I've read all about the benefits of using a heart-rate monitor during training to make sure you are in the correct zone for the given type of exercise, i.e. Zone 3 for regular distance training.

My question: is it useful to run with a heart-rate monitor during a race or should I just go with my feeling?

If you think it is useful, what strategy should I adopt to optimize my race?

Update: to get the context, my planned races are 10k and half-marathon.

  • 3
    It depends on your goals and how experienced you are. For instance, I use my HR monitor to make sure I don't run too fast, so that for example I don't go over my lactate threshold.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Feb 27, 2012 at 13:51
  • 1
    Can you add a little more detail - what sort of race? The answers will be slightly different for <1min as opposed to >2hours ...
    – Unsliced
    Feb 27, 2012 at 20:36

4 Answers 4


You should race as you train - otherwise why are you training like that?

You're training to bring about adaptation to promote your body's ability to perform optimally in the task you're asking of it. If you're using a heart rate monitor to prepare for a race - whether it's 400m, 5k a marathon or anything else on the scale - then you're using the feedback to guide you.

We all know that race day is full of distractions, unusual situations, the adrenaline of competition so using a monitor will, I would suggest, be absolutely vital to allow you at least one dimension that you can control.

There's an old adage, "nothing new on race day" - normally this means no new equipment, so no new shoes that will rub in a new place, or a new gel or bar that might not sit quite as easily in your stomach or whatever. If you're not used to running blind (on speed or any other metric you normally track), then don't do it on a day when you are guaranteed to be feeling emotions that will make you behave very differently to normal.

So your HRM based training will have led you to a point where you'll know the target zone for your run. Definitely use that information on the day.

  • ...wait the first sentence is misleading. What about interval-training and long-distance racing? Certain races can only be run only few times a year. This requires some clarification.
    – user276
    Feb 29, 2012 at 0:01
  • @hhh The first sentence is reacting to the context of the question as currently posed - the question is whether to race using the monitor or by feeling given that they train with a monitor, so my answer starts with that premise: if you train in a particular way (i.e. with a monitor), why would you race in a different one?
    – Unsliced
    Feb 29, 2012 at 8:48

If you have identified your ideal heart rate for the distance you are running, and use a monitor in training then it makes sense to use it in a race - it helps you to keep from getting caught up in the race spirit and pushing too hard (especially useful in longer distance runs)

I used to just use my feeling and a known running cadence, which worked for most marathons, but for my last Paris Marathon I got over excited early on and ruined my time by overdoing it. Since then I would swear by a monitor.


Like Unsliced said, race the way you train. However, I was discussing a race with a friend who had a combo heart rate/GPS unit, and in Detroit, the marathon goes over the bridge to Canada then back to the US via a mile long tunnel, and the fact her GPS was off really unsettled her.

She had become so dependent on the tools/toys that she got seriously rattled.

Thus my advice would be use it, but be flexible enough to adjust to any issues.

Besides you can identify at least two major zones with an HRM.

60% is the point at which you can start to hear yourself breathing. 85% is the point at which you can no longer hold a conversation.


I did a personal study on to use a HRM to get you the optimal race performance for any race for the 1 mile up to marathon. There are 3-4 phases your HR goes through during the race. There is an initial phase which lasts about 1-2 mins, transitional phase which can last between 2 and 10 mins (depending on the distance), and a Final stage. I have calculated these for me as well as other racers, and they work like a charm.

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