I have talked about heart rate zones a bit in the past so I won’t go into a gory description of them right now, but I would like to touch upon what your heart rate might be telling you. Before I do that though, if you don’t have a heart rate monitor, please get one. Seriously. This is a pretty inexpensive piece of gear, and is one of the truest measures of your body that I know of outside of a lab or blood work.
If you need any suggestions, check out the gear page on the main site for the Garmin watch. That might be overkill for most beginners, but I really do love my watch. I actually have a number of Garmin watches. This is mostly through upgrading, but it certainly comes in handy like the other day when my main time teller was dead. Luckily number two in the line up was not. It is important to have options?
There are a lot of choices out there with newer devices having the monitor built into them to avoid the need for a strap. There are pro’s and con’s to that though. The obvious pro being that you won’t end up with a horizontal friction burn across your chest all year, the con being that I find them to be less accurate. They are getting better though, so maybe the gap is closer than I think these days. For now though I am a proud strap wearer. I actually have been wearing some Body Glide across my chest to reduce the rubbing, and it seems to do the trick more or less.
As I went out for my run last night, I was somewhat excited because it was based on heart rate, and the numbers were not that aggressive. To be more specific, it was under 140 for an hour. This is a pretty easy run for me, but my ranges are specific to me. So while 140 running is on the easy side for me, it may be the top end for someone else. Where tracking heart rate becomes important though is during recovery and in measuring effort. What exactly does that mean and why do you care?
Say you head out for the same run on two separate days. On each run you keep your heart rate between 140-150. The first day you run 10 miles. The second day you run 8 miles. If everything but distance is the same, what does that tell you? There are alot of possible explanations between the two of course. Hard workout the day before. Not enough sleep. Poor nutrition etc. But without comparing and measuring the results, it is very difficult to isolate changes that impact your performance. I tend to find most of my fatigue is not the result of a single effort or poor night’s sleep, but rather a cumulative effect of several days. If I notice that I am running significantly slower based on heart rate, it is time to adjust.
Heart rate is also important to know how hard you are working. Keeping a specific pace is obviously a goal, but many times we need to know how our body is reacting to that pace to know what training to focus on. If you are able to hit your goal marathon pace, but within 30 minutes are at your top heart rate, it is not likely that you will be able to carry that pace for several more hours. I have been in Ironman races that as the day went on the heat went up. I knew I could physically run at a specific speed, but I also knew where my heart rate should be. If I didn’t pay attention to HR, and only focused on pace, there was a high chance of blowing up. It is just as key to know your HR targets as it is to know your time and pace.
Of all the benefits that come from training with hear rate, perhaps the biggest is rest. When the workouts call for an easy day, it means go easy. So many of us have the mentality that if it doesn’t hurt it is not working. Nothing is farther from the truth though. For most people, one or two days of high quality coupled with easy recovery and some bigger volume efforts are all they can handle. But instead of taking recovery as recovery, they go out and hammer those too. I am far from a pro or elite athlete, as I think most of us are, and I need the rest. I want to be ready when the big efforts are there, and put in the junk miles when I can. To keep me honest, I use the heart rate. Super easy is under 130 and this is normally a warmup, pretty easy is 140. From there 140-150 is a good hour plus rate and I can run that for a long time. At 150-160 I am going to hold that for about 1:30 to maybe 2 hours and above that is 10k and 5k pace. So those are my training lanes and guides for what watch for during training.
Are they perfect, no maybe not, but they do tell a pretty good story. That is why it is important to listen to the body, and not fight it. It knows when you are tired and trying to push through that can set you back even more through injury, prolonged fatigue or illness. Remember, every workout doesn’t need to be a PR, and taking it easy can actually be more beneficial than crushing it every time out.