If you are one of those triathletes that have no interest in wearing heart rate monitors while training and racing, you aren’t alone. Some triathletes don’t even own a heart rate strap or the device to read it, so using one is out of the question even if they wanted to.
Should you be using one?
I admit it, I come from the perceived rate of exertion (PRE) school of thought. Since “racing” for 8 years, I’ve come to realize when my breathing changes and when I’m maxing out my body and “burning my matches”. That doesn’t mean I race with intelligence and adjust to what my body tells me, but I know my body to an extent. I’m not a pro and I’m not racing for podium spots, necessarily. I’ve had some success in the past few seasons, getting some top 5 spots in local short course triathlons, which has lead me to the delusion I could be better!
And, doesn’t every triathlete have the dream of completing a full Ironman? I have no illusions about placing or qualifying for Kona, but I’d like to start AND finish one and not have to be carried on a stretcher to the medical tent afterwards. If that’s one of my goals, I need to get more serious about my training methods than getting a plan for swim, bike and run distances and using PRE.
That’s why heart rate monitoring is so appealing. If you already have the equipment, all you need to do is wear it. That’s easier said than done. The straps are a bit unnatural feeling and remembering to throw it on for all workouts isn’t instinctual. I’ve worn mine for a few workouts, but for the most part I have forgotten the strap. I have a Garmin 301XT and that can easily handle the data, but without the strap, it’s a problem. Usually the equipment is already available or you can get it for a reasonable price. That’s more realistic than paying thousands of dollars for a power meter.
Without a plan, it’s pointless as well. Sure, you can just watch your heart rate bounce all over the place, or you can have a plan. This is where my latest VO2 max test data that I participated in for MVT comes into play and another reason why heart rate training is so appealing now. I can actually apply test data from my own body and come up with a real plan to trains and MAYBE improve! What a concept.
Am I trained to come up with a heart rate training plan? No. Back to the trusty internet. Where else will I find great info about ironman or long distance training than Ironman’s own Bob Mitera. I’ve used him for a couple of other articles and while I’m not trying to pimp him out or get him PR, his blog has very good incite and boils down some quality training ideas. THIS POST is about training in the right heart rate zones. With this and consulting Dr. Sandra Billinger, who tested me for VO2 max for THIS research project, I was able to come up with a decent self-coached plan.
At 70-78% of my max heart rate (179 bpm), I should be training between 125 and 140 bpm for longer sustained training workouts. Before I really put pencil to paper to figure out my true zones I should be in, I wore the heart rate strap for a 10 mile run and the photo is a screen shot of the workout. I intentionally tried to keep my heart rate low and consistent and resisted the urge to pick up the pace if I felt I was slowing down. As you can see, I fluctuated here and there, but my overall average was 141. Not bad for not really having a plan at the time. The downer part is looking at my average pace and I was a hair shy of 9 min/mile. Resisting the urge in speeding up may have kept my heart rate low, but it was s snail’s pace. I did feel pretty good and lactic acid build-up wasn’t an issue after I was done. It was probably the best I ever felt after a long run day. It was a trade off of not killing myself by sacrificing speed.
Also an item to note is avoiding the Anaerobic zone at 85-95%. For me, I need to avoid 152 bpm and above, but you can see from my run I hit a high of 155, but came out of it pretty quick. Racing above the 140 bpm for a length of time during a race will ultimately results in a crash and burn since I will be in the 79-85% grey area. If you are mainly racing sprint to olympic distances, then this school of thought may not be fore you as you will sacrifice speed to be able to go long (TWSS), but it gives you food for thought.
I have every intention of applying this in future workouts (when I can remember the heart rate strap!) and Bob promised I’ll stay within that range for my half Ironman in June! He promised!!!
Ryan Falkenrath writes the blog falkeetriathlon.blogspot.com, married father of two young kids, owner of two dogs and trying to balance life, work and multisport. Ryan has participated in multisport events since 2001 from 5k's to Half Ironmans. Ryan is also the Kansas City Endurance Sports Examiner and you can read more of his triathlon thoughts HERE and he collects race reviews at www.Triathlon-Reviews.blogspot.com. Contact Ryan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on @TriJayhawkRyan.