I am a 51 year old non-competitive guy trying to run triathlons to stay healthy. The formulas say my max heart rate should be around 170, and despite the myths, I think that number is good for me. When I hit that rate, things start to get uncomfortable.

Given that I am doing this for health, and I am non-competitive honoring that 170 mark is right for me. So If I hit the 170 (I have an alert on my Garmin) what should I do? Mostly I hit this on the run. I do not worry about it too much on the bike as there are few hills where I ride.

Currently my plan is to, when I hit 170, to slow down to a "lineman's shuffle", that is run like a 16:00/mile pace, just over a walk. I do this until my heart rate is down below 155, around 85% of max. After that I can pick up the pace again.

Does that sound like a good plan?

  • 3
    I am really not a fan of training by a metric that can change because you had an extra cup of coffee. Train to how you feel.
    – JohnP
    Jun 25, 2018 at 14:54
  • 1
    @JohnP Maximum heart rate doesn't change (at least not over short periods of time). A cup of coffee would only change your current resting heart rate.
    – J. Heller
    Jun 26, 2018 at 3:11
  • 2
    If you want to do heart rate based training, it would probably be good to find your actual max heart rate (which is probably much higher than 170). See this article from Runner's World discussing heart rate training for running.
    – J. Heller
    Jun 26, 2018 at 3:15
  • @J.Heller not entirely. HR based training can be thrown off by caffeine intake, stress, dehydration to name a few. Plus it is a downstream metric, i.e. it changes in response, rather than being a current indicator. I'm just not a fan of basing workouts on it. shrug ymmv, I know a lot that use it extensively.
    – JohnP
    Jun 26, 2018 at 5:42

1 Answer 1


It depends, firstly, on how you're measuring your heart rate - optical wrist sensor vs chest strap? Wrist sensors are notorious for inaccurates readings, despite current advances in technology, due to interference from light, sweat etc.

Secondly, if you do hit 170, and can maintain it without feeling like you're gunning, it's not your maximum heart rate.

Unless you know what your maximum heart rate is (through tests, rather than formulae), then it is better to run by feel as mentioned by JohnP in the comments.

However, back to the question at hand, running near your maximum heart rate for the run leg of a triathlon only sounds reasonable if you're doing a sprint distance, otherwise you will likely dig yourself a big hole. Regarding the fatigue that your legs will have undergone, you may find that a "comfortably hard" tempo effort is the right level to sustain for the distance. Unfortunately there's a large element of trial and error in racing, but I wish you all the best.

Edit: regarding normal training runs, good practice is to run the majority of your mileage at a conversational pace - and yes, this will be slow, and your heart rate will be low. However, the benefits to your aerobic system will far outweigh struggling through every run at a faster, harder pace.

  • I am doing a Garmin with chest strap.
    – Pete B.
    Jul 5, 2018 at 11:08

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