I have recently started running in an effort to run my first 5K (couch to 5K program from coolrunning.com). I was not a couch potatoe before I started the program - and was already doing 4 to 5 hours cardio a week.
My question is this:
When I do the running segments of this program (I'm on week 4), my HR gets way up there (I'm 39, my estimated max HR by the charts is 181). Usually by the end of the running segment, my HR is up to 168 - so OVER 90%.
I'm not worried that I am in the "anaerobic zone" and not burning fat - I'm doing this to build my running endurance not burn fat. (I spend an additional 30 to 45 minutes in a "fat burning zone" after I have completed the couch to 5K workout for that day to make sure I am still getting the "aerobic" benefit of my cardio)
What I am worried about: how dangerous is this? And if it is dangerous and I need to build up my cardiac capacity so that I can do the running without my HR going this high, what's the best way to do that - I am assuming you do this with cardio - but then should I be doing it at the higher end of a safe heart rate?
Looking to hear from informed people.
Here is what I know about heart rate zones and training. Please check it against what other advice you might receive since there is so much ad hoc advice around and post back.
First you have to determine what your real max heart rate is. I do this by running a mile on a slightly downhill trail and then up a half mile hill on paved road as fast as I can go. On the third loop, wearing my heart rate monitor, I check what number I've reached at the top of the hill. That is my max heart rate. You can use other methods but establishing your real max heart rate is the first step.
You then take the max and establish zones. 90-100% of max is speedwork, 80-90% tempo, 70-80% long runs.
Using this system I can tell both how fast I am running and what type of run I am doing on a given course.
With time your heart rate will decline. The most dramatic decline comes with dramatic improvements in fitness. Last Summer after much speed work I found my heart rate on the track which often came within 95% of max was coming in at 90% of max. My times were getting faster but my heart rate was getting lower. I wasn't able to hit my max heart rate anymore. So I was getting fitter.
When you first start running and you are doing your first race, don't be surprised if your heart rate gets to its max at the finish line --- if you are not bonked before then.
My advice is this, while it is great to know exactly what your max heart rate is, you might want to confine your pushing yourself up to your max to a limited amount of speed work on the track under the supervision of a coach or an experienced group of fellow athletes.
You want to enjoy your races. That means good preparation.
As an older runner I definitely saw my doctor before starting intensive training and have consulted with him repeatedly since whenever I tried a longer race. My doctor is a triathlete so he knows all about what we go through in getting fit.
You should have a lot of fun getting into your program this early in the season, but remember base building is an important winter activity.
I have read that the "standard 220 minus your age equals max heart rate" and those charts you see at the gym are not truly accurate, and that you have to do a series of tests to find your true individual max heart rate - kind of like what you described. You could also get your VO2 max measured .... uhm ..... out of my league ..... or get your lactic acid threshold measured with blood draws while you work out ..... uhm ..... again a bit too much for what I'm doing here!
Just hearing that someone else was pushing into the 90% zone helps me feel a little better about it all - and I have already found several references to people who train in the 90% zone. I also found several articles about interval training with short bursts of higher intensity activity to get your HR over 85% and into the 90's - not only increase your cardiac capacity but also to increase your "lactic acid threshold" and also to train for sports that require short bursts of intense activity after long periods of lower instensity activity (they used soccer as an example). Don't even get me started on that lactic acid threshold thing! But it was reading all about the lactic acid threshold that also helped me feel a little better about my high HR when I run - I am NEVER sore the day after I run (except for some tightness in my scapulas which I am still trying to figure out). This lack of sore muscles leads me to reason that I am not building up enough lactic acid to be retained in the muscle, so therefore I must not be spending too much time in that anaerobic zone. (Sounds like I'm justifying, I know)
I work in the medical profession and am around doctors all the time, but I have yet to ask one of them. Next time I'm at work, I'll bring it up, see what they say. My family doctor knows I work out - but the running is new since my last visit with her. So I definately need to bring it up. She's a runner, she might know.
