I’ve been using a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) along with GPS to document my training and racing results for a few years now. Besides allowing a runner to keep a detailed data record of each and every run and race, the device is a great bio-feedback tool during the run. Let’s say the coach wants you to do an easy recovery run the day after a hard workout. The HRM will let you know if you are staying in the prescribed HR zone or if you are running your recovery too fast. The HRM makes it much easier to adjust to a correct effort if you have a hilly route and/or adverse weather conditions such as heat or wind.
I also use a Garmin 305 with HRM to evaluate my pace vs. HR throughout the training cycle to gauge fitness level. This information gives you feedback on improvements from the training program.
When you take Pace, measured in minutes per mile (MPM) or minutes per kilometer (MPK), along with the HR you can track changes in performance over time. For example, if you run 10:00 minute miles at 150 HR at the beginning of your training cycle and improve to run 9:30 minute miles at 150 HR in three months you have improved 5%. Ideally the testing conditions need to be as identical as possible, such as on a flat road or track at close to the same temperature, humidity and wind conditions. But comparisons can also be made by using the same course over time, such as the same 10 mile hilly route or the same 20 mile long run route.
Below are the results of 6 tests that I have done that measure my pace at 5 different HR levels. This is called the Hadd test after the coach who came up with the protocol. The test is best done on a track in similar weather conditions each time. The runner warms up and then runs 2400m (6 laps) at the lowest HR level, rests 90 seconds and then another 2400m at the next higher level. This is repeated until all levels have been run and the pace is calculated or recorded with the Garmin device.
The first test (5/17/08) was done about one month after the Boston Marathon so was still recovering and feeling the effects from that marathon. The next two tests were about 6 or 7 weeks apart and show incremental improvements from the training program. There was a goal marathon on 10/5/08 and the 11/22/08 test was after a quick recovery and training cycle.
The 4/11/09 test was done just 9 days before Boston ’09 and shows a very high peak in training. The 6/16/09 test was done almost 2 months after the Boston race and shows a rather deep valley due to an extended recovery and ‘empty aerobic tank’. The last test was also done in about 10 degree warmer temperatures (about 75 degrees F) which will slow the pace at each HR level.
The 7/29/09 test showed very good improvement all coming off higher milage (85 miles the week prior) and all low HR running. My knee however was a bit sore and tender at the start so decided not to do the highest HR level.
Some runners and coaches don’t think you should use a HRM during a race but I have known many runners who use the info to their advantage. Observing the HR info is less practical for shorter races like 5 and 10K’s because they are more intense races with closer competition and closer to all out effort. There is hardly enough time to look at a pace watch much less monitor the HR! With longer distances like the marathon the effort needs to be more relaxed and controlled, especially in the first half in order to use minimal energy. An occasional check of the HRM will let you know if you are staying in the right zone, alerting you if you pushing harder than you should or perhaps even backing off too much and losing time. Monitoring your HR on hills is especially practical. Of course there are times in the marathon, especially the last 10K where the focus is just on metering out your remaining energy and putting in your best effort without regard to your HR levels.