Fred Maggiore - USAT Level 1 Coach
Answer: Yes and no. If you’ve never done a track workout, then you at least need a stopwatch to check your lap times as you run the set as described by the coach.
Coaches give the sets in several different ways. To start, the runners are divided into groups based on speed, so if you don’t know your minute/mile pace, or haven’t done a timed 5k or 10k road race to determine your pace, then you’ll need to talk to the coach to see which group you should run with.
After that, these are examples of how a track set for a fast group can be described:
- Run 8 x 800m at 6:00 pace/mile, or
- Run 8 x 800m on 1:30/lap (one minute, 30 seconds), or
- Run 8 x 800m at 5k pace
For a fast group, these are all equivalent, as these runners will know how to pace two laps of the track, 400m/lap, 800m total, finishing each lap on 90 seconds.
For this you’ll need a stopwatch, but a HRM will also help you determine if you’re in the correct group, based on how much above or below your Anaerobic Threshold (AT, and also commonly called Lactate Threshold, LT) you are running.
For example, 5k runs are done at 100-110% of your AT, 10k runs are done at 95-105% of your AT, and longer runs are done below your AT. This is a topic for another discussion, but your AT is effectively your maximum sustainable Heart Rate (HR) for a one hour run. If your HR was higher you would not be able to finish the run and hold it, you would have to slow down.
Another topic that Jack Bianchi covered at the March SB Tri Club meeting was using HR training zones, and most importantly, how to determine your threshold and your training zones. Briefly, most people have agreed that there are five training zones, 1-5, Zone 1 being easiest effort, lowest HR, Zone 4 being just below and up to your AT, and Zone 5 being at and above your threshold.
Your AT is trainable, meaning doing “threshold” workouts, as you get stronger, fitter, it can go higher, and higher is good. Your maximum HR is genetic and cannot be increased, and does decrease with age, beyond 40 years or so. Your ultimate goal is to train your AT to be as close to your max HR as possible.
So taking in all that, if you’re doing the track workouts with a HRM, and some help from the coaches, and/or a separate test to determine your AT, you will be able to tailor your running effort to the workout as described by the coach that day.
Without a HRM, you can still do the workouts based on time and your Perceived Exertion (PE). Again, this is a topic for another discussion, but before we had HRMs, we all trained and raced on PE, or our gut feeling. We ran easy, moderate, hard, tempo, fast, and really fast, not always when we should be, and with a large degree of error, sometimes too fast for the kind of workout we were doing, or too slow for the really hard days.
I hope that clarifies things about using a HRM at the track, while opening the door to several more discussions.