Fitness Devices – When to Use ’em, When to Ditch ’em

I often encourage new runners to get a heart rate monitor. You can get them cheap (or probably borrow one), they’re easy to use, and give you a fascinating window into how your heart responds to different levels of activity. If you use it consistently, a monitor can show you evidence of your growing fitness since, as you get more fit, you can do more work (i.e.; run at a faster pace per mile) at the same heart rate. Seeing your resting heart rate drop over time, and seeing your heart rate return to a lower level quickly after strenuous activity are both also indicators of fitness. Once you know your HR zones, you can target your training to specific exertion levels and paces, which makes your training more effective.

I also use a GPS watch to get information about my running and biking paces. It’s set to beep at the end of each mile (or any increment I tell it to) and show me how fast I did that mile. I can see a pace estimate anytime, so I can increase or decrease in order to hit the target pace I want. GPS devices are pricier than heart rate monitors, but if you are training a lot, they are in superb investment.

While I’m a big fan of these devices, I had an experience this weekend that gave me a different perspective. Two friends and I did the Seattle TriRock triathlon as a team relay. In the melée of race morning, my friend (cyclist) and I (runner) managed to get to the race without our devices (bike computer and GPS watch), so we were racing blind–no idea of what our paces were–we just had to go by feel. You can probably guess what happened– we BOTH ended up faster than our target race paces. It raises an interesting question- have our devices been holding us back?

So here’s my revised recommendation: If you have never used a heart rate monitor or pacing device, try it! (I’ll write a short primer soon on how to get started using a heartrate monitor.) If you’ve been using a device for a while and have built your training around it, do a timed event without it and see what happens. You might just find yourself pacing at a whole new level.

Questions about heart rate monitors and GPS devices? Ask me!

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