Apparently the key to heart rate monitoring is that it teaches you how to do a hard workout hard enough and how to do an easy workout easy enough.
This is probably a good point in the story to point out that I am not a doctor, I don't pretend to be a doctor and I get most of my medical information from the internet so please take the rest of what I've written with a certain degree of skepticism. This is also a good time to point out that I am interested in learning all that I can so if you know more than I do, please share your knowledge.
So I read up on heart rate and learned several things.
1. You won't get far until you get a sense of what your resting heart rate (RHR) and your maximum heart rate (MHR) are.
a) Resting heart rate can be figured out by counting how many beats per minute your heart beats when you are at rest. This is ideally done first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. I checked mine and found it that I have a RHR of 52 beats per minute.
b) Maximum heart rate is a little trickier. There are workouts designed to help you figure it out (ex. run for 15 minutes to warm up, gradually increase your pace over the next ten minutes and then go all out for two minutes. Whatever your heart rate peaks at is your MHR). There are also calculations that you can use to figure it out. The formula that was referred to most often in my internet travels was:
205 - (0.5 x age)
I did it and got 186.
2. The next thing you need to do is figure out percentages of your MHR. I thought it would be as easy as 75% of MHR = MHR x 0.75 but it's not. There is apparently some dude named Karvonen who developed a formula that all the cool kids use. It is:
% (MHR - RHR) + RHR
For example, if I want to figure out 75% of my MHR, I would do: 0.75 (186 - 52) + 52 = 152.5
Following so far?
The next step was to use the Karnoven formula to figure out different percentages. I crunched some numbers and got the following results:
Effort Heart rate
Finally, I wrote down the heart rate zones I should stay in depending on the type of run I am doing:
Easy and long runs (70-75% = 146 to 152)
Tempo runs (80-90% = 159 to 172)
Interval repeats (90-95% = 172 to 179)
5k (95-97% = 179-182)
10k (92-94% = 175 to 178)
1/2 marathon (85-88% = 166 to 170)
marathon (80-85% = 159-166)
What I learned in my reading is that runners are notorious for running too hard on long training runs and on easy runs which makes it difficult to recover properly before the next hard run. Many runners are also not good at knowing if they are working hard enough on hard workouts such as hill repeats. So using heart rate helps you slow down the easy runs and helps you push the hard ones. Watching heart rate is apparently more effective than watching your pace because the amount of effort it takes to run a certain pace can change from day to day depending on a variety of factors (fatigue and hydration being two examples).
All sites I read warned that it will take a while to get used to running easy runs at 70-75% MHR because we normally run them at a higher rate. So patience was strongly encouraged and, over time, one can apparently run a faster pace at a lower heart rate.
I applied this logic to my Tuesday morning easy 8k run and my Thursday morning hill workout.
Check back tomorrow for Heart Rate Part II to see how well it all worked out.