Trail running runner looking at heart rate monitor watch running in forest wearing warm jacket sportswear, hat and gloves. Male jogger running training in woods.

To some of you runners, heart rate monitors may seem like a very advanced topic to discuss. For others, it may be business as usual. It doesn’t matter which group you fit into because this article is for all of you struggling to improve your run and your race performance. You might not enjoy running as much as strength training or monkey bars – that’s okay – but it’s worth remembering that OCR is a runner’s game so until you have improved your run you will be underperforming in the race. Even the two elite athletes we interviewed recently, Tanner Farenik and Ben O’Rourke, confirmed that to dominate an obstacle race you need to optimise your running.

I agree wholeheartedly. A heart rate monitor is the best piece of gear you can invest in this year and this racing season.


What’s So Good About Monitoring Heart Rate While Running?

There are 3 key benefits:

  • You are completely in tune with your physiology. You can pace yourself by specifically measuring your training effort, e.g. knowing that you’re running at 75% effort because of X number of heartbeats per minute shown by your monitor. This means no more boinking mid-run – you can finishing at the pace you started with.
  • If you know your maximum heart rate, then it’s a no brainer to figure out the range of heartbeats per minute that you should pace yourself at for a run of any distance: a 5k, 10k, half marathon or even an ultra. Think of it like having a clear indicator of the tempo you should be able to sustain in your next race to kick ass. You can essentially simulate race conditions easily.
  • You can only improve what you can measure. Frankly, just pace, time and distance aren’t specific enough to track or measure progress. This is due to the random dynamics you can encounter on an obstacle race course. Being able to train, run, slow down or speed up depending on your HR indicator can be life changing in this context.


In short, heart rate monitors are very useful when you want to do OCR workouts and runs likes this:

Wanna see my secret, staple, meat and potatoes workout? Happy New Years!Share with a friend and let's get healthy this year.#howigottowhereiam#akbearchallenge

Opslået af Matt "The Bear" Novakovich på 3. januar 2016

– where your heart rate remaining at a stable 150 would be an indicator of constant intensity (effort).


How to Calculate Your Heart Race Max

Now onto the exciting stuff. Put on your mathematician hat, because we are about to show you how to calculate your Max heart rate, which will roughly correspond to 100% of your active effort. It basically stands for ‘giving it your all’ or commonly known as ‘dropping the hammer’.

No math skills? No problem – this is very basic math, I promise.

To start you should write down the following metrics:

  • 220 beats as the conventionally used baseline of max heart rate
  • Your age. In this case I’m going to use my own and I am 26 years old.


To calculate my personal heart rate maximum, I’ll just deduct my age from the average max heart rate as shown below:

220 – 26 = 194 BPM (beats per minute) 

194 BPM = 100% of my personal effort (Running at this rate I would probably crash within seconds from a heart attack.)

Note that this is a very rough calculation and results will vary from the more advanced formulas. However, it’s enough to know the approximate zones you should be training at, rather than being specific right down to the beat.

Now we can adapt this maximum heart rate to various training regimens. Almost every training plan out there marks run intensity in effort percentages, e.g. 75% effort run, run at 80% effort etc.

So to be sure you run in the correct HR zone (e.g. 75% effort) you would simply do the following calculation:

194 BPM (my 100% max) * 0.75 (or 75% of my max) = 145.5

So to be able to run without cashing out, at a steady pace at about 75% effort, I would have to stick to approx. 145BMP pace.


Using Heart Rate to Prepare For Obstacle Course Races

Now that you’ve calculated your maximum effort, you can also calculate your effort per race distance as the following:
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The examples above can be applied to any OCR race distance. The 3 breakdowns fit well with Spartan Race Sprint(5k-10k), Super (10k+) and Beast (Half marathon). As you can see each distance will present the varied effort needed to perform well and to sustain or improve that performance. You can use this as a benchmark or mid-run in order to maintain a steady and unbreakable stride to the finish line.

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