16 August 2010

Laps, straps and rhythmic beating

It all started on that fateful trip to FleetFeet in Cincinnati: my sister, Katie, was looking at getting a Garmin GPS watch to help with her training. There I was, beholden to a plethora of nerd-tactic devices all designed to make my life as a runner better. Ah, yes, technology.

While I didn't really have a need for a GPS watch (I'd been running using RunKeeper Pro on my iPhone), I was intrigued by the idea of zone training. Zone training is just a fancy phrase some Russian exercise physiologist came up with during the Cold War to describe using your heartbeat as a pace setting tool.

(And just in case you were wondering, no, you did not just time-warp to the 80s, and I have no plans to start marathon training in a neon-colored Adidas track suit.)

There were a few things that peaked my curiosity about zone training:
  1. I've heard several times that you can determine how "in shape" you are by your resting heart rate. Naturally, I wanted to find out what mine was.
  2. I had been struggling on some long runs lately, and I wanted to see if I could find an explanation. Was I exceeding my target heart rate (HR) during the run? Not pushing myself hard enough?
  3. RunKeeper Pro has the ability to add your average HR to your workout logs, and I'd been approximating for the last few months during runs. This was *way* too unscientific for me.
  4. CrossFit (the workout regiment I do outside of running) really pushes my cardiovascular capabilities, and I was curious in a) the number of calories I was actually burning during the workouts and b) what range my HR was in for the 15-30 minute sessions.
Polar RS100 Heart Rate Monitor and StopwatchSo I picked up the Polar RS100 on Amazon for roughly $80 (about $20 less than it retails for). It's their low-end monitor, but has the capability of recording up to 99 laps, is water-resistant and uses a chest-strap monitor that communicates with the watch. This was critical especially for CrossFit, where I didn't want to have to stop my workout to get a quick reading.

The chest strap doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would; when I first picked it up I worried it would restrict my breathing and cause me to cramp. It's actually quite comfortable and made from a soft, flexible, plastic-y type material with a neoprene hook-and-latch to go around my back. It's also machine washable (critical when you sweat as much as I do).

Since using it, I've learned a few valuable lessons I want to share with you:
  1. I had no idea how many calories I was actually burning while running. This was the most surprising lesson learned, as RunKeeper Pro (which automatically calculates your calories burned using a time / distance algorithm) was *grossly* underestimating how much fuel I was using. In some cases I was actually burning TWICE the calories RunKeeper said I was. (12 mile run: Polar, 2,134 calories; RunKeeper, 1,024 calories)
  2. With that in mind, I realized part of the reason I was struggling so much during the long runs was because I didn't have the fuel I needed. I'd get up first-thing in the morning without eating anything, and was relying on my glycogen stores (essentially, how much energy I could store up / carry over from the previous days) which rapidly depleted. I've started to eat a small something before running and am intentionally consuming more energy gels, electrolyte-loaded liquids and thinking more proactively about the types of foods I consume before I run.
  3. I was exceeding my target zone routinely by about 2-3 percent. Last week I tried to cap my HR at 85 percent, and noticed a positive difference in how I felt after mile 10. I still think 85 is low for me, so I'll be toying with 87-88 percent to see if I can still feel the same difference at that level.
  4. I'm not as "in shape" as I thought I was, or, I have a better sense of a good target to shoot for. Right now my resting HR is around 68 BPM. My goal is to have my resting HR be closer to 60; this would mean my heart is more efficient at distributing oxygen to the bloodstream and, therefore, needs to beat less frequently.
  5. Indeed, I am a nerd. It's just neat to be able to break down the metrics of your run; I really appreciate being able to analyze (with data) my progress, issues and trends.
More to come after I use this more, but I am so far very pleased with my purchase. If you're in the market for a new HR monitor, I'd definitely give this one a shot and am happy to give you more specifics.  Just send me a tweet @samvenable.

Happy running and have a joy-filled day,

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