Run Diary Part I

I used to be a runner. I use that term rather loosely. Probably a more apt description would be that I used to be a person who ran a little bit. I never really got all that fit, but after several months, was able to run a mile in a blazing 10 minutes. I ran my first and last 5 K race at age 28, then a few months later, quit running. At that time I quit, I was getting arthritis; I was tired and everything hurt. Running just wasn’t fitting in with this, and the demands of a family with small kids. So I quit. I tried other things over the years. Finally a few years ago, I settled on biking, which helped me become fit, and was  enjoyable, but still was not running.

Lately, now some 30 years later, like a fickle mistress, the running bug has bitten again.  Yes, I said 30 years. I should be thinking about applying for Medicare, not running.

I ran the idea up a few flagpoles, but no one saluted. My bike guru said, “well, you do have that arthritis, just sayin…” My husband hemmed and hawed and didn’t want to come right out and say no, because after all he’s my husband. The girls at work said “‘Do you REALLY think that’s a good idea?” And so it went from everyone I asked. So, naturally, I gave it a try.

This is NOT my arm.

To be continued.

© Huffygirl 2012

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Too old to start the training, OR Mr. Toad’s wild ride

I wake up, wondering what day it is, what time it is, and why am I wrapped up in extra blankets while the fan is running full blast? My neck hurts, my knees hurt, my feet hurt, my quads hurt, my shoulders hurt  and I’m pretty sure my hair hurts. What happened? Well, fast-backward twelve hours earlier.

Twelve hours earlier

I’m on my bike, clutching the handlebars as tightly as I can. My hair that is not contained in my helmet is whipping across my face. I’m trying as hard as I can

The demon trainer (© Huffygirl 2011)

to keep up with the biker in front of me.  After all, only a short while earlier I had taunted this demon – “Go faster” I said – “I’m getting too close to you.” Jeez. What was I thinking? My right hand is numb, my left shoulder aching. Was that a pothole back there? I just missed it. I’m going so fast (well fast for me anyway) that I’m not taking in all of my surroundings. Where are we anyway? I’ve done this ride before, the landmarks should be  familiar, but I’ve really got all I can do to keep up with this speed demon, let alone watch the scenery.

Okay, now we’re going up a hill. I gear down, but that’s not enough to keep up with this demon, so soon I’m standing on the pedals, cranking away. I did it! But at the top, he’s off again. Finally, we’re at the flat part of the ride. “This should be a cinch” I think, “I’ll show him I know how to keep up.” But it seems that we’re going into the wind. I struggle to keep up on what is usually the easiest part of the ride, watching my average speed drop and drop and drop, farther from my goal. We stop for water at the corner before the turn.  “Well that was hard going into the wind, but we’re turning now so it should be better,” I say. But the demon trainer points out “Nah, that was just a crosswind, when we turn we’ll be going even MORE into the wind.” I don’t see how we could possibly be going MORE into the wind and scoff at this, until I notice the flag on the corner, spread out wildly, flapping away from the direction we are turning.

And so we continue: flats, uphills, downhills for 25 miles. I’m watching  the pedal rotations of this demon man (and his impressive calf muscles) and notice that most of the time I’m pedaling twice as fast as he is, just to barely keep up. And he’s not riding at his full potential – after all he’s taking it easy on my first training ride. 

By the time we get home, I’m feeling accomplished, but aching. I didn’t ride pretty, but I did it. My bike computer tells me I did this ride exactly six minutes faster than the last time when I was just phoning it in. All this and only six minutes? Still, for me, whose only boast is  being the slowest biker on the road, this is progress. Next time it might be seven minutes, and then eight and then…oh heck, I’m freezing and aching and need a shower.

By the time I’m done showering I’m chilled to the bone, from all that cold wind rushing quickly past me no doubt, and despite the summer heat, wrap up in extra blankets and a heating pad to crawl into bed.

So now flash forward twelve hours again. I untangle myself from the extra blankets and get up to turn off the fan. It turns out I can still walk after all, and isn’t this why Tylenol was invented anyway?  So, will I let my husband be my trainer again? Absolutely!

