Thursday, August 10, 2006


There has been some talk "around town" about runners' use of HR monitors, pacing, zones, and other data that some runners use for different purposes. June asks, "Does that mean I am not a runner" if I don't use all these tools. James says wisely, "When you start worrying about times and distances and heart rates and zones and everything else that measures your performance, you start missing what your body is telling you." I'm certainly not going to settle the issue here but I did want to ramble a little about it, so bear with me.

First of all, I think there are 2 reasons why runners use tools like HR monitors, paces, mile markers, splits, zones, blah, blah, blah. One reason, and I would take issue with this reason, is to measure compare how fast I went today to how fast I went look at the data and try to push harder and faster and go further each and evey time you run. This is ridiculous, IMHO!! So many times I hear runners say they had a bad easy run because they averaged 10:00 min/mile pace instead of the 9:30 average pace they ran the same distance at last week. They say this was a bad workout because "I had to walk the last mile." Well, boo hoo!!! IMHO, runners who think this way just haven't been humbled enough by this sport to realize what a complex, beautiful, adaptable, intricate system the human body is. And then you throw in the mind and the spirit and all the external factors. How dare we say we've had a bad run just because we were a few seconds off or had to walk a little. How arrogant to think we have it all figured out to that degree. I'm really preaching to myself so readers, don't take offense. :)

Secondly, I think runners use these tools (as I do) to learn more about myself and about this sport. I use these data, together with how I feel, to help focus my workouts, to help slow me down, to help me recover when I need to recover and to push when I need to push. Many times the objective data helps validate how I felt during a training session and in tandem helps me draw conclusions about how to better train in the future.

Now to the question of "correctness." Does not worrying about these things make me a less sophisticated runner? Does worrying too much about these data make me a nerd? :) At the risk of sounding too much like a liberal, I don't think there is a right answer. Both sides are correct. In fact I think the nerd would be well-served to put down his monitor and pen and paper and run more like my friend, June. And I think, the runner who just goes out there and runs would find that focusing his/her training a little more would result in improvements as well. I just think that it's a matter of personality. I think there is a little bit, or a lot, or too much of the artist and the scientist in each of us. The artist just goes out every day and runs. If it feels like it was easy, it must have been easy. If it feels like it was hard, it must have been hard. The scientist records splits and HR and enjoys leaning on more emperical data to determine if the run was at the correct effort. IMHO, if the scientist could learn to be a little more artsy and the artist could be a little more scientific, they would probably both be better runners.

Sorry for the rambling. I have more thoughts but will reserver them for a later post. Sure wish Coach Steeve and Coach Bill would chime in on this discussion.

God bless!!


Bon said...

Good post, Vic. I'm usually a run-by-feel sort of person, yet am also a watch-slave. That is, I'll give into my body's demands but feel bad about not making the time. :-) I have a feeling that more consistent use of a HRM could help me with that. If it's a hot day, my HR will be up and I'll be able to give myself "permission" to slow down and know that I'm still working as hard as other cooler days. I'll also know that I'm accomplishing what I set out to accomplish with each workout. Did those three mile repeats feel easy? Was I not working hard enough or am I just in better shape? Is it my imagination that this long run feels hard?

Also, kudos on the proper use of "these data." Pet peeve of mine. If I didn't go around correcting people on that my masters in stats would be totally going to waste. ;-)

Keith said...

When I was into using my HRM more often, I remember a few times when I was supposed to run at 85% for some distance, and when I started it seemed too fast, but I tried it, and I found that I could do it afterall.
So it wasn't just making me slow down on my easy days, but it had more faith in me than I did on my faster runs too.

Rock on Vic!

JustJunebug said...

thats it!! its because i am an artist and a free spirit!!! YAY!!!

i plan to continue to just run like i want to run and HR be damned! :O)

although i still want to break 30 just once on a 5k...

Anonymous said...


Agree that it's largely a style thing. If there were a "right answer" to achieving your potential as a runner we'd all be doing the same thing. Heck, there are still emotionally-charged camps out there whether "quantity" or "quality" is the key ingredient to achieving your running potential.

I might offer some generalities:

"Hard/Easy" is pretty much universally accepted

The need for rest days is pretty much universally accepted

I think variety is very important

Otherwise, I personally subscribe to my runner mentor Bernie Weber's philosophy that "if it makes you breathe hard it's good for you". Whether you measure it most precisely or "just do it" is up to you.


Bill D said...

I'm a little bit of both worlds. Right now I just want to get a run in, unwind and enjoy. I really don't care what my pace is. I don't care if I walk...I just want to be moving.

When I start to get in shape you will see that I really pay attention to my times for my harder workouts on Tuesday & Thursday and my total time for my longer runs on Saturday. The easy days will easy and not be a slave to the watch. I don't even wear it on the easy days which drives my buddies crazy.

I have never trained with a HRM....and our other coach Kim Hager only trains with one. She is pressuring me to use one and I will probably try training with one soon. I do think it is a great tool.

I had a chance to visit with Arthur Lydiard when he was in Houston to speak at the Sunmart Trail Run dinner a couple years ago. The one comment he made that I think about often is "just do what you can do". In other words, get out there and do your workouts..."do what you can do" for any given day and be happy with it whatever the results. Arthur Lydiard actually passed away that evening so having the chance to meet and talk to him was very special.

BTW - Steeeve's comments are right on the mark.

Anonymous said...

The esteemed Bill D speaks the truth.

What a treat for us lucky ones who got to see and hear Arthur Lydiard speak last December. One of my lasting memories was his video on "hill bounding". My thought was "do not try this at home!".


PS - I own a HRM but only use it for spinning classes and occasional special events like one mile time trials (which is a perfect event for getting your max heart rate)