Racing with HR

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  • #54752

    We have done all the training (ie 20 week Big Vert Plan), we are not aerobically deficient, our legs are strong and fast, we have tapered well. Now is the time to throw down a race that reflects our discipline and hard work. Up until this point all of our runs have been guided by our HR chest strap.

    When the time comes to finally toe the line in a hilly, non-ultra mountain race (let’s say 1/2 marathon to full marathon distances….more or less a typical, relatively high intensity Skyrace), is there a “best strategy” to employ in regards to governing our effort based on HR? Running at AeT at times feels too slow for “race pace,” but of course bonking before the finish usually results in an even slower time.


Posted In: Mountain Running

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    rich.b on #54756

    This reflects only my own experience and view on HR and racing. I have never found training and racing HR to be similar: a HR where I am ‘redlining’ in training can be one that I can hold for an hour or longer in a race.

    Skyrace-type events often have such variable terrain that I have to make tactical decisions on the spot that are based on how I feel, such as when the group around me splits into a slightly faster pace and slightly slower pace, and when and where in the race that split might be; whether I am on a steep, hands-on-knees 200 m climb or steady, semi-runnable 1000 m climb, what terrain follows that climb – if it is a downhill then I have some recovery time, but if it is a highly runnable section I do not want to come off the climb maxed out; is it 21 or 42 km (or longer), etc. None of these mimic training conditions and are not captured in training HR, so it would be hard to know what HR to use and at which points in the race to use it as a limiter (my racing HR can vary by ?60 bpm, and more if I include feed stations). The only time this approach failed was my first mountain race 11 years ago: it was awesome for 28 km and awful for the remaining 15 km. HR was not the problem.

    In races when I have worn a HR strap, I look at HR only from a curiosity perspective (observations such as ‘wow, didn’t know I could maintain that HR for an hour’), and the race (50 km, ±3000 m vert) where I probably came the absolute closest to a perfect race in terms of where I think the limits of my abilities are, I took an old watch without GPS or HR.

    Some discussion of this also occurred previously:

    How fast do I run on race day?

    Dada on #54757

    Have you ever thought about the attached pic as a guideline?


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    jtrachtenberg99 on #54759

    Thanks for your insight. You approach race day like I always have, and likely most people. I agree that Skyracing is so variable it is hard to really be guided by HR.

    However, what many of these races have in common is a long uphill start.

    I have run the Dolomyths and Tromso Skyraces, and I am set to run Pikes Peak this summer. All start with a very long uphill. Other than running a bit harder than comfort level to obtain a good spot in the trail queue, my question really focuses on the first 1-2 hour uphill portion of these of races. Are there recommendations or data to suggest it’s adventageous to pace by HR in the first half of a race, specifically the initial long steady uphill? For example, lets say race pace is somewhere near AnT. I’m guessing slowing down to hit the bottom half of Zone 3 is not much slower than running in the upper half ( which may feel comfortable early on), and by slowing a bit will one will reap gains later on? I have both passed and been passed by runners in the late stages of these relatively “fast” races. We all have. When this happens late in a race, then the 2 competitors are more or less “equals” when it comes to fitness on that particular day. Yet in this scenario, one runner is stronger than the other at the end. Obviously there are many variables, likely too many to come to any conclusion. But perhaps a more disciplined runner would come out on top more often than not compared to racing simply by “feel”? Thanks.

    jtrachtenberg99 on #54760

    What exactly are we looking at here? I suspect the maximum HR one can average for a specific period of time.

    rich.b on #54764

    Racing by feel requires discipline. It really requires knowing whether you can sustain the effort or if that effort is continued too long you will blow up. This is an experience question maybe. But as I wrote, I have found that my racing HR is just not relatable to training HR: what I can sustain for an intense hour uphill in a mountain race is nothing I can do for even a half-hour in training. So those numbers provide me with no useful guidance, and I have to go from ’feel’. But it requires self-honesty — if a break in a group happens you have to be really honest as to where to be. Admittedly my running pre-dates widely available HR and GPS watches (I remember when an 8-lap Timex Ironman was a novelty), so I am restrictive in their use.

    jtrachtenberg99 on #54780

    Thanks Rich. Yep I’m older than dirt as well, and only bought my HR watch in 2019. I also race by feel and knowledge of myself and the course. I wanted to see if people were racing with and finding benefit with active HR monitoring. Do you know if road marathoners use HR to their benefit on fast flat courses? Road cyclists certainly use HR and power in races.

    briguy on #55010

    Since Pikes Peak was mentioned I’ll chime in as I’ve raced there quite a bit and consider it my “favorite” race of all. My best years at PPM I used HR as a limiter in the early part of the race (the first 10K when nobody seems to entertain the idea of powerhiking what are some of the steepest sections of the course). The limit I set for myself was roughly my LTHR and I did it mostly to keep my race-crazed brain in check as a (somewhat) objective threshold.

    This worked very well and I set my PRs on the course and beat all of my personal rivals (as a flatlander though, it’s hard to truly be competitive in that race overall).

    HOWEVER, those “best” years also happened to coincide with my best fitness so it’s hard to say if the HR method was the difference or just a contributor.

    Enjoying the discussion though, much of what has been said has gone through my mind as well.

    Anonymous on #55345

    Good question. HR is primarily a stress measurement so a racing context (being higher stress) makes the BPM values less reliable as a measure of intensity.

    I train (almost) religiously by heart rate (if pace and power are unavailable), but I race using “calibrated ventilation.” It takes a while to get to know what ventilation rates mean for you as an intensity gauge, but I think it’s well worth figuring it out. I added some notes on what I use in post #55282.

    jtrachtenberg99 on #55390

    Thanks Scott. I will start experimenting with calibrated breathing. I think most of us are experienced enough to race by feel and modulate our effort depending on the type and distance of the event. I’ve read TFTUA, and while it is detailed on training for a race, there is less information on race day strategy, specifically regarding pace and effort in a multi-hour race.

    Anonymous on #55411

    In my experience this is really, really not the case:

    I think most of us are experienced enough to race by feel and modulate our effort depending on the type and distance of the event.

    In contrast, most people think they can modulate their effort, but very very few can resist the social pressure of going too hard too soon.

    …there is less information on race day strategy, specifically regarding pace and effort in a multi-hour race.

    Yes, racing is a different animal and probably deserves its own book. I think it has to be practiced more than trained for.

    AshRick on #55977

    I did my first organized 50k recently. 6500ft total vert, and about 1200ft right off the starting line. Going by my perceived pace/effort on that type grade, and “calibrated ventilation,” I felt that I was starting out ok. But my HR was mid-150s, and I should be running a 6 hour event at mid-130s. Weather was cool. It worried me at first, but I just stopped looking at my watch and settled in.

    HR stayed way above what I would have aimed for, over the entire event. But I finished strong, doing the last tough 8.5 miles of each loop just nine seconds apart.

    So…race day HR might be a little on the high side and still be OK. Excitement, competition, caffeine, etc.

    Anonymous on #55979

    That’s common. HR is even less reliable in a race due to the reasons you mention in your last sentence.

    Especially at the start, HR is more if a measure of nerves than anything else. If your splits we’re that close, then it sounds like your pacing was right.

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