I love the fact that we have so much data at our finger tips. For a data junkie like me it's amazing. Since I've started coaching, I've come to realize that many people don't take full advantage of these incredible little machines. Garmins, Polars and the like are basically very expensive pace keepers because many people only use them for pacing. They don't bother with the additional features like heart rate. They either don't wear the strap that the watch came with or they don't buy it as an option. When I'm training for something, I always wear my heart rate monitor. I find it keeps me "honest" in terms of my effort level. Those little digits tell me to either back it off or pick it up.
I'm not saying that you SHOULD train with heart rate but it is definitely a valuable tool that can help you improve, especially if you're just starting out. There is a lot to be said for training on perceived effort as well but when I was starting out, heart rate training was THE thing so that's what I'm used to. Now that I've got 15+ years of running under my belt, I've come to know what various efforts feel like and I can pretty much guess within a few beats per minute what my average heart rate would be for any given workout. In fact, I wear my heart rate monitor for every run but I don't have the screen set to show heart rate. It shows time, distance and pace. I don't generally concern myself with pace unless it's specific to my workout. Right now I'm training for a half marathon so I'm working with distance. In the off season, I usually just run based on time.
I've been using Garmin products exclusively for the last 4 years and with the advent of Garmin Connect, I've had a whole slew of feedback available to me in regards to my training, especially wen using my heart rate monitor. Garmin Connect has a feature called "Training Effect". According to the Garmin website, training effect "measures the load applied to your body and displays the impact in relation to your current fitness level." It is calculated based on your user profile, heart rate ranges and the difficulty of an activity. It is measured on a scale of 1 to 5.
As much as I find Garmin software to be somewhat frustrating, their devices offer some amazing features. The 920xt actually has a recovery time indicator (Polar has something similar), which utilizes your heart rate data to give you an estimated recovery time for any given effort. It will also beep at the start of a workout to tell you whether or not your recovery is "good" or "fair". Sometimes I see "fair" on my second workout of a high volume weekend. I've also seen it when I'm coming off being sick, which tells me that I probably should have taken one more day off. I always check the recovery time after my workout because it can often indicate that I'm potentially more worn out than I feel. For example, this week I did two run workouts, almost exactly the same distance (6km vs. 6.5km). One was a progressive tempo and the other was a race pace workout 3x3 minutes at race pace with 90s recovery between each one. I ran harder in the first 6km workout and my recovery time was 19 hours. In the 3x3 minute workout, I ran slower but my recovery time was actually 21 hours. So that tells me that I'm starting to get worn down. I felt fine but I noticed my breathing felt a bit more laboured on my second run even though I was actually running slower. Looks like I'm really going to need to focus on rest this next week if I want to be really well rested going into Scotia.
I rarely ever run without my Garmin & heart rate monitor, even in my off season, mostly just out of habit. When I'm in my off season, I set my Garmin to time and average heart rate, that way I'm not thinking about pace. I'm just running to run. Most of the time, I don't even look at my watch, I just let it do it's thing.
There are a few other great training tools out there that also use your heart rate data to help calculate training load and I will get into those in a future post.
Do you train with heart rate or by feel / pacing?