Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Heart Rate and GPS Watches = Cell Division

Today's blog started off as one thing but has become two things.

Kinda like cell division I guess.

My original plan for this blog was to talk about heart rate. See I've been tracking my heart rate on and off when I run for almost a year. I track it enough that I have a sense of what the numbers mean and I know when I'm pushing too hard or not hard enough.

It occurred to me that I've never once worn my heart rate monitor while cycling. So, on Sunday, I put it on. I changed my Garmin Forerunner 305 display to show heart rate when in cycling mode and I watched what happened.

Our bike ride was just under 30k and fairly flat. There was a pretty tough headwind at times as well as some short but steepish hills. I watched my heart rate like a hawk and tried to see how high I could push it.

When I run, I have learned that my heart rate goes up to 160 bpm pretty quickly and then it hovers between 160-170 unless I'm doing hills. Anything over 170 really doesn't feel good and I run into breathing issues and ear plugging annoyances. So I keep it under 170 as much as possible.

The cell division part of this blog occurred when I went to upload my workout so I could see what my heart rate did. For the first time ever, my Garmin failed to upload a workout. I restarted the laptop. I restarted the Garmin. I disconnected and reconnected everything. I downloaded the latest driver. I read online forums looking for solutions.

No luck.

So I'm now writing a blog about my cycling heart rate (as I remember it from looking at my watch) and a blog about GPS watches.

Back to my heart rate on the bike. What I found was that, when cycling at a steady state (28-30 km/hour), my heart rate stayed right around 135 bpm. When I was pushing harder into a head wind, it climbed but never to more than 150 bpm. On the toughest hill, it spiked to 153 but dropped right back down again.

Even when I was pushing as hard as I could, it didn't climb anywhere near where it climbs when I'm running.  

Running and cycling are obviously very different sports but it was interesting to see how a hard bout of cycling doesn't compare to a typical bout of running - at least heart rate-wise.

So my cycling friends, is that perfectly normal or does it mean that I am not pushing as hard as I think I'm pushing on the bike? Should my cycling and running heart rates be similar? Is 80% of max different with different activities?

On to GPS watches. I have had my refurbished Garmin Forerunner 305 for almost two years now. I know it is nearing the end of its life so I need to start figuring out what I want to buy next. I've used Forerunners for years and have had several 305s which I've loved. I like the big screen and the heart rate monitor. I like that it beeps at every kilometre and tells me how long it took me to run it. I like that it lights up so I can see the display in the early morning hours.

Of course, since I purchased my current one, I became a swimmer. This watch is not meant for swimming. I also cycle more and this watch doesn't measure cadence which I desperately want to measure.

Here is what I want. I want a watch that I will primarily use for running. It needs to be easy to read and needs to show me several things at once (pace, distance run, and time run). A heart rate monitor is also important.

I would also like this watch to be usable in the pool and in open water swims to measure distance and speed.

Finally, I want it to have a cycling mode and, I don't know if this is possible, measure cadence among other things. If this is not possible, I am willing to entertain the possibility of buying a separate GPS device that stays on my bike and shows me my cadence.

Ideally, I want a 'triathlon' watch that switches easily between sports somehow rather than needing me to hold down buttons for a few seconds or scroll through a menu because, really, who has time for that during a triathlon?

Any swimmers, runners, cyclists or triathletes out there have any great GPS devices that they recommend?  Tell me what you've tried and what you've discovered. I need to do my own research too but we all know that it's always better to learn from people who have gone before.


  1. You can buy the Garmin speed and cadence sensor that is compatible with all Garmin devices.
    I used to use my 305 before I got my 500. You can have cadence on the screen.

    That's all I can say because I don't know what's available these days!

  2. I loved my 305, but Josh kind of claimed it when he started running and I wasn't doing too much because of leg problems. It has since run it's course, so I would like a new GPS with HR monitor. Tried the 410, but HATED the bezel, so back to Costco it went. Don't quote me, but I believe the new 310XT, which replaces the discontinued 305, may be swimmer-friendly. The cheapest place to get it is Costco online.

  3. Hi Celine, seeing your 305 brings back some memories as I had that same watch for a couple years until mine died, too....

    Based on what your looking for in a watch, I would second Janice's recommendation (the 310xt). Also check out the Magellan Switch or Switch Up. All three of these watches are waterproof, have large, high-resolution screens, come with multi-sport (this lets you switch quickly between activities, i.e. swim to bike), and work with a quick-release mount (usually sold separately) that lets you easily mount the watch onto your handlebars. All 3 watches are in the same general price range, too.

    Sorry for the information overload! I've been putting together a GPS watch website and have done a lot of research on this lately. You can check out triathlete watches here, if interested (http://athletesgps.com/triathletes/)

    Regarding HR, I'm a casual cyclist and more into running, but I've found the same thing: HR is always way, way lower when biking. I think it's because running is just more aerobically intense.

    Good luck!