Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Running to heart-rate - a sensible runner's key to success (written for UK Athletics 09/08).

A keen advocate of using a heart-rate monitor whilst running, Run Britain editor, NICOLA BAMFORD explains why ‘training high-tech’ is the best, most sensible way forward....

In my opinion, far too many runners fail to rely on heart-rate monitors as a training tool. Instead of seeing these gadgets as nothing more than a snazzy piece of technology, runners should open their eyes to the vast benefits to using them and think of them akin to the role of a very important training partner and coach.

Personally, I wouldn’t even go for an easy recovery run without my handy monitoring device; a wise choice, I believe, which has been installed by my coach to ultimately keep me healthy and injury-free.

For example, each of my runs and the occasional session is aimed at a running within specific heart-rate zone....

My morning bimbles – or ‘easy runs’ are usually at 60-75% effort in the 145-155bpm (beats per minute) range and my ‘steady runs’ – normally in the afternoon and at 75-85% effort – are set at between 150 and 160bpm.

My ‘threshold or fast’ runs/sessions tend to be based around the 160-175 mark, around 85-95% effort, as is ‘race pace’. An athlete’s maximum heart-rate is 220bpm minus their age, so for me my maximum is 198bpm; a figure that will not be reached in competition but the 170-90 range is undoubtedly hit when running flat out.

You can find your ‘training zones’ by: 1) finding your maximum heart-rate (E.G. 206). 2) Find your resting heart-rate (laying still after waking up – ideally, take an averge over a few days) – E.G 56. 3) Subtract the resting rate from the maximum - This figure is your working heart rate, E.G. 206-56=150. 4) Take whatever percentage of your working heart rate that you're aiming for (E.G. 60% for an easy run – E.G. 150x0.60=90), and add it to your resting heart rate E.G. 90+56=146. The final figure is your personal target heart rate.

By training to heart-rate, I am aware of just how hard my body’s working. It would be detrimental to do a so-called ‘easy’ run in the 160bpm range, and in my opinion, by wearing and relying on a monitor, I’m ensuring that I don’t get carried away and burn myself out. My nifty training partner will also ensure I’m not under-training either.

As you get fitter, your heart rate will fall for any given pace or you will run faster at a given heart rate.

An additional advantage to owning a heart-rate monitor is the observation of resting heart-rate. Taking your resting heart-rate upon waking is an ideal method of spotting any oncoming health or fatigue issues and is a must for sensible athletes. Record these daily figures in order to spot any encouraging or worrying trends.

The three down-sides to heart-rate monitors, however (from personal experience) are: becoming obsessed with checking your watch on your runs, losing the H.R reading if the electrodes on the strap aren’t moist enough (either spit or a gel-based lubricant can eradicate this latter problem) and experiencing ‘heart-rate suppression’ – when you’re tired or ill and despite working hard, the heart-rate remains low; deluding you into thinking you’re not running fast enough – beware!

Nevertheless, training with a heart-rate monitor is most certainly a sensible runner’s key to success!

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