I think I figured out my max heart rate.
I first did it by using the standard calculation of 220 minus my age which gave me 180. I'll let you do the reverse math if you want to figure out x (x being my age of course).
Having done that, I had read enough literature in the last week about how inaccurate this formula can be that I decided to figure it out the ol'fashioned way. Don't worry, I didn't do anything rash. I simply followed a suggestion that I read on several running sites. They all suggested that I strap on my heart rate monitor and head out for a good ol' hill workout.
So that's exactly what I did on Thursday morning.
As instructed, I ran 2k first to warm up. The instructions were then to run a big hill three times. Check my heart rate at the top of the first two climbs. On the third, go all out as hard as I could to the top. Check heart rate and that should be my max (or pretty close to it anyway).
After my 2k, I ran partway up the hill twice just to make sure I was warmed up enough. Once back at the bottom, I let my heart rate drop back down to below 120 beats per minute (bpm) and then I headed up to the top. At the top, I checked my watch and saw 170 bpm on the screen.
I trotted back down again.
The second time up I pushed harder. At the top, I saw 175 bpm.
The third time I pushed so hard that I didn't actually manage to run right to the top. I was so out of breath and shaky that I stopped two telephone poles from the top for fear of collapse.
My heart rate?
180 on the dot.
Exactly the same number that the heart rate formula spit out.
When I uploaded the run from my watch later that day, it confirmed that my max heart rate during that hill workout was exactly 180 bpm.
What have I learned so far?
- I've learned my max heart rate.
- I've learned that, for once, I am exactly as the textbook says I should be.
- I've learned that I'm not actually all the pleased about being exactly as I am supposed to be - I much prefer to be a little more interesting than that.
- I've learned that I have been doing my long runs at a heart rate that is way too high (172-175 bpm).
What am I going to do about that?
Well, since I'm not training for anything specific right now, I'm going to spend the next few weeks running in my heart rate zones. I'm going to do my Saturday long run at a slower heart rate (80-85% of my max) rather than what I've been doing it as which, as it turns out, is about 95% of my max.
I'm guessing that it's going to feel really really slow. I'm guessing I'm going to be annoyed at the fact that I'll have to keep slowing down to keep my heart rate in the zone (especially considering that I already feel rather slow). But I have enough friends who have had great success using their heart rate as a guide that I'm willing to give it a try.
Not a half-hearted try where I do one slower Saturday run and then resume my normal running pace but a real try. The kind where I pretend to forget everything I know about running and start over.
Because if using this technique can help me become a stronger running and allow me to run a half marathon at a pace that I can sustain from start to finish, I'll take it in a heart beat.