Tuesday, June 10, 2014

SRM WEEK 4: Dusting Off My Heart Rate Monitor

A few years back I was really into heart rate training. I wore my monitor for every run and race, recorded the data meticulously, and built statistical models to explore how different variables affected my performance. (I am a mathematician and a social scientist, so really, this is pretty normal behavior for me.)

There are a lot of benefits to training with a heart rate monitor. First, ask any professional running coach about the biggest training mistakes recreational runners make, & they will inevitably list somewhere in the top five running "easy" runs too fast / hard. I know I've certainly been guilty of this (though at least I'm aware of it & have definitely gotten better about it). If you know your max heart rate & run with a monitor, it's pretty hard to get away with "But this TOTALLY feels like the pace I should be running!!!" when there is hard evidence to the contrary staring you in the face. They're particularly excellent for keeping tempo / threshold runs at the right effort level regardless of terrain or weather, and it's also cool to watch your average pace improve as your average heart rate gradually drops over weeks or months of training.

But, after a while, I got lazy about it & went to wearing it only for speed & tempo workouts, then only for races, & eventually just abandoned it altogether. I wanted to go back to using it last year to make sure I wasn't running my easy runs too hard as I recovered from my hip injury, but shockingly, the three-year-old battery was dead, & I never got around to replacing it. Which actually worked out for the best, since just a few weeks ago I learned from Page that heart rate monitors generally only last for 2-3 years anyway & after that don't really provide reliable data. So, I took her advice & picked up the Garmin premium heart rate monitor (soft strap) for ~$45 on amazon.

AND, it only took me a week and a half to open the box and figure out how to activate it & pair it up with my Garmin! :D

On Saturday I went for my first run with a HR monitor in three years. Because it's been so long, I wasn't aiming for particular numbers so much as just to see what my heart rate was doing and compare it to what it was doing on average the last time I was using it regularly. It was encouraging to see that for runs of the same distance (5 miles), my heart rate was lower and my pace faster, even though most of the runs for which I have records were in the 45°-50°F range & Saturday in the city was closer to 70°. (Temperature tends to have a dramatic effect on heart rate since your body has to do additional work to keep itself cool.)

If I was being super-rigorous about things, I would probably need to go get my max heart rate tested again. The highest number I have ever personally seen on the monitor was 223 (mid-2011, toward the end of speed work on a hot day) & when I had it tested in a lab in early 2012, we got it up to 211. (It's harder to get up to true all-out effort on a treadmill than, say, running on a track, but it's close enough for science.) That wasn't TOO too long ago, so I feel like somewhere in that range is probably a reasonable number to go by.

(Maybe this is a good time to bust some myths about max heart rate. It is not 220 minus your age or any other formula you read on the internet or on some poster at the gym. Anyone who tells you it is should not be telling anyone anything about their cardiovascular system. Also those little charts that tell you which zone is your "weight loss zone" / "endurance building zone" / etc. are total bullshit. If you want to know your max heart rate, get it tested in a lab or do some speed work with a monitor for a while.)

With that in mind, here's what I'll be aiming for, courtesy of Papa Daniels (who I trust in all things running-related):

  • For easy runs, 65-80% MHR, or ~140-172 bpm (I averaged 160 on Saturday & 164 on Sunday, so HELL YEAH!)
  • For marathon pace runs, 80-90% MHR, or ~172-193 bpm
  • For tempo runs, ~90% MHR, or ~193-194 bpm
  • For speed work, 98-100% MHR, or ~210-215ish

* * * WEEK 4 * * *
(11 to go)

Up until Friday, I was sure that the story of week 4 was going to be the story of cumulative fatigue that may or may not end up causing me to skip training days. This has happened to me before in training cycles; more than once I've had around a month of strong, solid, gung-ho training, and then suddenly it would all start catching up to me. My legs would start feeling heavy & leaden on every run, and even after rest days I would start thinking that maybe another one was not the worst idea ever. (And don't get me wrong, sometimes unplanned rest days are *exactly* the way to go.)

