For pacing yourself or others you need to know what speed/pace you are going at. So a ‘basic’ heart rate monitor will not do that. A basic heart rate monitor will do what is says…it just monitors your heart rate. Which is fine for many people but not for the more serious or even improving 5k runner.
As you get more into running you will need to know how fast you are running at – both for the race itself and for your training. So for that you need something more than just a heart rate monitor, you will need a heart rate monitor that somehow also works out how fast you are going.
There are two ways that more advanced hear rate monitor use to determine your speed/pace:
1. GPS – your speed is tracked by satellites
2. Foot pod – your speed is estimated from your stride length which is estimated from the number of steps you take over a given distance.
I’ve used both a lot. There are pros and cons for each. Initially I was pro the footpod approach using POLAR’s products.. I moved to GARMIN’s GPS technology and have warmed to it over a year and now favour that.
The problem with GPS is that you have to get a signal. So in a tunnel it won’t work! (I don’t run through tunnels very often). Some people say it is not good under trees. I run and cycle under trees from time to time and it always seems to work for me. Despite working out your precise location from many satellites at once they are not always 100% accurate however. For example, when I look at my route taken after I have done it my Garmin has me running through brick walls from time to time. I’m good but not that good! Well actually I’m not even that good, but that’s another story.
Also my Garmin always tells me that I run about “5k and 50m” or sometimes “5k and 20m” for a properly measured 5k. Now for a while I thought this was because of the satellite inaccuracy then it dawned on me that I probably don’t run in a straight line. So it probably was actually measuring how far I ran in reality. The moral of the story being that if you want to knock off 20ish seconds from your 5k time then just run the shortest distance!
This view was vindicated when I ran 1000m and 1600m on a running track. The Garmin was pretty much spot on give or take 2m each time. That is a high degree of accuracy.
Now the POLAR requires that your stride length is calibrated by you running a measured distance. This is a faff however you look at it but you do not have to do it regularly. I put up with this for a while as the POLAR software that came with the product was quite good. However as you get fitter your stride length changes and it must also change over longer distances.
Also your stride is recorded by a shoe/foot based ‘pod’. This requires a battery and mine ran at of juice quickly. Again a faff.
You will also fall foul of the same problem if you rely on the unit being exactly correct over 5k as with the Garmin – you DO NOT run in a straight line and so you will always run further. If you are pacing yourself against the until then this will always be a problem – you time your 5k to perfection achieving the exact time…unfortunately you still have 20m to run.
If you cycle as well then both the POLAR and GARMIN approaches translate well to a bike. The POLAR footpad is replaced for the activity by a wheel revolution sensor (more cost) which in reality is probably as accurate as the GPS approach.
So if cycling is your main thing there is probably not much in it either way. If running is your main thing get a GPS.
I’ll look at the software that backs up the units later in another post.