Ask the Coach: HR Monitors; When to Retire Shoes

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Matt Hart addresses the value of training with heart-rate monitors; battling upper-body soreness; determining when to replace running shoes



Comments like, “I have to run at heart rate,” drive me nuts! Is it necessary to wire our bodies up to get in peak condition? Aren’t heart-rate monitors for the hospital?

—Tom LaPorte, Hartland, WI

Having coached hundreds of athletes, I can tell you the majority agree with you; most runners simply don’t bother with a heart-rate monitor. There are benefits to having more data, however. Most athletes and coaches realize that the more data you have the better informed you are—that which gets measured gets managed.

To your point, training should be more like play than work. As endurance coach Ben Greenfield of puts it, “Sometimes you just need
 to unplug.” For most of us running is not a profession, and overwhelming data points increase the stress of just hitting the trails to relax and enjoy nature.

For those wary of the gadgets, Greenfield suggests a moderate approach, where the athlete tracks his numbers, but doesn’t stress about them daily. “I’m a huge fan of racing by feel, but doing some training with a monitor, so you’re able to tap in and quantify every now and again.”

Once you learn your zones—which does require some time with the HR strap on—you are better able to maintain an appropriate pace while racing. Greenfield adds that this approach keeps athletes “from getting confused by the effects that adrenaline, caffeine, heat and other variables can have on heart rate during a race.”

On the other hand, many great runners run by feel and perceived exertion. If that approach keeps you happily improving, it’s hard to argue with that.

After a long trail run, my upper body is sore, primarily my shoulders. I don’t have a gym membership and do pushups, crunches and pullups throughout the week, along with yoga three times a week. Is there anything else I should be doing?

—Christian Alberto Ledesma, Queens, NY

Due to variable terrain, long trail runs in particular stress muscles that just aren’t taxed on your daily short runs. Having to carry food and water on big outings—e.g. wearing a 100-ounce-plus weight vest—can cause upper-body soreness.

Seattle-based strength coach Tim Sinnett, owner of Integral Evolution, says, “Given the [significant] workouts you are already doing, your soreness is probably more of an issue of tension rather than strength.” Your muscles are under constant stress from the extra gear weight required for a long run, and simply don’t have the required endurance.

If you are consistent with your long runs, the resulting soreness should dissipate each week as you get stronger. Sinnett recommends continuing the primary push and pull exercises, but to add more shoulder work: shrugs, and front and side deltoid raises.

How do I tell when my trail shoes are worn out?

—Robert Bartholomew, Aberdeen, MD

Says Todd Lewis, product director for Montrail, “When to retire shoes is a hard question, and the answer becomes a personal decision.” Since runners vary in weight, stride and preferred terrain, most companies suggest a range between 300 and 500 miles for replacing shoes.

While long-time runners intuitively know when their running shoes need to be replaced, for the rest of us, it’s like those extra five pounds that sneak up on you—shoe wear is such a gradual process it can go unnoticed.

So what’s a runner to do? Simply, monitor shoe wear and tear. If the outsole tread is gone, and the midsole is showing through the bottom, it’s time for new kicks. Even if there is no obvious wear, Lewis suggests, “The [invisible] midsoles often can break down faster for some folks. When you experience that feeling of ‘deadness,’ it is time to retire them.”

Washing your shoes might make them look new again, but it’s unnecessary, and might just quicken their pace to the dumpster. So looking for wear and midsole compression are your best bets.

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