Sunday, January 12, 2014

You gotta have a heart (rate)!

Note:  Updated below!

I've been running since I was a teenager.  It started out as me walking to the good ol' "Magic Cavern" arcade in Myrtle Beach, SC.  It was an escape from the general torment that was slathered on me as a shy New Yorker who'd moved to SC.  It was, also almost to the foot, exactly 1 mile from my house.

Summer day after summer day, I'd run there.  Same in the fall.  Let's just say I was "a nerd for all seasons."

Anyway, off I went to college, where I got involved with weight training, and eventually mixed in some martial arts work.  But, I still ran.  Not as far, but I ran.  Then, I went back to distance running in 2005, this time on a much more serious basis.  When I restarted, the idea of anyone running 10 miles was mind-boggling.  In a couple of years, that distance became a routine weekend training run.

NOTE:  All that above is meant as a foundation, not a brag.  You'll see what I mean.

One thing I didn't do, that a lot of typical hardcore runners did, was wear a heart rate monitor.  I just didn't bother.  Finally, in 2012, I strapped up, and started to review my numbers.

I was ASTONISHED at the numbers.  VERY high.  Meanwhile, as I was running, my breath was NOT labored at all.

By way of background, Garmin separates heartrates into 5 "zones."  I haven't seen any definitive layout of what they are, but from culling posts from other users, it seems to roughly default to this:
  • Warmup Zone: 50-60% of Heart Rate Reserve, used for warmup and cooldown
  • Recover Zone: 60-70% of Heart Rate Reserve, used for long, slow runs or cycling, or for recovery rides and runs
  • Aerobic Zone: 70-80% of Heart Rate Reserve, used for overall cardiovascular fitness.
  • Anaerobic Zone: 80-90% of Heart Rate Reserve, used for for training to increase your lactate threshold
  • Redline Zone: 90-100% of Heart Rate Reserve, used only by the very fit for short periods, usually for interval training.

So, I am very often told by Garmin that I had a "training effect" of 5.0 (meaning, I overdid it).  It will tell me that my heartrate was in the zone where I was basically pushing and pushing and pushing.  Essentially, Garmin was telling me that I trying too hard.

The problem is, it rarely felt like it.  Sure, if I was on a track, and was pounding out the last 100m of a run, I'm sure I'd haul booty, but it's not the same thing.  So I devised a plan.

The plan was (and still is):  As I'm running, I will say, out loud,

"The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain."

Yup.  That.  Out loud.  If I'm able to say the sentence, and not heave out word-by-word, I know I'm not in maximum zone.  But, if the sentence is labored, I know I'm working (I usually do know that). 

I mostly do this sentence when I'm trotting along, ostensibly hoping for a aerobic workout, such as a long run where I should be keeping my speed slower.  I've been chagrined sometimes if/when someone passes me as I say it out loud.  But the trouble is, I don't know what else to do?

Here's how heart rate percentages are calculated:

220 - age = max heart rate.

That's it.

So, that means some dude who played in an arcade his whole life --getting there via a "rascal" scooter, smoking packs of cigarettes to/from the arcade has the same max heart rate as me, assuming we're the same age.  But, recall my foundational life of running (see?  I wasn't bragging before!).  Surely, that has to count for something?

I suspect it does, but I don't know whether (or how much) to adjust my HR numbers on my Garmin.  I can't really afford a VO2 test, at least I don't think I can.  And I don't know how much to change it if I were to guess, just based on breathing.  I do realize that I can probably readjust these numbers within Garmin Connect, but I haven't done it.  Maybe I'll have to take the next step in my training.

So, what do I do in the meantime?

The answer is, as always, "Keep training."  Sure, my Garmin will squawk at me for having a "training effect" of 5.0 (overreaching), but on the other hand, I'm still self-evaluating while I run, all the while reciting the most famous line from "My Fair Lady."

I bet THAT gets your heart racing.


Update #1 of 2:

I heard from Jennifer who has the same issue, but she's paid for 2 VO2 tests.

And then I got a great suggestion from Adam, at Lesser is More with a great suggestion:

This strikes me as a good idea -- at a track. No interruptions, no stoplights, no detours. Hell, not even any hills. Just 12 circles (I'll do 3 miles even), and see what the numbers give me.

Thanks for the input, folks!


Update #2 of 2:

Here is a link to the new formula for getting a max HR.  It's made a huge difference already for me.