But just as in week 3, things started looking up with the weekend. Not because the runs were easy; they were still tough and I absolutely had to work and dig deep to get them done, which called to mind one of my favorite marathon training quotes from Kevin Hanson (of the Brooks-Hanson Hanson Brothers):

    "Everyone wanted a regimen that would leave their legs feeling fresh. They wanted to know, 'How can I get that spring in my legs?' That was the wrong question. The question should be: 'How can I train my body so that when the fatigue hits me, I'm still able to respond?'"

And that's exactly what I got towards the end of the week. Not painful, not utterly soul-sucking, not stopping-to-catch-my-breath-every-half-mile exhaustion; just general fatigue, tough but doable, & just challenging enough to finish and go, "Not bad; still glad it's done." It's given me confidence this week to get some runs under my belt that have forced me to practice powering through and maintaining good form and good turnover even when my body felt tired & like it would really rather just lie on the pavement with a beer than run even one more block, plzthnx.

Grand Total: 31 miles

    * 1.5 speed
    * 2 threshold
    * 7.5 long
    * 20 easy


    * 2.25 hours strength/stretch/roll

Monday: afternoon strength work / p.m. karate

    I had to drive 40 miles to get to the South Bay butt-early in the morning, which means I had to do my strength work in the afternoon. Guess when I am the least motivated to do strength work? :P

Tuesday: speed work (1.5 warm up, 2 x 1200m @ 5K pace, 1.5 cool down = 4.5 miles total).

Wednesday: a.m. strength / afternoon 5 easy / p.m. karate

    I woke up feeling super tight & kind of fragile all over, & also just generally crappy from not sleeping well, so Wednesday morning definitely involved more rolling & stretching & less actual strength work than usual (but still not an insignificant amount).

    With this whole six-day deal I've been working under the assumption that Wednesday runs are just generally going to suck, coming as they do on the heels of speed work. Thus far this assumption seems to be a valid one. I was deeply unexcited about this run & the only way I got through it was by running one-mile laps in my neighborhood & making occasional water stops by the house. I felt slow & sluggish & was quite happy just to get this one in the books.

Thursday: 4 easy

    I desperately needed some extra sleep Thursday morning, so I skipped the bike & hoped that would make my run a bit easier than the previous two. No such luck; like Wednesday, this one pretty much sucked from the very beginning. My legs felt exhausted & I was seeing numbers on the watch that I haven't seen since my very first runs back after my hip injury. At least after the first 3 or so miles I did feel ever so *slightly* less like ass. So it only, like, 80% sucked.

Friday: a.m. strength work / p.m. tempo (1.5 wu, 2 @ LT pace, 1.5 cd = 5 miles total)

    Thankfully, Friday (once again) brought my streak of sucky runs to an end. Yes, my legs felt heavy starting out, and I was a bit discouraged because of the massive headwind I found myself running into in Golden Gate Park. I loosened up a little but still wasn't feeling confident that I'd be able to ratchet down to (not to mention maintain) a 7:25 pace. And then suddenly it was just happening, with less effort than I expected. I ran the first mile in 7:24, which was fine but realistically probably just a bit fast considering the crazy headwind. I was sure I was seeing things, though, when the second mile clicked off in 7:11. Yes, I had a tailwind going that direction, but it was also net uphill, including two not-insignificant climbs. The good news: I'm fitter now than I thought, apparently. The bad news: still out of practice re: pacing. This is why we have tempo runs!! :D

Saturday 5 easy

    The afore-mentioned first HRM run since 2011.

Sunday: 7.5 long

    Usually I don't start labeling runs as "long" until they're at least in the double digits, but RunningAhead has had all my Sunday runs pre-designated as long (since they are in fact longer than the rest) & though I've just been switching the category back to "easy" up to now, I forgot to do it Sunday when I recorded this run, & once it was done it seemed kind of silly and pointless to go back and change it.

