Monitoring Your Heart Rate While Running: What You Can Learn

I’m not really sure how to start this post. As most of you know, I tweaked my IT band at the end of January and spent most of February away from running. I thought my heart rate monitor (HRM) would be a good tool to pace myself when my IT band started feeling good enough for me to run for more than a mile at a time.

The Garmin 305 and heart rate monitor are super easy to use!

I spent a little time online, researching how to calculate your heart rate and what range your heart rate should be in as you jogged, ran, pushed yourself, etc. As I started to increase my distance, I had plans to keep my running really slowly – somewhere around 60-90 seconds slower than the pace I was working towards before I got injured.  According to this plan my heart rate should be below 170 beats per minute (likely at around 165) with the effort I would be putting in.

Imagine my surprise, when after one measly minute of running my Garmin beeped and told me my heart rate was above 180.  I figured I needed some time to get into a groove so I kept my pace comically slow for another 10 minutes, as my heart rate kept climbing to just shy of 200 and my Garmin continued to make a racket chirping out “Your heart rate is way too high!!” alerts.  I stopped for a few minutes and let my heart rate settle back down to 170 but as soon as I started to move again my heart jumped back up to 198.  I was starting to get really worried, which I’m sure wasn’t helpful.  I finished my first mile in 11:44 and an average heart rate of 194. I took mile 2 even slower and my heart rate was 196.  Mile 3 was up to 12:48 and my heart rate was up to 198 (with spikes up to 205).  I was having a hard time catching my breath, which was something I always thought was related to my lungs and allergies but now I was starting to think it was due to my heart.

Notice how I'm hovering around 195 with the exception of where I stopped at Starbucks to stretch and grab some water @ 20 min and where I took a minute walk break @ around 30 min. My pace wasn't nearly as steady as my heart rate.

I spent the night pretty nervously searching Google, WebMD, and a ton of websites for information on why my heart rate was so high.  Most of the sites said go get your heart checked out but a few said some people have a baseline heart rate that’s higher than normal.  I’ve done 3 runs since, with miles at a variety of paces and some felt stellar (like yesterday’s speedy 3 miles) and some left me gasping for air.  The problem is that no matter my pace and no matter the duration my heart rate rarely dips below 195 beats per minute (during yesterday’s run I saw 194 briefly come across the Garmin’s display and I did a little cheer). It’s amazing what you can figure out with a relatively cheap piece of technology.

I’d been planning to make a cardiologist appointment to check all of this out after the GW 10 Miler, because honestly there’s no way I’m missing it.  But I talked to my mom last night (mom’s a nurse and also has a very seriously rapid heart beat – without medicine hers is 165 resting!) and she convinced me to push the appointment up because it takes a long time to order tests, schedule tests, and review the results.  So now I have an appointment on Wednesday March 14.

I’m surprisingly less stressed about this than I thought I’d be.  As far as I can tell, as long as there’s nothing structurally damaged (for example, valves not catching properly), there’s no reason that I should have to stop running.  My mom reminded me that cardio strengthens the heart and as long as the extra beats weren’t causing dizziness there was no reason to stop (though I do need to watch my breathing). I may be relegated to perpetually run what most people consider really slow miles but I’m ok with that. I’m pretty much not considering the alternative for now. If it turns out to be something worse, I’ll worry about it then.

All of the runs I have scheduled between now and Wednesday will still happen, including the Four Courts Four Miler that I’ve been so excited about.  Since Suze tweaked her IT band the boyfriend will run with me (yay!).  Who else is running?



Filed under exercise

17 responses to “Monitoring Your Heart Rate While Running: What You Can Learn

  1. Glad to hear you’re going to get it checked out!

  2. Well, at least it’s good that you found this out sooner rather than later and can get it checked out. It also sounds like it likely won’t impact your ability to run, which is good. Good luck at your appointment!

    Just curious — is your resting heart rate high?

    I’ll be running the Four Courts Four on Saturday! Or, as I like to call it, my birthday race. (Last year, it was held on my 30th birthday.)

    • Carly D. @ CarlyBananas

      It turns out my resting heart rate is really jumpy. It varies between 80 and 115 – but I’m not sure what causes the huge difference.

  3. Don’t panic! I hope everything works out and get a 2nd opinion!

  4. That sounds kind of scary, but as long as you feel ok I’m sure it will turn out fine!

    I’m running 4 Courts tomorrow, too! See you there!

  5. I also have a fairly high heart rate, but I usually only hit 190+ during a hard run. Regular running/jogging I can manage to hover in the mid 180s. My resting heart rate is on the upper end of normal at about 80bpm. I honestly don’t run with a monitor very often simply because it freaks me out – when I see my heart rate rise I get nervous and then throw myself into a panic attack. (There was a time where I couldn’t work out at all because as soon as I started I’d freak & have a panic attack – but this was right after my dad died, so sort of makes sense now why I was freaking!)

    Anyhow, glad you’re getting it checked out – and perhaps since high heart rate seems to run in your family everything will be fine. (And I agree get a second opinion…or at least see a Dr. that understands the “need” for running!)

    • Carly D. @ CarlyBananas

      My resting heart rate goes all the way up to 115! Its either in the 80’s or like hanging out at 110-115.
      I’m glad I didn’t monitor it earlier, when I was starting running because I’d have scared myself out of even trying. It must have been really scary after losing a parent!

  6. You’re mom is right about the tests taking a long time, and I doubt your doctor would tell you not to run in the meantime, especially if you’re feeling pretty good. Fingers crossed for you that it all works out.

  7. Amy

    I’ll be at the race!

    It’s definitely good that you’re getting it checked but I’d probably be not very worried either as everyone is different and it sounds like higher HR are normal in your family.

    Also, the Garmin HR monitor isn’t always the best. Since it’s holding steady, it’s probably accurate, but it’s been known to spike to ridiculous rates for no apparent reason.

  8. Suze

    Glad you’re getting it checked out! I’m sure it’s nothing serious, because you do have a high resting heart rate.

    Best of luck on the Four Courts Four Miler – I’m jealous you get to runnnnnnnnnn! 🙂

  9. Grace

    I’m curious what your doctor will say! I sort of have this same problem too. Whenever I work out, it always bounces up really high right away and it stays there throughout the entire workout. I brought it up a few years ago to my doctor at the time and he didn’t seem concerned about it. But still, very strange.

  10. Carly D. @ CarlyBananas

    I’ll let you know what the doctor says. I’m going in for tests on 3/29!

  11. I have the same issue! I’ve been working out for a relatively long time (8+ years) and recently started running. My outdoor runs with my Garmin say that my average HR is usually in the 180’s with a peak at 198 on most runs. I’ve worried about it myself and I think I’m going to see a doctor as well. I’m sure we have anything to worry about, but it’s never a bad idea to get it checked out. Good luck!

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  14. My heat rate when up to 196 yesterday. I am 22 years old. According to the ancient rule, I shouldn’t go be above and beyond 198. What happens when people go above there recommend HR while exercising.

    • Carly D. @ CarlyBananas

      If your heart rate gets too high when exercising your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. You could faint or have breathing troubles. I’d recommend talking to a doctor and letting them see if they can see any reason why your heart is so high. I was surprised by what I learned.

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