Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why I Love My Heart Rate Monitor...

monitorAbout two years ago, I started running with a heart rate monitor all the time. Being a mathematician in addition to a runner, I couldn't get enough of the data end of things -- I had a whole Excel workbook going where I tracked the date, my pace, my average heart rate, as well as the temperature and any pertinent notes about the run. It was fascinating to see how different variables affected my pace, and neat to watch my average heart rate drop for the same run over time.

I built statistical models. Yes, I kind of have a problem.

About six months ago I stopped (except for races) because of some nasty sports bra chafing that the monitor was irritating. I recently strapped it back on for a tempo run, though, which sent the numbers part of my brain into kind of a blissful fit. Oh, average I've missed you...

As creepy as my relationship with my heart rate monitor may sound, I'm actually not one of those runners who's super-obsessive about heart rate during training. I didn't have withdrawal symptoms or anything when I stopped using it. Still, running with a monitor changed so many things for me, so if you've never tried it and are monitor-curious, consider giving it a try.

How did running with a monitor change things for me?

  • I FINALLY learned my resting & max heart rates. You know all that stuff you read about different training zones, how easy an easy run should be, how much effort a tempo run should require, etc.? And how it's usually explained in terms of heart rate? Running with a heart rate monitor finally let me make sense of it all. Because I've learned how 70% of max, 80% of max, 90% of max, etc. feel, I do a lot better job now of running at the right intensity level even without the monitor.

  • It kept me honest on my easy runs. Something I don't always do a great job of is keeping my easy runs easy. I get impatient, or bored, or like to fantasize that my "easy" pace is faster than it is. It's a lot harder to argue that a too-fast pace is appropriate when you know what 70-75% of max is and you can see the number right on your wrist.

  • It showed me hard evidence of getting fitter. Because race courses and how you're feeling on race day can vary so much, it can be tricky to use those times to determine whether or not you're really getting faster. With the monitor, it was cool to run the same course for the same distance at the same pace every month or so and see my average heart rate drop a little every time. (Also nice because you can pick whatever pace you want.)

  • It helped me nail my tempo runs. The hardest thing about doing tempo runs according to pace is that hills / wind / heat / poor footing / etc. will wreak havoc with them. While there's something to be said for going by perceived effort, I'm acutely aware that, at least for me, this isn't a fool proof system either. Knowing that a tempo run was all about maintaining ~90% of MHR made it SO much easier for me to do my tempo runs under pretty much any circumstances and feel confident that I was maintaining the right effort level.

  • It helped me nail my race paces. Again, going into a race knowing you want to keep a certain pace is smart, but if the course is hilly / windy / hot / etc., this gets trickier. I fount it much easier to go into a race knowing that I was physically capable of maintaining a certain heart rate for a given amount of time and try to stick to that, regardless of hills / wind / etc. (This was especially important early in a race when I was feeling over-optimistic & likely to try & convince myself I could TOTALLY hold a pace 10 seconds faster per mile than I'd trained for -- no matter how good I felt subjectively, I'd look over at that bpm number and know there was just no way I could stay there for x number of minutes.

So I'm thinking that I'll probably go back to wearing it for a while, at least for tempo runs and easy runs where I don't want to let myself speed up too much.

garmin 305I started out with a Timex standalone monitor, which I wore along with an ordinary sports watch. It worked fabulously well and I had no complaints about it; eventually, though, I got tired of wearing both, and also wanted something that would tell me about my current pace. That was when I got my Garmin 305, which I absolutely adore, simply because it is the Swiss army knife of sports watches. I highly recommend it!

So that's my heart rate monitor shpeel (sp?). Give it a try sometime if you haven't! :)

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