Recently, I’ve been using the Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) that came with my Garmin 405 (i.e. “G”); after almost two years of running with G, I’m finally realizing its full potential.
In retrospect, it would have been ideal to learn the benefits of training with an HRM before I tackled a plan that led me to 26.2 miles last winter. Yet, being stubborn and happy with my running thus far, I resisted. Admittedly, I already run with “gadgets” (Garmin watch & iPod); I wasn’t thrilled about adding to the list of technology I strap on just to go out and put one foot in front of the other.
Post-marathon running felt so open; I had nothing telling me how far or at what pace to do any of my runs. I found myself curious about that HRM strap – what could it really tell me? Was I missing something? Would it help? If I go for a bike ride, will it help me learn how hard I’m working at a different type of exercise?
Answers: a Lot, yes, Definitely, and as it turns out, my bike rides are working my heart!
Thus far, I have two theories: My HR “naturally” high (if that’s possible), or I have a very skewed perception of an “easy” run. On almost every outing, my HR jumps into the 170s and hangs out with 190-200 more often than not. But, contrary to what that should mean, rarely do I find myself gasping for air or wandering how in the world I’m going to physically keep going. Usually, 170-180 is my “just chugging along & starting to breathe hard” mode. So, what does it mean?!
I did my research; according to MarathonGuide.com, these are the benefits of training with an HRM and learning your personal Resting Heart Rates (RHR) and Maximum Heart Rates (MHR):
- You can track your Cardiovascular Fitness – learn how to keep your Easy runs easy, and figure out when you’re physically able to push those hard workouts. “Measuring the work-rate of the heart is the most accurate method of how much benefit you are deriving from your workouts.” Using HR ranges, you can go into each workout (tempo run, easy run, speed intervals, Long runs, etc) with a guide that will help make sure you don’t overdo it or underestimate your ability.
- You can prevent over-training. If every run, ride, swim, etc is done at 80%+ of your MHR, you may be overexerting your body. This range is using up your glycogen stores, damaging tissues, and opening your body to injury by repeatedly over-taxing the muscles. “Using a heart monitor to avoid stressing your body too much means that you will maximize the efficiency of your training, while minimizing the opportunity for injury.”
- You can also prevent under-training. Calculating your MHR, RHR, and ranges in between gives you a “coach” of sorts – something that tells you that, while you may be tired/bored/distracted by some external factor, your heart can handle more than you’re giving it – “telling you to work harder”.
There are a number of ways to determine your MHR – RunnersWorld, MayoClinic, and MarathonGuide.com all provide options and formulas. However, the best option is to find it! For runners or bikers: choose a hill workout, and check your HR after a warmup and completing 3-4 hill repeats. Or, choose an interval workout and check your HR after 3-4 repeats of at least 400 meters. For me, so far the highest number I’ve seen is 200 – without intentionally getting there, and without mentally nothing “this could be my max HR”. I don’t think it is, I’ll be experimenting.
Don’t overdo it on this test! Do not injure yourself with the mentality “I can get higher”. Use this as a baseline.
You then use your MHR to determine ranges for other workouts. For example, according to Runner’s World, use your MHR’s 90-95% range for a 5K race:
- Assuming my MHR is 200 – I would aim for a 5K race keeps my HR between 180-190.
Last night I ran 5.7 miles in 50:35 – this is an average pace of 8:53 min/mile. Normally, I would say that’s an “easy” day pace for me. Last night, it was 80+ degrees, my legs felt sore (ST30 + biking), and I was pushing it. Most of my middle paces were 8:15, 8:20, 8:08 – but I had to walk up a certain hill for 0.3 mi in the 4th mile because there was just no way I could run it and still keep going. With the Connecticut Ave hill left in my loop, I chose to run/walk from there and finish out the 6.5 miles in 63 minutes.
My average HR? 168. Again, assuming my MHR is 200 (until I notice otherwise), this means I was running at 85%. Well, no wonder I got tired! I need to remind myself that I haven’t done “speed” work since before the marathon; I haven’t run consistently this month because now I have a bike, and I’ve been sick twice in the last four weeks. Maybe my “easy” pace is no longer 8:45-9:00; maybe, for now, I need to take it a little bit easier and listen to my body when it’s telling me what is/isn’t difficult. If you haven’t caught on, I”m a little stubborn, and this is a learning process.
Do you train with an HRM? Do you use ranges for certain workouts, or go by pace instead? Do you think your HRM accurately “measures” your effort during exercise?
I’m very interested in your thoughts, approaches, and experiences with this. I feel like there is a lot to learn from fellow runners, as well as reading, testing things out, and personal trials. Discuss!