Last week I posted about the value of exercise in the imperfect outdoors versus the controlled conditions of indoors with all the aids of technology. Thanks to some of you for your comments and feedback. To be clear, I get a lot of value from being outdoors in the physical world so to speak, but I still love the role that technology plays in athletics.
Yesterday, I was talking to an experienced iron-man triathlete friend of mine about my training regimen, and specifically how I was keeping track of my running times on my distance runs. You know, the stuff you hear all the time from weekend jocks-- "I did 8 miles today, broke 8 minutes per mile...."-- He made kind of a face-- I would describe as cross between bemused, knowing, and disgusted-- and offered "So you aren't traing for your race with the aid of a heart rate monitor?" I told him that it was in the car, and I was using my watch, and I know my pace and so on. Plus, I want to stick to my minutes per mile target. Yadda yadda. Right? He just smiled and said "Oh, you're logging garbage miles. Might as well chuck those sessions in the can!"
After a little bit of embarrassed to and fro, it came down to this: Training without a heart rate monitor is like driving your stick-shift car, without knowing what gear you're in. Though you ultimately get to where you are going, your car has been subjected to huge stresses from running high RPMs (aka driving at highway speeds in 1st gear) to choking from insufficient power (aka climbing hills in 5th gear). As a result, the car is really inefficient at using fuel, avoiding the repair shop, and generally ends up with a shorter lifespan. I've known this for awhile-- even read a few books on it years ago-- but let's face it, you can't really get a lot of oomph at the bar telling your buddies "I ran 8 miles at 85% of my max heart rate today. Man, I was flying." And you'll likely discover that you end up running slower than you want to when focused on keeping your heart rate in the aerorbic (beneficial) zones.
The bigger story is that we now know the science for effective training, and the average athlete has access to unbelieveable technology, particularly GPS enabled heart rate monitors that can tell you everything from how far you ran and where, to how your tachometer (heart rate) varied throughout the run. And, with easy integration to online databases and services, you can easily record, share and collaborate on your performance data with others. So, instead of logging "garbage miles," you have the data to understand your true fitness, and can get better results to boot.
My next door neighbor is training for a half-ironman in July, and his coach is located in North Carolina. The coach-athlete relationship exists purely online and via daily email dispatches-- exchanges of uploaded data from his heart rate monitor, and so on. This is an amazing opportunity for all athletes to have access to top of the line instruction and improve their performances as a result.
So for me, it's been a good reminder that technology plays a hugely helpful role in making us better performers and helping us to achieve our goals. In the meantime, if you happen to be out on one of your training runs, look for me. I'll be the one staring at my tachometer!