Wednesday, April 30, 2014

My Training With A Heart Monitor

Dale Matson
Heart Monitor Chest Strap With Suunto Ambit And Electrode Gel

The concept and techniques of training with a heart monitor are not new. Sally Edwards has an excellent book The Heart Rate Monitor Book (1992).

I have trained using various heart monitors over the years starting with a basic Polar unit advancing to more sophisticated Polar watches that provided my VO2 max, calories burned, altitude and memory for different heart rate zones. I have also used the Garmin 305 (a GPS) unit that freed me to run anywhere and keep track of the altitude and distance too. The more sophisticated units can be downloaded via beams or micro cables to computer software programs that store and analyze the information.

My current unit is a Suunto Ambit. It is much more complicated than my previous Suunto Advisor that I used as an Altitude/Barometer/Compass (often referred to as an ABC watch. I can download the watch to “Movescount” and store and analyze my efforts each time. It has uploadable applications that allow expanded use and function. For example I have a ski, open water, trekking, running and treadmill function. It will not give me my heart rate in the water but will give me my distance and route on a topo/satellite map. I believe the Ambit II does do this.

Many of my friends use these devices simply for the distance and don’t even wear the chest strap that transmits heart rate (HR). In fact most folks I know that do use the chest strap have become so tuned into their level of effort/heart rate, they could tell you what their heart rate is without looking at their watch! Some of my friends like Faron Reed do not use any device and simply “use the force Luke” in guiding their workouts. I can't argue with a man who has competed in the Hawaii Ironman about 8 times.

The problem for me is that I have an average ability with an average (conditioned) VO2 max for my age. I have found that to optimize my athletic abilities, I have to train scientifically. This means that I have collected data over the last 20 years that is stored in my computer and in a journal. I knew that when I ran my first sub four-hour marathon at 190 lbs. at age 50, I would have to lose 30 pounds to go under 3:30 to qualify for Boston, which I did. Figure that you lose about ten minutes in a marathon for every 10 pounds you are over your ideal body weight.

Although Sally Edwards stated in her book that your maximum heart rate doesn’t drop all that much what I have noticed that I can no longer hold as high an average heart rate for an extended period of time. What I mean by this is that at age 69, my average heart rate in a one-hour tempo run is about 131 with a maximum of 160. (I call this cardiac creep since the pace is about the same throughout). When I was 50, I could hold an average heart rate of 160 for the same period of time with a maximum of 175-180. If one used Kenneth Cooper’s formula for a conditioned heart, the maximum predicted HR would be 205 minus half your age. When I was 50 I could hit 180. Now maximum is closer to 170. So, while my MPRH is 170, my capacity to hold a high average heart rate is diminished considerably.

While I bike, swim and cross-country ski, I rarely keep track of my heart rate during those exercises. I run three times a week. My Tuesday run is a tempo run to keep my speed and heart rate higher. One simply needs to be used to the sound of one’s breathing, pounding heart and the discomfort that goes with that. I do a duty run on Thursday with my dog and a long run on Saturday to keep my aerobic base up. There are hills for both my Tuesday and Saturday runs. My long run used to be distance but now it is time. It is 20 miles or 6 hours, whichever comes first.

Screen Shot Of Saturday Long Run Route On Movescount

The final point here is that on the long runs, I have always tried to run easy enough to make my maximum heart rate about the same as my average heart rate on my tempo runs. I do a lot of stopping to visit with friends on a long run. The recovery time according to my Ambit for my 20-mile effort is about the same as my one-hour tempo runs. Frankly I’d rather do the long runs!

Hike To Kaiser Peak Heart rate Graph
Notice That My Heart rate begins dropping below 8,000' On The Return Leg

I hope there is something you can take away from this that is not in a book.

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