I am also definately going to do some of those tests to see what my real max HR is, follow up with a doctor or two, and probably slow down just a notch until I'm a little more fit. I also keep meaning to get involved with the local running club in town, so that would probably bring me into contact with people who would know.
Thanks for your input. It was helpful.
Most charts use the 220-age rule. The standard deviation of the 220-age calculation is ( according to Physiology of Fitness by B. J Sharkey) /-12 beats which means that 68% of people will have a heart rate within one standard deviation , or 12 beats either side of the figure indicated by that rule. For example , say you are 30 then your MHR is 190 by the rule 220-age rule. In reality 68 % of 30 year olds would have a heart rate between 178 (190-12) and 202 (19012). Like the poster said above the only accurate way to determione MHR is to a maximal test. However once you get over 40 everyone starts getting cautious about recommending maximal tests , ie no one wants a test subject to collapse durinmg the test. The general advice is if you are not used to hard maximal exercise and not a youngster to only attempt the maximal test under professional supervision. Even if you are fit the advice is not to attempt a maximal test if you have had any sort of viral infection within recent months. If you plan to train within a specific zone or percentage of max then be aware that your day to day heart rate will be affected by many things such as how well recovered you are from the last session, general tiredness, hydration, infection , etc etc etc
I you feel comfortable - i.e you can talk but not sing during the running portions - and you you are not gasping for breath by the walk portions you are fine - I`m a couple of years older than you - I just ran an entire half marathon with ny heart rate in the low 160`s -
The main question is how do you feel during the running sections ?
NYC Marathon Nov 1 2009 - 4:03:13 ( 9:17 mm )
NYC Half Marathon Aug 16 2009 - 1:55:38 ( 8:49 mm )
1 mile - 7:07 10K - 52:58 ( 8:32 mm)
4 mile - 31:35 ( 7:53 mm) 8K - 42:28 ( 8:32 mm)
15K - 1:22:02 ( 8:49 mm)
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I wouldn't put much stock in the MHR estimated by a chart or formula it can be way off. Personally I would either test to see what my MHR is or forget HR and just go by perceived effort. I wouldn't recommend that for someone who isn't already in fairly good shape do a test for MHR, especially if they aren't a youngster. If you can carry on a conversation while you run you are at an easy pace.
First of all - Thanks for all the feedback!
I have found a few different max heart rate tests - including the one that says if you are overweight or old or sick - don't do it without a doctor. I also found about 6 - yes SIX!!!! - other formulas to determine your max heart rate - YIKES!!
I finally found a book and a website by a marathon running sports doctor (Dr Carol Otis, www.sportsdoctor.com). The high points of what I learned form her:
1. It is pretty much impossible to damage your heart with aerobic exercise unless you already have an unhealthy heart and give yourself a heart attack with the increased demand;
2. Training at 90% can be an important part of increasing cardiovascular fitness and training your body & heart for sprints and speedwork;
3. The charts are not 100% accurate (which we have all pretty much agreed with), every one is different; and the only TRUE test is to have a cardiac stress test done while hooked to an EKG (the kind they do as part of a cardiac workup in a hospital or doctor's office);
4. Your maximum HR is theoretically the fastest your heart can beat at your "all out maximum level of effort" - so as long your body can do it, your heart will keep up; your body will stop before your heart does.
She also talks a lot about recovery rate and how that is also indicative of heart health. And I have to say that my HR does drop quickly once I start running. I am going to pass on the Max HR test that says "don't attempt without a doctor" since I think I am considered "older" (I'm 39) and still have a few more pounds to lose.
I started running because after losing 45 pounds I hit a frustrating plateau! It worked, I've lost over 50 now with not much more to go. But now I really want to be able to do the 5K - the town I live in seems to have quite a few running events and I would like to take advantage of that.
Thanks again for all the input. I think it's the kind of work I do and the people & things I see as part of my job that makes me ever so slightly "paranoid" about my heart.