I don’t know myself at all OR Why I bought a Heart Rate Monitor

In our last episode, our intrepid heroine undertook to set her heart rate zones based on a Rate of Perceived Exertion Test. Said test was demonstrably wrong. Because I am absolute crap at working out to RPE. The next day I replaced my scheduled tempo run with a 30 minute treadmill time trial.

The Procedure:  Warm up for 5-10 minutes, run for 30 minutes at best effort, cool down for 5-10 minutes. Take average of heart rate for the last 20 minutes of the effort.

Best Effort? The fastest pace that you can maintain for the time period. Your best effort for one minute is way different than your best for an hour. There is some fun stuff you can do with testing at various durations and charting the result, but that’s for another day we’re running here!

I set the treadmill at 10 minutes per mile. This is fast for me, for 30 minutes. I have run that fast exactly once in my life. It was a 3.5 mile race about 5 years ago. I had a friend pacing me and I ran absolutely on the red line the whole damn race. I was so close to that line that by the last mile if I started talking I would get nauseous. I kept it up and averaged 9:58 per mile. I nearly vomited at the end of the race. Good times!

That’s the level of effort you’re looking for in a time trial, slow enough to make it the whole way at the same pace, fast enough that you could not go another minute at the end. So it will feel easy at the beginning “Should I go faster? I think I could go faster.” Just right in the middle “Alright, this is good. I’m working but I’m not hurting.” Like death at the end “Dear god let it end. I can do it, just another minute, just another minute.”

For reference, see Jens Voight’s Hour Record attempt. (You watched that, right? It was amazing!!)

I had picked a pace that I knew would be hard but that I hoped I could maintain. This was good! I think I could have actually gone faster but it was absolutely work to finish it.  I made it the whole way and had a bit of gas in the tank at the end. Not a lot though, so the pacing was pretty good.

Now our previous test had given me a Lactate Threshold of 147 beats per minute. I knew this to be false because my predicted max heart rate of 157 was nowhere near the 164 I averaged on my weekend run the previous Sunday.

The new test, the harder test, gave me a Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (let’s just say LT) of 178 beats per minute. Dope. Absolutely. Looks good!

I took that out for a spin the next day. It was an easy day with drills and strides. My goal was to keep my run “Easy” or Zone 2 or lower. As I suspected, my heart rate monitor slowed me down, far below my usual speed for my easy days. I was running outside and it was getting on to 80 degrees. Higher heat = higher heart rate so my easy run pace is slower in the noon day sun than when I’m getting my miles in on the treadmill. At the enforced slow pace I felt great. I didn’t have to take walk breaks to finish the run and today I feel great. I could have kept up that Zone 2 shuffle for hours.

Next week we’ll see where it puts me when I do my 400 meter intervals at 5k +~30 seconds per mile pace. I’ll go with the rate I’ve been using and see where my hear rate goes. Then I will adjust to get my heart where it needs to get the most out of my training time.


This week in fitness technology

I got my Wahoo TICKR X!  I took a long time deciding on which heart rate monitor to buy and there were some travails. I am very excited to train with heart rate.  I’m really bad at determining by Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). Like many runners, I run my easy days too hard and my hard days too easy, I think.  I’ve been running off a pace chart based on how fit I was in January. This is totally inaccurate by now.

Today I ran a test workout meant to determine my heart rate zones. It was a Lactate Threshold Test, not a Max Heart Rate Test. It wasn’t hard and it wasn’t meant to be. A kinder, gentler Lactate test. The testing was based on RPE, which I’m very bad at attaching to a pace. The test gave me a Lactate Threshold of 147. Ok, sounds good.

Except on my run this weekend, my heart rate averaged 164 for three miles. I was going what I would call 10K race pace, which is supposed to be at about the Lactate Threshold. Notice I’m not talking about abstract speed here. Speed to heart rate mapping sucks when you are a multi-terrain athlete. The heart rate from running 12 min/ mile on smooth pavement is going to be massive different from the heart rate of 12 min/mile on trails or pushing a jogging stroller. If my Lactate Threshold was 147, my heart rate of 164 would be sprinting, super, ultra, absolutely as fast as I could run for 100 yards. Utterly unsustainable for 3 miles.

One of the aspects of my athletic self that I am trying to develop is the acceptance that going fast is going to be uncomfortable. That it’s gonna hurt sometimes. Like most beings, I’m not a fan of pain and I avoid it. Achieving more of my athletic potential is going to involve being willing to get into the pain cave. My RPE estimations are terrible because I’m supposed to guess if I could hold a particular pace for an hour and I have no idea!  I know the pace I want to hold, I know the paces I have held. I know how far apart those are.

I performed the test on a treadmill and I’m sure that affected the outcome. I was setting the speed at paces I have been using, rather than going by feel alone. Given that this got me going a touch under 12 min/mile it was still quite an easy day.  I’m thinking I will take part of that time and perform a second kind of test. This test is a lot harder. Conveniently, I’m schedule for a 30 min tempo run tomorrow (that is a fairly hard run), so this shouldn’t throw me off my training plan. I’ll report back after tomorrow with updated heart rate numbers and the result of my testing!

Decisions are hard

In service of my goal of getting as fast as I can, I want to leverage some technology. I trained with a heart rate monitor a couple of years ago and really liked how it helped me target exactly how fast or slow I should be running. I fall into the very common trap of running my fast days too slow and my slow days too fast when I don’t have a reference point to keep me on target.  I am terrible at running by “feel.” I would love to get there! But for now I know that my best results come when I have an external prompt to track against.

I have shopped around and I am going to purchase a Wahoo HRM. Their monitors work on ANT+ and on BTLE (Bluetooth Low Energy). The short story there is that they will work with what I have now – my phone – and with whatever I buy later, be it a Garmin, a Polar or what have you (within limits but it is highly diverse in supported units and this market space is only getting larger). It’s taken me months to decide on this. I’ve been stalking this damn thing. They have three models! The TICKR, TICKR Run, and TICKR X. I thought I would get the X. It’s the big daddy, it does amazing stuff (stores your data in the monitor to load into your phone later – hello swim workout tracking!) and I like to make purchases for the long haul.

But it’s not available yet. There are pictures, there are reviews! But you can’t buy it yet and I’m ready to buy. I’ve got the money, I’ve got the will. I want the thing! I’ve picked out the speed and cadence sensor for my bike that I can use with a laptop to get virtual power readings to improve my bike workouts. I’m ready to do this. and now I’ve got this stumbling block and I’ve no idea what to do. Do I wait for it to come out with no definite timeline? Do I buy the TICKR (the run doesn’t do much for me) and then upgrade in a few years time?

I thought I was going to do this today and now I’m stuck. Poop.




My new thing when it comes to fitness is settling down.  I saw Tim O’Donnell speak a couple of weeks ago and his parting wisdom to the crowd was that the consistency was key.  I’m aiming for that. I’ve been dedicated to my yoga practice for almost a year and that has garnered great results. I’m adding in sustainable amounts of training. I’m up to running four days a week, consistently. Thursdays are a double header with a maintenance run at lunch and yoga in the evening.

Today I am wrecked, in a good way. My legs are tired but I feel a springiness in them. I could absolutely see going for a 15-20 minute easy run to just get the blood pumping. BUT this is a rest day and I’m respecting that, and the toddler was up at about four in the morning and never really went back to sleep. So it’s coffee at 5 in the evening and no work out today.