Building an Aerobic Base: A Weblog

In 2017 I was a 26 year old who had been doing very little physical activity for years. The next year I started lifting weights regularly with a co-worker who competed at a high level in powerlifiting. My weakling body soon became much stronger and my body composition shifted towards more muscular while dropping some body fat. I competed in a three powerlifting competitions in 2018 and 2019, though I didn't ever rank high against my more tenured peers. My former co-worker now lives half a continent away but I still do weightlifting an average of four hours a week.

However, in the last year the spectre of cardio was haunting me. I never ran and I rarely rode my bike. I was well aware that my heart health was not being fully attended to by my lifting regimen.

So this summer I started running, "fast". It certainly felt fast to me. I was running a half mile as fast as I could go, and my times dropped lower and lower. At the end of my basically three minute runs, I was huffing and puffing for quite a long time before my body recovered.

Having stuck to that regimen for a month, I decided to go longer: one mile and then two. Even at these relatively short distances I mostly experienced running as a mental struggle keep myself from stopping to walk.

But what really helped me understand running better was buying a smart watch. That's when I realized that my typical runs were being done with my average rate around 170 BPM. Thanks to Strava, I could compare myself to serious runners I knew who ran much faster mile times, and went much farther than I, and also, it turned out, did it all with a heart rate that was in the 140s or lower.

My search history filled up with new terms. Maffetone, HIIT, Heart Rate Zones, VO2 Max, Aerobic/Anerobic, Phosphagen, Glycolytic, Oxidative... With all this in my mind I decided to take my heart rate zones seriously, and focus on low intensity running to build up an aerobic endurance.

On my very first aerobic base building run my goal was to stay in heart rate zone 2 (134-146 for me). But that goal was immediately abandoned once I realized staying in zone 2 would probably require me to do nothing more than powerwalk. So my pride forced me to adjust my goal to stay in zone 3, which I was mostly able to do by running at what felt like a laughably slow pace.

It was the longest run I've done in my life, both in duration and distance. But at that speed it felt naively like I could continue pretty much indefinitely. Nothing hurt, except my pride.

I will update this page with my progress.

October 6, 2023