    In less awesome news, I pulled my shoes off post-run & was greeted with this lovely scene:

    Which wouldn't be so ironic & annoying except that a) I just randomly mentioned the last time this happened in my recent Kinvara 5 post, and b) I had just clipped my toenails Sunday morning specifically to prevent this kind of thing.


  1. Ouch!

    I gave up on my HRM due to the constant need of changing batteries and it losing its signal a lot, and I found Garmin's to be highly inaccurate.

    1. Interesting, I've never had that problem. I've only ever had Garmin ones & they've always matched pretty well to the lab results.

  2. Thank you for debunking the heart rate myth. So many personal trainers still use it and it's utter rubbish. I'm 51 so 220 minus my age would be 169. My monitor regularly shows readings in the 180s which apparently should be impossible.

    1. & apparently in 2011 I was -3 years old. ;)

  3. I have totally abandoned HR in running. I hate wearing it when I run and my HR was doing too many crazy things. I just gave up.

    1. Yeah, we'll see how long I stick with it. Mine never did crazy things (though apparently after 2-3 years they do tend to start to), but sometimes it was just annoying to wear. I would like to at least try to keep wearing it for tempo runs, at least, now that I've established I'm not blowing my easy runs out of the water or anything.

  4. I've never tried using a HRM, but over-quantifying things in training makes me a little bit crazy. Good job on a solid week 4. What training plan are you using? Mr Daniels by feel?

    Incidentally and completely off-tangent, I came across the blog of a girl I met a couple of times at our university climbing gym (many, many years ago), and thought you might appreciate a little math entertainment. http://blog.andreahawksley.com/

    1. I'll check it out!

      For the last couple of years I've gotten my plans from Tom McGlynn of RunCoach. I love it because everything is calibrated to your past performances & preferences for the week (how many days you want to run, which types of runs on which days, etc.) & there is an algorithm that adjusts mileage & pace as you progress based on the data you enter (or fail to enter).

    2. Sounds great. (And perfect for data nerds!)

      Don't know if you've ever done a tri, but 99% of all tri training plans involve heart rate 'zones' - something I remembered right after I signed up for my annual triathlon flail.

  5. I've often wanted to train by HR but never enough to actually strap the thing on to run. My Garmin came with one (lo these many years past), but I never even linked it, mostly out of laziness. But it's good, solid stuff. I think part of my hesitancy is that I often run without garmin or music etc, and I enjoy that.

  6. My biggest issue with the HRM was chafing. Maybe the new soft strap is better? My 2nd biggest issue was establishing the right zones.

    Nice 50K week! :)

    1. Yes. The chafing is definitely a thing. But, I pretty much have that no matter what, & it doesn't seem to be any worse than what I get anyway from my best sports bras. Sigh...

  7. I am really, really, really afraid to wear a heart rate monitor because of chafing. I think it would do me a world of good, but I'm honestly scared to try it (and am literally still healing from sports bra chafing more than 2 weeks ago). I might need to invest in one of those watches that can read your heart rate from your wrist/pulse/however that science works. I actually have one but you have to hold the buttons to get a reading (vs. continuous), which is not what I'm looking for.

    1. It is a legit concern. I pretty much get it from my sports bras no matter what, & the heart rate monitor is about the same, but if you've managed to get free of chafing otherwise, I can understand being a little hesitant about the monitor.

      BUT, I hear there is new tech on the way re: wrist monitors? Maybe?

    2. Yeah, I am SUPER curious about the wrist ones; Mio seems to be where it's at but I need to understand the options better. I also have been thinking about starting to wear my regular strap for biking, because I'd at least get SOME sense of how my exertion level correlates to heart rate and probably not chafe so much in the process. My new goal for the rest of marathon season is not to chafe so badly I can't swim, because that week was miserable!