I’ve worn a heart rate monitor so long that my chest has a permanent rash from the chest strap. This summer I decided to cast it aside, run up mountains and just let my body go. That is, go when it wants to hammer and slow when it feels the need. I did start to do some weekly 1km intervals on the road just to keep my speed up and for those I started using my hrm, but then I misplaced the chest strap (my skin is grateful) so I just ran by time.
I found this to be freeing. I was free to run at a pace strictly by feel. To soak up my surroundings without constantly checking my watch and monitoring my intensity level. As I get older my heart is losing that top end and I find that kind of depressing. My max is about 20 beats lower than the already low reading (I guess my big heart just beat more slowly than others my age). So I guess running sans hrm fuels my aging denial.
Years ago, my coach-Sten Fjelheim told me he obtained a heart rate monitor when they first came out (mid 80's). He used it for a year, then sold it. He figured he learned all he needed to know about his body and could attach his body feel with the numbers. Once he was well aquainted with this he felt there was no longer any need for the tool. Another friend, Suzanne King-2x Olympian, would usually only drag hers out when making an altitude change in her training location. Since the body’s response to the training varied she wanted to be careful or ramp things up accordingly.
I’ve usually felt the last several years that the heart rate monitor is a great tool when doing intervals, keeping you from over doing it, or as a kick in the pants. I still feel this is decent reasoning and especially for younger athletes just finding their way and dialing in their body and training the hrm is effectively used at all intensities.
So after all my mountain running adventures this summer I was kind of curious as to what kind of pace I’d been running on my longer more vertical runs, so I hooked up the hrm. It worked for the first ½ km, then kind of froze up (prob. Just needs new batteries). I stopped to readjust it-didn’t help. I stopped again to spit on it giving some moisture hoping the added conductivity would help (no wonder I have a rash!)-didn’t help. I stopped again to snap the transmitter on and off several times to also aid conductivity-didn’t help (after all these years I know all the tricks). So in the end I ran again without the feedback.
As I ran I realized how much my training had been comprimised by the constant starting/stopping and how distracted I’d been from the fiddling. Once I was back just to running it felt kind of freeing to be rid of the distraction.
I want to end though by saying that the hrm is a very valuable tool and should be used. Especially for younger and newer athletes as they dial things in. I guess for me, seeing that I’ve had an array of hrm’s since 1987, I should have things figured out by now!