Training Tuesdays: Faults of BPM Training

Years ago, when I ran my first half marathon, I actually attempted to train properly with, I think, a Runner’s World pre-fab half-marathon training plan. You know the one. It’s that perfectly awful mix of long runs, easy runs, tempo runs and dreaded speed-work. FYI, to this day I hate speed work because of that plan.

At any rate, it was at that time that I became a devotee of beats per minute (or BPM) training. Essentially, you can match beats per minute in music to a desired running pace and the idea is that, if your foot strikes match the beat in the music, you’ll run that pace.  It was absolutely the only thing that got me through speed workouts. Quite likely, this was merely the running equivalent of a placebo effect, but the end result was a faster me so I don’t question the science.

Even though I haven’t trained for actual races in a while, I still rely on music to fuel my runs and gauge my pace.  I more consciously choose not just songs I like, but songs that I know will encourage me to run faster, which often means songs that I only use for running (perfect example: Nicki Minaj). Over time, it’s become a lot more intuitive. I don’t actually check the BPMs for songs like I used to, but I’m fairly accurate at estimating and that’s good enough when I’m not actually in training mode.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed a downfall with my beloved BPM methodology: you need to modify your playlists to adjust to significant changes in pace, whether up or down. Somehow, I forgot this critical fact so for the last six months, while I’ve been injured, I’ve been trying to run with playlists designed for a 4:30-5:00 min/km pace.  Let me just tell you, my pace is nowhere near that fast these days.  So there’s me, spurred on to run faster by catchy, upbeat bass lines trapped in a body no longer capable of such speeds.  The result? Frustration. Inability to breathe (read: wheezing).  Early muscle fatigue. In other words, it’s a mess.

My current goal is to re-envision my playlist for my new, slower self. I’m sort of excited because I secretly love me some good downer music, maybe some ultra sad Coldplay circa Rush of Blood to the Head or wallowing in any of The National’s plethora of melancholic jams. It’s a perfectly timed musical shake-up to match the bleak Vancouver grey skies and my generally moody Fall and Winter disposition.

So, in summary, because I fear that my actual point has been lost:

  • I highly recommend BPM training, particularly for speed work and if you’re someone who is highly motivated by his or her musical running accompaniments.
  • But adjust your playlists when your pace drastically changes. Otherwise, you’ll suffer some seriously discouraging running burnout (and you’ll probably develop some pretty negative associations with some songs you used to really love).
  • If you’re curious about how to start off with BPM training, there’s tons of apps and sites that have pre-made playlists for different paces or that will tell you BPM for all the songs in your iTunes library.  After a while, though, you’ll start to fairly accurately estimate BPMs all on your own.

Happy pacing!


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