Moon. Acting to bring order by prioritising what’s important, rather than working harder.
It’s an activism of intention, rather than effort, if you like, with the passage of Time as a indispensible part of the conversation.
In our ‘Dark Moon Digestion’ circle this weekend, the theme of intactness arose, and in particular, retrieving parts of ourselves that have been cut off (sometimes literally), and honouring them even if we are letting them go.
This is a powerful form of activism in itself: acting to protect and preserve our bodily and spiritual integrity.
That the story, shared in circle, was of this kind of care on behalf of a pet was a deeply precious embodiment of the interconnection of all things – we’re all affected by each other’s wellbeing and intactness, whether we are animal, vegetable or mineral…
This story of loving activism flowed out to all of us in circle as a literal nourishment ~ a Re-Membering of the possibilities of wholeness, as well as a Dreaming of what it would be like to live in a culture where the systems are biased to preserve our intactness, as a default.
It inspired this week’s oracle card! I don’t want to forget this wisdom!
By way of finishing (for now!), I want to take these threads — of slow activism and intactness, of being apprentice to a pace of life that is sustainable for our heart — and weave them together more succinctly, as some kind of credo:
We are Activists,
with a radical MO.
We set fire to the
false stories of speed
at all costs,”
which only lead
will we burn with shame
for being ‘too slow’
and ‘not enough.’
we move as slowly
as the slowest parts
building our capacity
We fan the flame
the parts of us
that have been cut off,
and honour our ‘bits,’
even when we are
letting them go.
We are whole,
We choose a pace of life
that is sustainable
for our heart.
And it is from this place
that we are Activists,
Put far more simply and eloquently:
💛 💛 💛
Go gently, friend…