The Huffys, on an easier ride (© Huffygirl 2011)

© Huffygirl 2011

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Target Heart Rate Part III: How to Monitor

Once you’ve decided to care about your target heart rate (THR) while exercising, the next step is to decide how to monitor it. There are two ways – low-tech (count your heart rate yourself), or high-tech (use a heart rate monitor.) We’ll take a look at the pros and cons of both methods.

Low-tech: The easiest way to count your pulse during exercise is either on the neck (carotid) or the inside of the wrist. To find your carotid pulse, gently place two-three fingers (don’t use your thumb) on the windpipe (trachea) at the center of your neck. Slide your fingers over either way until you find a depressed ridge – this is where the carotid artery lies. You should be able to feel the pulse fairly easily, without putting a lot of pressure on the artery. To find your pulse on your wrist, place two-three fingers on the inside of your wrist on the same side as your thumb – just above the bend in the wrist. Either spot will work, but most folks seem to find the carotid artery easier to use during exercise.

Pulse is measured in beats per minute (bpm). You can count your pulse for six seconds and multiply by ten, or 15 seconds and multiply by four, or 30 seconds and multiply by two. The idea is to get the most accurate count possible with the least interruption to your exercise. If you take a group exercise class where the leader stops the class for participants to check their heart rate, typically they will count for 10 seconds. Personally I feel that a 30 second count gives the most accurate result, but may be difficult to do for that long, especially if you’re running, swimming or biking.

To monitor your THR during exercise, you can count it one-four times or more during your exercise session. For example, if you’re running for 60 minutes, check your heart rate after you’ve warmed up and been exercising for 10-20 minutes, again when you’ve reached the mid-point of your exercise, again about 10 minutes from the end of your exercise time, and again after you’ve cooled down. Many people abbreviate this to once near the end of the session and at cool down. How frequently you check your heart rate during exercise will depend on how serious you are about staying in your THR zone. If you want to exercise vigorously enough to stay in the zone for the majority of your exercise, waiting to check it until you’re almost done makes this a moot point. Knowing how frequently to check your heart rate is definitely a process of trial and error.

The pros of self-monitoring? It’s fairly easy to do. Cost is minimal – you need a watch or clock with a second hand, and the ability to do basic math. The cons? Some find it inconvenient to stop or slow their exercise to monitor heart rate. Frequent monitoring causes more interruption to exercise; infrequent monitoring may give an inaccurate picture of how hard you’re working. If you’re working too hard, or not hard enough during exercise, this may be missed if you’re only checking heart rate once during exercise.

Who should opt for self-monitoring? It’s great if you’re completely happy with your weight and fitness level and don’t plan to change or improve anything. If you’re very comfortable with gauging your exercise intensity by how you feel combined with intermittent pulse checks, then self-monitoring may work great for you. 

High tech: There’s a wide variety of heart rate monitors available. Most consist of a strap that goes around the chest under your clothing, and a watch. You can spend anywhere from $60 to $300ish, depending on how many features you want in addition to heart rate monitoring. For basic exercise, most people don’t need a lot of extra features – you want to choose a monitor that gives you a continuous measure of your heart rate, allows you to set upper and lower limits for heart rate (your THR zone) and gives you feedback during exercise if you’re above or below you’re zone. To get a basic monitor with these features, expect to pay between $100-$150. Most people will get at least 10 years of use with a good monitor and basic intermittent service, which makes the investment worth it. I’ll talk more about choosing a heart rate monitor in the future, but for those who can’t wait, there’s plenty of information available online.

Who should opt for high-tech monitoring? Those who fall into any of the following categories may want to consider investing in a monitor:

-If you’ve been exercising a while without getting the results you want, either in overall fitness or endurance

-If you’re trying to lose weight and are not making progress

-If you’re in training for a particular goal above your current level of fitness, such as a marathon or triathlon

-If you want to track tangible results of improvement in your fitness over time

-If you need feedback during exercise to help you maintain your intensity

-If you enjoy gadgets and don’t mind spending a few minutes before and after exercise to care for your monitor (minimal)

-If you find it too cumbersome to count your heart rate during exercise

-If you’re unable to tell on your own if you’re exercising too hard or not hard enough, or if you have any physical conditions that make it dangerous for you too exercise too hard

-If you can afford the initial cost, plus occasional periodic maintenance costs

-If you are committed enough to use the monitor and not let it sit in the drawer

Next: how to choose a heart rate monitor.

