You run a mile and wonder, "Am I pushing myself enough? Am I pushing myself too much?" You want to get the most out of your run, but you also don’t want to work your body to extremes. A good way to tell how effective your run is going is to take your pulse at the one-mile mark. Your goal --to hit your target training heart rate, an indicator of how much your body should be exerting itself. You’ll also want to be aware of your average maximum heart rate, the number beyond which you want to avoid. The American Heart Association (AHA) offers guidance on how to record your heart rate and then interpret what that number means.
Taking Your Pulse
You can buy a pricey wrist-mount heart-rate monitor to calculate your heart rate, or you can employ the tips of your first two fingers and your skill for cyphering. You can take your pulse on your neck or wrist; for the latter, take those two fingers and place them on the inside of your wrist, toward the thumb side. Press lightly and you should feel your pulse in the artery. Check your watch and record your pulse for 10 seconds. Multiply that number by six and you have your heart rate for one minute, the standard period of time for measurement.
Resting Heart Rate
Before beginning your run, take your resting heart rate — the number of times per minute your heart beats when you’re at rest — to determine your baseline. The AHA recommends taking this reading first thing in the morning, before you dig into a busy day. This number can be telling: the average resting heart rate is typically between 60 and 80 beats per minute, though it can be lower in more active people. Elite athletes often have a resting heart rate below 50 beats per minute.
Target Training Rate
Run a mile, then take your pulse using the method described previously. Your training heart rate should be between 50 percent and 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, which you can determine by subtracting your age from 220. Where your target training heart rate should fall will depend upon your age. A 20-year-old, for instance, should have a target training rate of 100 to 170 beats per minute. A 40-year-old should be in the 90 to 153 beats-per-minute range, while a 60-year-old person should be between 80 and 136 beats per minute.
What it Means
According to the AHA, you’re enduring unnecessary — and possibly harmful — strain by exceeding the high end of your target training zone. Ease up for your next mile. A number in the low end of your zone, or below, suggests you might want to pick up the pace. If you’re just starting a running program, you’ll want to be closer to the low end of your zone, then gradually climb into the higher end as your running increases. After six months, advises the AHA, you may be able to exercise comfortably in the high end of your zone, near the 85-percent level.
If you’re taking blood pressure medication, your target training zone may be lower. Consult your physician to see where your heart rate should fall. Likewise, if you have a heart condition or you’re in cardiac rehab, consult a physician to see if any additional monitoring is recommended. Again, if you’re just getting started your physician may recommend easing into running, perhaps with a walk-to-run program.
Joe Miller has been writing about health, fitness and outdoor adventure since 1992. For 10 years, he wrote a weekly outdoor adventure column, Take It Outside, for "The News & Observer" in Raleigh, N.C. He's the author of three books on hiking and backpacking, with a fourth, "Adventure Carolinas," scheduled for release from UNC Press in spring 2014. He has a Bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.