Do Proper Runners Wear Heart Rate Monitors?


Ordered new Garmin FR220 with heart-rate monitor but was wondering if proper runners actually use a HRM?


Firstly, I’m unsure of whether we/I constitute the term ‘proper runners’, but that aside we do enjoy running, and are probably a little more obsessive than most people we know, and also like to waffle on about running related stuff far more than most people are willing to listen.

In short the answer is ‘yes’ we do train with heart rate monitors, using it as a gauge of fitness (comparing heart rates to average paces). It is merely used as a measuring device for information purposes though, we do not use heart rate to dictate the pace at which we train (i.e. we do not set out to run at a certain heart rate). Rarely will I ever race in a ‘target race’ with a heart rate monitor on – a minor thing but just the notion of having something elasticated around the chest seems counter intuitive to making breathing as easy as possible. Yes the reality is that the HRM strap really doesn’t impede the chests expansion, but in a race situation, every minor detail should be considered – if you feel it doesn’t make any odds then by all means crack on! It should be noted that in some training races (Parkruns etc) the HRM will be worn to give an accurate TRIMP (Training Impulse) Score for the session.

What is ‘TRIMP’? You might ask – well, the main reason I track my heart rate is to monitor my training load, and to keep an eye on how stressed my body is, helping me gauge whether I’m overdoing things. I do this using the aptly named “Training Load” plugin for Sporttracks (a training log/analysis bit of software). In a nutshell it takes the heart rate data from each workout to gauge how hard I worked in that session (my TRIMP score), it then considers repeated days/sessions of running/training and gives me two values – my Acute Training Load (ATL) and my Chronic Training Load (CTL). My ATL gives me an idea of my the stresses on my system in the short term (over something like 11days), which I then compare to my CTL score, a gauge of the training load on my body over a longer term (circa 42 days IIRC) which is generally considered to be a measure of my current fitness and suggests the sort of ongoing training load my body can handle. If my ATL rises quite rapidly, and is a long way above my CTL, then I know my body is going to struggle. Fortunately the ‘training load’ plugin also monitors this as well by giving a Training Stress Balance (TSB). I know when I’m training hard I can manage a TSB of around -20 for a period, when it’s up near -30 I know I can only sustain this for a very short period and that at this stage the risk of injury is increased. When tapering the score will increase – I find that around -5 is ideal for a target race of say 10km, and up to +2 for longer races e.g. half marathon. Above this and I find that I feel ‘stale’ in races; I have effectively over-tapered.

The net result is that it draws you a very clever looking graph which makes you feel like your training has a purpose:

Screenshot 2013-10-29 23.01.16

So with all these additional numbers to consider and track, does it actually make me a quicker runner? Well of course not, at least not in itself; it does however give another measure of fitness and progress with minimal effort, so why wouldn’t you track it?

Enjoy the new GPS/HRM… and should you find yourself with time to kill, check out sporttracks and the trainingload plugin.

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6 thoughts on “Do Proper Runners Wear Heart Rate Monitors?

  1. On more than one occasion I have been running alongside someone in a race and their heart rate monitor alarm has gone off. My response, however bad I’m feeling, is to put my foot down ease away. Most ridiculous use of what could be a reasonably useful monitoring tool.

  2. I added the plugin to my Sporttracks and got an equally baffling set of lines and numbers. Not quite sure what it all means but as my running is on an upward curve at the moment I’ll assume it is all good.

    One thing that I’ve long been curious about is most elite runners seeming indifference, even disdain, to using HR monitors during races, especially longer ones. When you look at pro cyclists the majority of them are / were obsessed with HR and, more recently, almost literally driven to a pace up hills and in time trials determined by their Powertap readings (Although some cynics remark that some are not interested in riding to the maximum of their abilities, rather thank keeping below the fabled 6 watts per kilogram, any digression of which ‘proves’ they are a doper). They seem to freely embrace technology which allows them to maximise their output without veering into the ‘red zone,’ which will inevitably lead to trouble further down the road.

    Runners, it seems, mostly prefer to eulogise their abilities to run by ‘feel’ and perceived exertion, as if any pandering to technology keeping them within certain parameters will diminish their running ability. The notable exception, I recall, was ladies 2004 Olympic Marathon champion Mizuki Noguchi who was, on the BBC commentary by Brendon Foster, almost ridiculed for frequently looking at her ‘stopwatch’ when there was a big clock on the lead vehicle. It transpired she was looking at her HR monitor and ensuring that the combined effects of the heat and the hills were not sending her heart rate beyond a certain pre-determined maximum.

    To me that was smart thinking and ever since then when racing a marathon I’ve run to a HR maximum (Although not with alarms or beeps) for the first 18-20 miles rather than feel, which is highly fallible when the throngs of cheering fans can make you feel like it’s too easy when in reality you are running beyond your means. One injury induced capitulation aside, the methodology has worked every time.

    I greatly look forward to the day when some Google glasses type Garmin device will display every parameter needed in my peripheral vision. Hopefully some time soon these glasses will come with a glycogen fuel level reader, on the fly lactate measurement, pace required to maximise finishing time without blowing up etc… Maybe then, with this information at the armoury of the elite athlete, a sub 2 hour marathon may become more likely.

  3. tldr; no, people with too much time wear/obsess over HRMs/GPS/etc etc

    Only kidding lads, I’m just jealous of all your toys 😉

  4. I’m inclined to agree ‘Go-KL’… question is which elite training group will be the ‘Team Sky’ of the running fraternity? and is HR a reliable gauge of sustainable effort compared to power meters in cycling (and if so, why do pro cyclists appear to use power meters above HR readings to dictate effort?)

  5. There are so many variables that affect heart rate, I question its prescriptive power. If it could be done, I suspect it would take a couple of years working with a cardiologist to generate the necessary data for an individual. I would be cautious about the potential limitation of working to any data as you may miss that leap forward in performance when race day exceeds expectations. I would also be cautious about reading across too much from cycling, as weight bearing has far-reaching effects. Interesting area though.

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