Health and Wellness

Heart Rate Monitor and Marathon Training

At the Facebook EMS Fitness Group Nick asked me if I had any heart rate training strategies to share after he saw me running the Badgerland Strider Half with a heart rate monitor strap around my chest.

Understanding HR

I just started running with a heart rate monitor at the start of the 2012 running season. Although I have long had a [amazon-product text=”Garmin Forerunner 305″ type=”text”]B000CSWCQA[/amazon-product] with heart rate capability I had never explored how to best use the data for run planning and run analysis. Frankly I still haven’t. What has changed is that on January 1, 2012 I started working out with a coach. She uses my heart rate data to plan my training schedule and analyze the quality of my work-outs.

My primary understanding of (and use) of heart rate is to monitor running effort. Pace (minutes per mile) may not be a good reflection of effort depending on terrain, weather, and other factors. Heart rate is a truer indication of effort. There is also a desirable training zone for a work-out to be most effective for building speed or endurance. Too much time in “easy mode” – heart rate just above normal is not beneficial for gaining endurance that will be helpful during a race. Running in “max mode” is not sustainable for long distances, like the half marathon or marathon.

Race Day HR Data

My data from the Badgerland Strider Half Marathon is illustrative of how heart rate is a good reflection of effort/exertion. My race goal was to run 7:30 minutes per mile for 6 to 7 miles and then increase my pace gradually (running negative splits) to the finish. My planning didn’t account for that the final four miles were generally uphill and the temperature would climb into the low 80s from an already warm starting temperature.

As you look at the below table – data for each mile – you can see my pace per mile was very consistent throughout the race. This is generally a good thing. It has taken a lot of practice for me to control my early race pace and then either maintain a steady pace or increase my pace throughout the race. My goal was to increase my pace, but the mile splits show I remained steady. This was despite feeling like I was increasing my exertion … remember I was generally running uphill and it was warm and humid. The average HR column, furthest right, shows that my heart rate steadily increased through out the race. This reflects several things: 1) I increased my exertion to increase or maintain pace, 2) I was losing volume through perspiration faster than I could replace it with oral hydration, 3) My core temperature was increasing from metabolism, an increasingly ambient temperature, and poorly effective evaporative heat loss because the relative humidity was high.

Mile Splits with Pace and Average Heart Rate

This is a chart of heart rate over distance (it can also be displayed over time). The general upward trend is fairly obvious from the start to finish. The chart also reflects the changing terrain and a short pause I made in a port-a-potty that I made just before mile 4.

Heart rate over distance

It is reassuring to me that when I stop exertion, either transition from run to walk or transition from run to rest, that my heart rate rapidly decreases. My stop before mile 4 was about 40 seconds. If I had rested longer my heart rate would have continued to decline.

When an emergency responder enters the rehab area for rest and fluids a return of vitals to normal or near normal is an important indicator of the responders ability to return to duty. A responder who continues to have above normal heart rate, even after 10-20 minutes of rehab, should not return to duty until the cause is identified and treated.

Learn More about Heart Rate

Nick has encouraged me to read the book [amazon-product text=”Heart Rate Training” type=”text”]B005JY32CK[/amazon-product] to learn more about HR monitoring and analysis strategies for endurance athletes. I am sure his recommendation is a good one.

Do you train with  heart rate monitor? How does it help you train better? 

By Greg

Elearning designer, writer, podcaster, blogger, presenter and paramedic. To relax I run and bike as far and as fast as I can. Also like to read a lot and fast.