Target Heart Rate: Part I

So what is target heart rate? Do a search on “target heart rate” and you’ll get a myriad of web sites to help you understand target heart rate. Some focus on using target heart rate for body building, others for weight loss, some for basic health, others for cardiovascular fitness. In part one I’ll try to drill down to the basics of what target heart rate is and why it’s important for exercise. If you want more information for your specific type of exercise you may want to do a more focused search, using key words of “target heart rate and body building”, or weight loss, or whatever your particular interest is. As always, if you are new to exercise you should consult your health care provider before beginning, start slow and build intensity gradually, and work within your ability and any age and physical limitations you might have.

Target heart rate measures the intensity of one’s workout by how hard your heart is working during exercise. Our hearts work at different levels of intensity depending on our activity level. If we’re sleeping or sitting idle, our heart does not have to work very hard. The measure of our heart rate at rest is called, naturally, resting heart rate (RHR). You can find your resting heart rate by counting your heart rate when you first awake in the morning (count your pulse for 30 seconds and multiply the number by two). Do this for three days, take the average of your results and you’ll have your baseline resting heart rate. How fast our heart beats at rest is determined by age, gender, health conditions, illness, some medications such as beta-blockers, and general level of fitness. Those who exercise regularly at intense levels, such as runners, cyclists, triathletes, and professional athletes generally will have a slow resting heart rate, perhaps as low as 40-60 beats per minute(bpm). This is because a very fit heart is able to beat so strongly that it does not need to beat as often to pump blood through the body. My excellent husband has a resting heart rate between 42-50 bpm and generally sets off alarms any time he’s been on a monitor for a medical procedure. Most people of average age and fitness will have a RHR between 60-80ish. Women tend to run a little higher than men because our hearts are smaller so therefore have to work a little harder.

Next, we need to understand maximum heart rate (MHR). This is the highest level of intensity at which your heart is able to work if needed, such as for running to rescue a child from a burning building. Most of us are only able to work at our maximum heart rate for short bursts of activity, and it is not recommended to try to sustain our maximum heart rate during routine exercise.

Recommendations vary, but for routine exercise, most people will aim for 50-80% of their maximum heart rate. This is the goal, or target heart rate zone (THR).

For most folks, exercise at 50-60% will be brisk, but not extremely challenging. A brisk walk where one is able to carry on a conversation, or a bike ride with kids or just tooling around the neighborhood will get you to 50-60%. At this level, you’ll maintain your level of health and reap the benefits of activity, but probably will not see significant weight loss, improvement in cardiovascular fitness, or increase your fitness to a competitive level. Those who are happy with their current weight and fitness level, or who are unable to exercise harder due to age or physical limitations, will probably want to exercise at 50-60% for 30-60 minutes most days of the week.

If you’re interested in reducing weight and improving your cardiovascular fitness, and are not already exercising vigorously, start by aiming for a THR of 60-70%, and work towards a goal of 60-80%, for 30-60 minutes at least 3-4 days a week, depending on what you hope to achieve. This level of exercise is more challenging – a brisk jog or speed walk, step aerobics, biking at a brisk pace, swimming laps. At this level of exercise you should be able to have a 3-4 word conversation, breath hard but not gasp for breath, and perspire enough to become fairly sweaty by the time you’re done. You might want to consult a trainer, join a training class (i.e. run camp or bike camp) or consult with experienced exercisers to develop an exercise program that will help you achieve this level. There are also plenty of web sites offering training information. For most people it is not necessary to work harder than 80% to achieve aerobic conditioning and weight loss.

For very fit persons interested in advanced conditioning, or for those training for advanced events such as marathons, triathlons, and iron-person competitions, you may need to include some training at a level above 80%. People interested in this kind of training would do well to consult with a trainer or join a training class.

Putting it all together: next we’ll use resting heart rate and maximum heart rate to calculate target heart rate. If you can’t wait until then, do a search on “calculate target heart rate” and you’ll find plenty of advice.