At the most basic level, you can just see a list of the heart rate data that youve stored throughout your session. A graph, however, makes analysis much easier. As well as plotting a simple trace of your heart rate throughout a run, the computer can divide a session up into sections mile splits, say and you can compare the averages, maximums and minimums. If you want, you can even set graphs on top of one another for comparison. This is particularly useful when youre planning strategy for repetitions or races, and you can also see how youre improving over time.
Depending on the package, other charts and graphs can show you how much time youve spent in each training zone (the computer can guess the zones from your age, or you can enter them yourself) and how your heart rates look according to any number of statistical distributions. To be frank, though, most people will probably only use a fraction of the options available.
The greatest benefit comes when you use the data on your PC to construct a detailed training diary. By downloading all of your sessions and logging other information such as conditions, how you feel, resting heart rates, bodyweight, sleep patterns and so on, you can establish an extremely useful data bank. This not only helps you identify trends, such as how long it takes you to recover from races and hard sessions, but also enables you to check that youve done what you were aiming to do in training. Bar charts, for example, can show how much time youve spent in each training zone in a week. They will quickly reveal whether youve done more hard work than normal, and if this is the case, you can at least respond by taking an easier week to help you recover and prevent over-training.
One software package goes so far as to offer you personal training advice. On the basis of your training and racing history, it recommends the heart-rate-related training patterns you should be following in order to be at your best for a race on a specific date. As well as heart rate limits, it will even suggest interval distances, times and recoveries. And if you cross-train, you can keep records and follow separate plans for different activities. You can also periodically use the software to perform automatic Conconi tests to reassess your thresholds, or to analyse set interval tests in terms of your average recovery values, maximum, minimum and average heart rates.
The more you play with the data, the more youll be able to find ways in which it can help you in your training. You can use the weekly log to make sure that you are indeed easing up for a big race; in effect, that youre peaking at the right time. By monitoring your heart rate data as well as your weekly mileage, youre looking at your training from a different angle because as you know, a simple log of your distance wont always reflect the effort youve put in.
A simple HRM, a pencil, a diary and a calculator will give your training a great boost. A computer link-up just gives you added convenience, depth and flexibility, and if you share the cost of the computer interface and software with friends or clubmates and buy the watches separately, it can help bring costs down (a single watch/interface set-up can cost from around £150 to over £300). However you choose to train, though, dont lose sight of the simple pleasure of running. It may sound silly, but its easily done.