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I've just completed the Newport Half Marathon and had an pretty steady heart rate of 88% of my max.

My details are here.

Is this good? Generally speaking, what should the heart rate be for a half marathon?

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@Kate, 88% of what my max. –  BanksySan Mar 5 '13 at 15:41
    
sorry didn't read it correctly! –  Kate Mar 5 '13 at 16:33
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It's going to be different from person to person, and will vary within the same person depending on training status, weather conditions, course layout, etc. I personally don't like using HR at all for gauging efforts, as there are way too many things that can artificially elevate/lower your HR, and it's a delayed metric, meaning you are responding to what your body did anywhere from 1-20 minutes prior. –  JohnP Mar 5 '13 at 17:28
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Your max heart rate will happen typically at the end of the marathon, when you're making your final push for the finish line. Comparing your heart rate throughout the majority of the marathon to this maximum isn't very meaningful.

Maybe you just worked really hard right at the end and you'd end up with your steady heart rate being a lower percentage of your max. Or maybe you don't push that hard at the end, so your steady heart rate is not that much lower than your max at the end.

Examples:

  1. Steady heart rate of 170. Pushed hard right at the end and had a max heart rate of 200. Result: 85%
  2. Steady heart rate of 170. Push hard right at the end, but you're in better shape than the first example , so your max heart rate is only 185. Result: 91%.
  3. Steady heart rate of 170. Didn't push very hard near the end, but you're also not in as good shape as the second example, so your max heart rate is also 185. Result: 91%
  4. Steady heart rate of 170, but you maintained that right until the finish line. Result: 100%
  5. Steady heart rate of 170, but you encounter a hill in the middle of the race. You attempt to maintain a good pace over the hill. That pushes your heart rate up to 195. Result: 87%
  6. Steady heart reate of 170, but you encounter a hill in the middle of the race and just take it slow and easy. This pushes your heart rate up to 180. Result: 94%.

I could give more examples, but hopefully you see that there is no meaningful conclusion that you can draw between the ratio of steady-heart-rate to max-heart-rate.

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I ran the race with a steady HR, keeping it on the threshold of Z5 but picked it up on the last 3 miles and blasted the last 500m. –  BanksySan Mar 5 '13 at 23:40
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HR is a very accurate measure of effort, and as delayed as any other natural parameter, call it breathing, perceived effort, fatigue (or even sweat to give another example).

Your heart doesn't know if it's cold or hot, uphill or downhill. Any factors that increase/decrease your heart rate will likely impact your performance

The only thing that might be important is to normalize versus minimum heart rate which decreases as the subject trains more.

I'd say your 88% of the max was a pretty well run half marathon, At the beginning it can be lower but after a couple of miles, you should hit both goal pace and goal HR (and of you did it right, your sprint at the end might not be that great), barring any hills of course.

Oh, you hardly reach your max heart rate in a marathon... You might get closer at the end of a 5K race.

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