I threw my watch away two months ago. The band was broken, duct taped, and broken again. I last connected it to my computer in 2014 when I got the error message ‘software no longer compatible.’ I can’t remember when I bought it. Eli, now fifteen, was maybe in kindergarten. The running store where I got it is long gone. They sell phones there now, or they did until the pandemic.
I wore my watch last in 2016, during the first half of a 50K, the battery only lasted for three hours. It sat on my dresser after that. Ready, in case I ever needed to measure something shorter than three hours, and I didn’t mind carrying it in my pocket or pack. But I never did. I “ran on breath.” I set my pace by how hard I huffed and puffed during my run. I thought this more holistic, natural, sure to produce better results.
Recently, my running fell apart. Spells of dizziness, bouts of breathlessness. A reaction to medication? A stealth case of COVID-19? Old age? I quit my remote, forested trail runs in favor of park roads where someone will find me if I pass out or die. A doctor recommended a heart rate monitor. “You need some data,” he said. “Right now, you’re guessing at the problem.”
Because I’m old, when I think of a heart rate monitor, I think of a chest strap. And then I roll my eyes. I can’t see buckling that thing on every time I head out the door to run, hike or ride a bike. I envision myself constantly fiddling with it. Too high? Too low? Too tight? Too itchy! Plus, in order to see what’s going on with my heart, I would need my phone handy. Eli suggested “Maybe a watch?”
My last watch was part of the Garmin Forerunner series. A 210, I think. It tracked time and distance, and if I’m remembering correctly, maybe elevation. I don’t think I paid more than $200 for it, and I recall it being easy to use. This is where I started my hunt for a heart rate monitor.
Garmin is the Pop Tarts of running watches. Sure, there are other brands of watches, just like toaster pastries, but I’ve never heard of any of them. In my internet searches, maybe because of familiarity, maybe due to high reviews, all paths led me back to Garmin— specifically, the Forerunner 35. I went into my search concerned about the cost. Eli, who was in the conversation from the start, suggested cost was an unfounded concern. “Whatever you paid last time, you’ll pay less, technology has gotten cheaper. Other than heart rate, you’re not looking for any new features.”
Kids these days know everything… Yes, the Garmin Forerunner 35 lists for $199, but it seems to be on sale everywhere. I bought mine (with a lime-green band) from Walmart for $99 plus free shipping. During my online shopping, I noticed that refurbished models sold for as low as $59 for those feeling really unsure about this investment.
Like I do so frequently when I buy electronics, I simply handed the unopened box to Eli and let him get it ready to use—something he completed in about a minute without looking at any instructions. Before you roll your eyes at me, I later set up my own online Garmin Connect account, uploaded my data and dove into analytics without any help.
After one weekend, I love it. On Saturday and Sunday, I went for two mountain bike rides, a hike and a run. It worked perfectly on all four outings. At each starting location it found a satellite connection within a couple of seconds. This may sound like a small achievement, but it’s something that took my old watch about a minute to do every time I used it—even when new. Toeing the line at countless road races I remembered at the last second to start my watch. I missed the first minute of half my races.
The watch defaults to various screens that display all the necessary data: miles run/ridden, exercise time and pace, calories burned, heart rate, and heart rate zone (the zones won’t work accurately until I set my maximum heart rate) and something called VO2 (need to research that). What I learned on my first run is I tend to push my heart rate up extremely high even when I’m not trying. No wonder I always feel like crap. Apparently “running on breath” doesn’t work for me. I need cold, hard numbers to keep myself in check.
My Sunday afternoon run, a five miler, was a completely new experience for me. Before I started, I set a lowish heart rate goal for myself. A number not to exceed. Quickly I hit my goal and crept over. I set a new goal and blew past that. Another goal, another failure. By the time I finished I was twenty beats per minute over where I hoped to run.
I know from years of reading that I’ll become a stronger runner by lowering my heart rate (essentially running slower) on most of my runs. It’s counter-intuitive and therefore hard to enforce. Plus, I’ve got forty-years of bad habits to break. But what I’m doing now clearly isn’t working. It was fine through my forties, but over the past four years my performance has taken a huge hit. My body and brain—with my dizziness and breathlessness—has finally found a way to tell me that. I think my Forerunner 35 and I will spend untold quality hours together making me a fitter person. Next year, I’ll let you know how it works.