Taking My New Toy (and Nat!) For a Run (7.25 miles)

Last night, along with a new SkipHop diaper-backpack and play mat for Angelica, the UPS guy dropped off the Polar Heart Rate Monitor that I won a few weeks back (thanks again to Matt at the No Meat Athlete for the contest).  I was already planning on taking Nat out for a run this morning, but the heart rate monitor meant I’d also have a new toy to play with on the run.

Okay, I’ll admit it — a heart rate monitor is a pretty lame toy, even for a running nut who has a soft spot for gadgets.  I’ve never actually wanted to own an HRM (typing it over and over again is getting old fast), for a number of reasons.  The major reason is that I’m not that hard-core of a trainer.  I like to run for enjoyment, I like to run a long ways, and I sometimes like to push myself hard.  I’ve never liked the idea of tracking “zones” or VO2-Max or even the simpler methods like “perceived effort.”  I just like to run.  An HRM always struck me as a bit clinical, when I approach running from a more Romantic point of view.  Besides, the sort of guys who go our running with heart rate monitors (and they all seem to be guys) have always struck me as tools, the same sort of douche-bags that whip around central park on their $15,000 racing bikes while wearing matching cycling uniforms for a racing team as if they are actually professional cyclists rather than over-paid stock-traders.

On the other hand, it is a gadget, and I pretty much like gadgets of all kinds.  I also figured out could learn something about my running from it, and since I’ve been enjoying speed recently, might even use it for some speed training over the next few weeks.  So I swallowed my self-image and tried the thing out.

First I had to get over the weirdness of having to lick the damn thing before putting it on.  Okay, the directions say “moisten the electrodes,” but that’s pretty much what it entails.  Then the strap just kind of feels weird around your chest.  If you haven’t used an HRM, it’s basically this plastic strip with an elastic band that hugs your chest right over your heart.  It sends the information to the “wrist monitor,” aka, a somewhat ugly watch.  Right away, I learned something: my resting heart rate is 58.  Since the average resting heart rate is between 60 – 100, that’s pretty damn good.  Not Lance Armstrong or anything, whose resting heart rate is reported to be 34, but off-the-chart in a good way for your average person.

Then the math and the numbers and the clinical aspect kicks in.  The whole point of a heart rate monitor is to tell you whether you are working hard (which is beneficial in short bursts), easy (which is necessary on rest and recovery days), or just right (what you’re aiming at on a typical run).  Basically you take your resting heart rate and run in through a formula to figure out your “Maximum Heart Rate.”  Your “Easy”zone is 65% of your MHR or less, your “Hard” zone is 80% or more, and everything in between is “Medium.”  So with a resting rate of 58, I have a MHR of 188, with my medium zone being from 131 – 155 bpm, at least if you use the Karvonen method.  *Yawn* See what I mean?  All these numbers are a far cry from my musings about running to achieve a void and the poetics of physical exertion.

But once the numbers are plugged into the watch, its a pretty simple device that basically displays three things: the time, how long you’ve been working out, and your current heart-rate.  There’s also a little icon to show you whether your heart-rate is currently low, medium, or high.  The nifty bit is you don’t have to press any buttons to display them, just hold the watch up to your chest and it cycles through the various displays.

Anyway, so this morning I lick the electrodes, strap the monitor to my chest, buckle on the watch, and bundle Nat in to the jogging stroller.  (Another draw back is that I also have my Garmin GPS watch, and wearing two bulky watches will definitely make me a tool; luckily since I’m taking out the stroller, I just toss the Garmin in one of it’s pockets.)  Its another picture-perfect, if rather chilly Spring day, and we head off to do a six mile run.

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I realized I haven’t shared any pictures of the route to Prospect Park from our place.  The castle like building is the 23rd Regiment Armory on Bedford Avenue, which currently houses a homeless shelter (like many armories around New York City).  From Bedford we head West down the wide meridians along Eastern Parkway, turning south at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.  I only took two pictures inside the Park; I was planning on taking more, but I just started running and sort of forgot everything else.  Today I just did the lower loop of the park before heading home, which I estimated would be a total of six miles (I was off by a mile and a quarter).  Nat, of course, was out after 15 minutes, even though it was a long ways before his nap time.

During my run, I learned two things from my heart-rate monitor.  The first was that my perception of my “regular” and “hard” was spot on: my regular running pace was right in the middle of the target zone, and when I pushed myself to what I would consider a fast pace, sustainable only for a few minutes at a time, it was right in the middle of the high zone.  The second thing I learned was that getting down to the low zone, where you’re supposed to be during rest or recovery runs, means running a LOT slower than I expected.  I had to run a 10:30 or 11:00 minute mile to get my heart-rate below 131, which is basically a fast walk.  And since I had not intention on doing THAT today (one of of the joys of not actually training is refusing to believe in “junk miles”), I pretty much proceeded to ignore the device for the rest of my run.

Will I use it again?  Certainly — I do think I’ll be licking its electrodes once or twice a week for some speed-work, especially if I ever do try to break a 21 minute 5k, which is one of my running goals.  Mostly, however, I’ll just keep running the way I do.  If for no other reason that this has to be the least interesting thing I have written since starting this blog, and just hope it has bored everyone else less than its bored me.  I’m not even sure why I wrote this much about the damn thing.  Maybe because I’m tired and slightly incoherent from a week of juggling both a newborn and a toddler.  Well, at least you got some pictures out of it.  I think I’m going to finish my tea and go to bed.

Distance: 7.25 miles          Time: 1:07:01

About Chris Van Dyke

I am a 33 year-old high school English teacher and long-distance runner. I live in Brooklyn with my partner, our 3 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter and a growing collection of muppets and trains. Besides running and teaching I like to draw, read, write, cook, and play the harmonica. While I didn't get to run my first ultra-marathon on my birthday, I've got a few more I've set my sights on. You can follow my (seldom updated) twitter feed @aboutrunning. I also blog as part of the Run Smiley Collective.
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