I’m going to start using a heart rate monitor.

I have one that I was reluctant to use earlier in my training because I wanted to familiarize myself with my body and get a sense of my own heart rate without constantly depending on the numbers flashing on my wrist. I’m not sure if that was the wisest choice, but here I am.

This weekend I was wiped. I had to cancel my gym session on Friday. I missed my long run on Sunday and instead slept for about 16 hours straight. The entire weekend all I did was sleep and eat, with some very minor workouts thrown in there just to say that I did.

My long runs are starting to increase but I’m still strength training. I don’t always remember that strength training takes a lot out of my body and I’m usually eager to run a half marathon the next day. I don’t think I’m resting enough.

When I first bought my heart rate monitor, I thought I would use it to tell me when to speed up. Now I need it to tell me when to slow down. I can feel that I’m starting to push my limits and I’m at a very high risk of overtraining. I have yet to be injured, and I’d like to keep it that way.

Before I started playing with all the settings on my neglected heart rate monitor, I had to familiarize myself with the following terms:

Heart Rate Monitor

Surprise – it monitors your heart rate. It tells you exactly how fast your heart is beating. This is important because staying within different heart rate zones will accomplish different things.

There are four zones in which we can run. They are:

1. Endurance Zone. 60-75% of your maximum heart rate. This zone strengthens your legs without putting too much strain on your lungs and heart. Because it is low intensity, it must also be high duration. This is great for fat burning.

2. Stamina Zone. 75-85% of your maximum heart rate. This zone strengthens your heart and builds your speed. This is when you feel like you’re pushing yourself. I think that until today I have done most of my runs in this zone. However, because it is a higher intensity, it is impossible to maintain this over a longer period of time. And because I’ve started running half marathon distances, I have been having trouble with endurance. Oops.

3. Economy Zone. 85-95% of your maximum heart rate. These are speed workouts, essentially what I refer to as my interval training. Here you learn better form, and a more efficient stride. Only the most seasoned runners tend to train in this zone. It can only be sustained for short periods of time.

4. Racing Zone. 95% of your maximum heart rate. I’ve never been here. It’s supposedly a lot of pain and agony. A lot of runners don’t ever need (or want) to hit this zone. There are few benefits and it’s usually a one-way ticket to a burnout or an injury or a first aid tent.

Maximum Heart Rate

This is the fastest your heart will beat at any given time. The absolute fastest your heart has ever beaten was the day you were born. For male babies, this is usually 220 beats/minute. And 226 for girls.

The general formula to determine your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. This doesn’t always work well because it assumes that you are losing one heart beat for every year that you’re alive. However for healthy, fit people this number is closer to one beat every 2 years.

The most accurate way to test your maximum heart rate is to get your heart to beat as fast as it possibly can. This isn’t fun or pretty. However, it will be consistent with whatever activity you are using to test it whether it be running or biking or panicking. If you’re looking for something less strenuous, you can get a doctor to determine your maximum rate by measuring things like your oxygen and CO2 levels.

I personally plan to determine mine the way that John “The Penguin” Bingham and Coach Jenny Hadfield suggest in their book Marathoning for Mortals. They suggest a simple 5k run with a heart rate monitor on. After a warm up, take the first mile at a comfortable pace, the second at a challenging pace, and the last 1.1 mile at a pace where you can’t wait to stop. The highest heart rate you hit on your monitor is your maximum heart rate. It’s not as accurate as going to the doctor, but much more accurate than plugging your age into a formula.

Resting heart rate

This measures the number of times your heart beats when it is resting. The best time to measure this is first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. Count the number of times your heart beats in one minute. This is the best indicator of your overall fitness. The more fit you are, the lower your resting heart rate.

If your heart rate is low, that means that your heart is strong enough to circulate all the blood your body needs in less beats. It doesn’t have to work as hard to keep you active and alive.

A healthy range for adults is 60-80 beats/minute. By comparison, Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong has a resting heart rate of around 32. And Miguel Indurain, a Spanish cyclist, has a recorded resting heart rate of only 28 beats!

If you notice that your resting heart rate is starting to go up, it usually means that you have not recovered from your last workout. You need more rest. Which is apparently what I needed this weekend.

Today I feel much better and refreshed. I’m ready to get back into my training this week, with a closer eye on my heart rates this time.