Since graduating, I have become an absolute convert to the heart zone method of training. On days I am doing intervals or high intensity stuff I make sure I am getting up to 90%+, but on all my long runs and 'easy run' days, I religiously keep below 70% of maximum exertion. Being an oldish gimmer, this means a max of 145bpm. At first I was astonished at how quickly my heart gets up to that mark, and just how much I had to slow down to keep it under. My 5k went from 28 minutes in week 8 (admittedly this was at an unsustainable pace that left me gasping and not enjoying myself) to 33.30 when I first slowed my pace down a bit in W9 to 38 minutes when I stuck to the 70% rule. On the plus side, at 70% I felt like I could carrying on running for as long as my legs held out and still carry on a conversation, rather than wheezing along like an emphasymic brontosaurus in labour in a tar pond.
This evening, after Spin and Kettlebells at the gym, I decided to take the dog for a cooldown run. It was drizzling and the light was fading but she needed the exercise so heart monitor on and off we set. For some reason I find it quite easy to jog after doing a hard gym session. Perhaps because the legs are already well warmed up. I really was in recovery mode though, so kept as close to 143 as I could all the way.
Because I am frequently checking the hrm, I just have the Garmin set to display that, so have no idea of time/distance covered as I run, other than the lap bleeps. So I was incredibly surprised when I finished to find I had done the full 5k (5.12 to be precise) in 29.43, and that was with a couple of stops to hold the dog while mountain bikers whizzed past. I was not consciously running faster. I was just dawdling along in brain neutral mode.
I am convinced this improvement is down to the zone method. Work as hard as possible on the hard days and super-easy the rest of the time.
I am also still amazed that I can now run for 30 minutes and consider it 'easy', considering it was only 4 months ago that 60 seconds of running was pretty much maximum exertion.