About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Max Heart Rate

WARNING:  Do not attempt these techniques yourself without consulting a doctor. You could injure yourself or worse. Bad things could happen to you. You might even die.
Do you know your maximum heart rate? I recently started to wear my Polar heart rate monitor again and wanted to know my max heart rate (MHR). After a quick internet search, I learned that the most commonly used formula is 220 minus your age. If this is true, my MHR should be around 172 beats per minute. (OK, so now you know how old I am if you are any good at math.) My target aerobic zone should be between 120-145 bpm.
I set out on a few runs with this knowledge and noticed right off that I was training beyond my target zone; my rate was usually in the 150-170 range. On a recent Run El Paso Club run, I ran at my max HR for over one and a half hours while carrying on a conversation the entire time. Is my MHR really 172?
After a more thorough internet search, I discovered that the only way to really know your MHR is to push yourself until you experience “fibrillations”.  One article gave the instructions to basically find a good hill and run up it as fast as you can until you fall down. (read here) OK, that sounds like a reasonable test to me, so I set out to try it.

I depart on a crisp morning with my three dogs; Lucy, Sierra and Taz, on one of our regular neighborhood runs up to and around a posh country club. We have plenty of hills to choose from around here, so after warming up for 10 minutes, I start to push it a bit. My heart rate reaches 180 and I feel just fine. We reach a very steep hill and then I go all out. 185…187…190…194. 
Unexpectedly, I feel a force from behind that is preventing me from going any faster. It seems the little Tasmanian dog has locked up and is squatting in the street. Well, I can’t blame him; we were traveling so fast that he probably had no choice. We must have been going at least as fast as a cheetah. Not really, albeit felt so. 
Like a good citizen, I pick up Taz’s mess and put it in his backpack. (Yes, that is one of our rules.) We continue on our way at a reasonable pace. I question whether 194 is my MHR, and decide to try the experiment again to see if I can break 200. Is this really a good idea? I convince myself that it is, so after after passing a tee-off, I pick up my pace. I approach another incline and go all out. 190…195…197…199. I’m breathing as hard as I can and begin to grunt like a Nike wearing Samurai. I warp into another dimension and then my body gives up. 200…201.
I try not to throw up on the putting green and then slowly begin to return to Earth. I suppose the question has been unscientifically answered; my max HR is somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 bpm. A 30 beat difference than the 220 minus age formula. This makes a huge difference when calculating my target workout zone, explains why I can carry on a conversation at 170 and means I'm healthy enough for sex.
In other news, I’ve been running in my Merrell “barefoot” shoes for about 15-20 minutes of each regular run and prefer them over my über cushioned Asics Cumulus footwear. My goal is to slowly transition to wearing minimalist shoes exclusively on all my shorter runs while wearing the cushioned shoes on longer ones. 
The original minimalist shoe
This week I will run my first race in over a year; the El Paso Half Marathon. One of our club runners, Salvador Almeida, will be running his 100th full marathon this Sunday. Many of our friends will be running with him to the finish line to celebrate. I plan to take plenty of pictures and will have a complete race report soon after.  It will be an exciting weekend for sure. Good luck Sal!
See you on the trail.


  1. I've always wondered about the whole Max BP and VDot stuff. Mine supposedly is 171 (yea, 49). I tried once to get it up around 175-180, and it just stopped at 173. I ran faster and faster, but it just wouldn't go beyond 173. Go figure. Maybe the watch/HRM thingy was broken.

    Good post. I would think at 200 you might have died. But what do I know. Glad you didn't. -- Jim (sorry for the anonymous, didn't feel like filling out whatever I have to say who I am)

  2. Thanks Anon (Can I call you Anon?). Everyone is different. The formula was probably right for your heart. Thanks for reading, Jim.