One of the many reasons a lot of us run is to feel that “giving it out all”, heart-pumping, endorphin-releasing feeling.

An increased heart rate during any type of exercise is completely normal and completely necessary.

Going out too hard is common… and not necessary. This happens especially with recreational runners and sometimes the problem isn’t pace but your heart rate… 

Let’s have a look at the warning signs you should be watching out for…

What Happens When You Run At a High Heart Rate?

An elevated heart rate is a cause for doing some investigating… but may not be a big concern…

The thing to look out for, particularly when you’ve got a high heart rate is irregularities in your heartbeat.

Irregularities like big fluctuations, (really high heart rate and then stabilizing)

If your heart rate goes up quite quickly…  stays high and you’re still feeling quite comfortable and can hold a conversation with the runners around you then… You’re running easy enough and shouldn’t worry.

If your heart rate is for example 20 beats higher than runners around you then it’s not a reflection that you are running harder than them, this is just an indication that you are pushing yourself a little harder than them. 

However, keep in mind that you may naturally have a higher heart rate than other runners so it is key to not compare your HR with anyone else.

There are a lot of different factors that need to be taken into consideration when pacing your training runs, especially when training to heart rate.

There are a lot of different factors that need to be taken into consideration when pacing your training runs, especially when training to heart rate.

There are a lot of different factors that need to be taken into consideration when pacing your training runs, especially when training to heart rate. This is Everything You Need To Know About Training To Pace, Heart Rate Max & Heart Rate Threshold

What If You’ve Got A Higher Than Normal Heart Beat 

If you’ve got a high resting heart rate and a higher exercising heart rate and it goes up by 40 beats per minute … this will indicate that your heart rate is higher than normal… and if it does become irregular then you should get yourself to a doctor.

Running To Heart Rate Simplified: THIS Is Why Heart Rate Zones ACTUALLY Matter:

How To Determine The Correct Heart Rate To Run At?

If you’re going to use heart rate to control your intensity then you must make sure that your heart rate has been measured accurately. 

For me, that means getting yourself a well-reviewed chest strap. – I’m becoming less and less of a fan of wrist-based heart rate monitors. 

This is key because it will show an accurate measurement. Once this is done correctly then using your heart rate is a fantastic way to control your running intensity. (It’s even better than pace!)

The one limitation that you do have from training to heart rate is that if you live in a hilly area, you need to know how to compensate early on in the hill because it does take 45 seconds or longer for your heart rate to adjust to a new intensity. 

When you hit a hill, you can easily be 30 – 45 seconds in before you realize… Whoa, hang on my heart rate is going up. 

How To Find The Correct Heart Rate For You:

If you’re starting, it’s a little bit more difficult… because we don’t like to put people into a very physiologically compromised state very early on in a training plan. 

In the beginning, you could use one of the age-related formulas, just keep in mind that these are more of a guideline. But once you’ve been training consistently for four to six weeks, then I’d encourage people to do a test to try and figure out either maximum heart rate, which is probably the riskier of the two tests, or a test to try and calculate threshold heart rate. 

For maximum heart rate: you should aim to find yourself a hill that will take you at least three minutes or four minutes to run at a close to an all-out effort.  And then have a full recovery with a long, easy walk back down the hill. 

If you repeat that three to four times, you will get pretty close to your maximum heart rate.

For estimated threshold heart rate: You should go out and run for between 30 and 40 minutes, as hard as you can sustain for that length of time… That will give you a good estimate of your threshold heart rate.

To use that information. From maximum heart rate you want to run between 70% and 75% of maximum on your easy days, or 75% to 80% on of threshold on your easy days.

Over time, you will hopefully see that you are slowly getting faster at that heart rate. 

Using Your Running Heart Rate To Build a Sensible & Solid Fitness Base

When you are training and laying your training foundations – you must run at a low enough intensity.

Your running heart rate is always too high when you start running. Do keep in mind that heart rate can be affected by several factors such as weather conditions, stress, lack of sleep, fatigue, and alcohol. These things need to be considered if you see your heart rate is off.

Most people and especially people who are starting running will always train at too high an intensity – Just because of the nature of the eccentric load and the poor condition of their cardiovascular system. This means that they cannot do much aerobically before they start going into needing energy pathways that provide energy without oxygen or in the absence of oxygen or as we term anaerobic conditioning.

In the beginning, it is very important to be able to run easily enough. 

There are lots of formulas you can use to work out a percentage of your maximum running heart rate. (You can calculate your maximum heart rate by 220 minus age.)

All you want to know is if you are in an aerobic zone when you are running easily. 

Dr. Philip Maffetone wrote a book called The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing

It simplifies this well by stating: 180 beats per minute minus age unless you are a very young person (between 15 and 19) which is going to ensure that you are going to train well into your aerobic zone.

He takes it one step further: any illness or if you haven’t trained for a long period of time or if you’ve had an injury, for each one of those cases you take off five. 

So basically,  if you are a 30-year-old male and you haven’t exercised before plus you’ve recently been ill, or you’ve tried to start exercising but you fall ill, then you would be 180 – 30 = 150 beats per minute minus five because you haven’t exercised regularly in the past minus five because you’ve been ill.

Therefore the maximum running heart rate that you’re allowed to reach is 140 beats per minute. That means if you get to 140 and you’re on a hill then you walk. 

If you train like that, you’re disciplined and you do it over 12 weeks your speed at that heart rate will get faster and faster. 


Devlin Eyden has a passion for seeing his athletes grow and excel. From novice runners or cyclists across all disciplines to elite mountain bikers representing South Africa at World Championships. In addition to helping you ride faster, for longer, Devlin also has the personal touch when it comes to your bike setup, aiming at improving the overall rider experience. With his background as a Sport Scientist as well as a Strength & Conditioning specialist, performance is Devlin’s main priority, be it in the gym, the lab or out on the road or trails. Being a keen runner & cyclist and having completed the Cape Epic among others, Devlin has first hand experience in what it take to reach your goals. If you’re looking for a once-off training program or ongoing, high touch support Devlin has you covered.

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