Saturday, November 14, 2015

Baby It's Cold Outside: Four Lessons for Cold-Weather Cycling

It's not actually that cold outside, at least not here. We have yet to have a hard frost in my part of Northern Virginia. But we inevitably will. It'll get cold and miserable outside, and unlike back in 2009 when I did a similar post, I don't have the luxury of skipping cold, wet, snowy, or otherwise miserable days (because I commute by bike, you see). Fortunately, I also have a lot more disposable income than I had in 2009. So I've been accumulating gear year-by-year, and I have more insight to offer regarding what to wear.

Lesson One: You Get What You Pay For
The last post I did on this topic was all about making do with cheap gear. Part of this was based on my relative poverty, but part was based on a misunderstanding of what makes clothing expensive. The technology and development that have gone into a $250 pair of cycling shorts is worth more than what's gone into a $20 pair. You will feel that difference on a six-hour ride (and I've had the saddle sores to prove it). The take-away is that you should buy the best gear you can afford, rather than looking for the cheapest gear you can find. It probably won't matter for a 55-minute spin class, or a quick ride in 55* temps. But the more extreme your riding conditions, the more you will suffer if you buy cheap gear. Since we're talking about extremes in this post--extreme cold, extreme wind, extreme snow/sleet/rain/ice/brimstone--you want quality gear. It's okay to look for items on sale, but make sure it's quality stuff on markdown, not cheap stuff with sub-par materials and construction. On a related note, this goes for buying stuff from your local bike shop rather than from a discount site; at your LBS, you get the expertise of fellow cyclists, and they can help you separate the quality kit from the second-rate.

Lesson Two: Layers
Weather can change. Your intensity may vary. You might get lost. It's important to be prepared for multiple scenarios when you go out for a ride or a run. Unless you're running or riding with a backpack, the easiest way to take what you need with you is to wear it. Layering will also help with moisture transfer and heat management. If you know how to layer for other outdoor activities, the same principles will work for cycling. Bottom layer (closest to your skin) should wick moisture away from your body. Middle layer should insulate you by keeping warm air close to your body. Top layer should protect you by keeping wind and/or water away from your body. For my base layer, I usually wear an undervest and arm warmers, but if the temperature goes below 30*F I'll switch to a long-sleeved base layer. For temps 30*-50*, I use a short-sleeve jersey as a mid-layer. Below 30*, I switch to a long-sleeve jersey. For my top layer, I wear a wind- and water-resistant jacket if the temps are above 30* and a thermal cycling jacket if temps are below 30*. REI has some really good advice about layering, too.

Lesson Three: Protect the Bits
As a female, I'm fortunate to have genitalia that are kept warm and snug inside my body. For my male readers, I highly recommend you read Steve in a Speedo's advice on keeping your man-parts from getting frost-bitten. I can offer recommendations on some of the other body parts that I consider bits, though: fingers, toes, ears, and nose. Do not skimp on items to protect these parts of your body! They won't freeze or fall off, but they will make the difference between enjoying your cold-weather ride and hating your life and wanting to die. Get nice gloves with wind-proof tops and fronts. If you have the option, buy your winter gloves a little on the big side, to leave room for a thin glove liner in case it gets really cold. Buy a pair of wind- and water-proof shoe covers. Get warm, wind-proof headgear to cover your ears. If you tend to overheat easily, opt for a headband that covers your ears rather than a full skullcap. If it's really cold, cover your nose with a buff, a balaclava, or a ski mask (try to find one with ventilation holes so you can still breathe). If it's not super cold, I recommend putting Vaseline on the tip of your nose and in the nostrils to prevent windburn.

Lesson Four: Have Options
This is particularly important if you're commuting. Because if you don't have the right gear for a training ride, you can just throw your bike on the trainer and spin & smile with one of my workouts. But if you have no option but to ride your bike to work day in and day out, you really need to have options for your gear. Have a pair of light-weight, mid-weight, and heavy-weight gloves; have thermal tights and cool-weather tights; have pull-on booties and a pair of full overshoes; have options for jackets based on how cold, wet, and windy it is. Write it all off as commuting costs for business purposes. Don't mention to the IRS that this gear moonlights for personal use. After all, you are kind of saving the world by commuting on your bike instead of in a car.

If you need to pick up some new gear and don't have a local bike shop (FIND ONE!) or you've tried them but found the customer service lacking, you can e-mail me and I will gladly give you some recommendations. Or come and ask me over on Facebook.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fall Riding

There are some downsides to living in Northern Virginia. Mostly traffic. But the terrain and weather here are beautiful, breathtakingly so in the fall. I've had a few opportunities to get out and enjoy the perfect weather, as you can see below. I hope the weather stays nice for you, so you can avoid turbo trainer workouts for as long as possible (although, if you have to use a trainer or stationary bike, you know how to make it more interesting)!


Friday, October 23, 2015

S&H46 - Technique

I don't about the weather where you live, but Northern Virginia has been beautiful for the past couple of weeks. I've been riding outside as much as possible, soaking up the nice weather while I still can!

But soon enough, it will be winter here. And although I still plan to ride outside as much as possible (just got new pairs of overshoes and winter gloves in the mail!), the day is coming when most of my riding will be done inside, either in classes or on the trainer. Ugh.

It's not all bad, though! Indoor trainer time provides an excellent opportunity to work on technique in preparation for next season! With that in mind, here is a free workout to help you do just that!

S&H 46 - Technique

To save the file to your computer, right-click (or control-click) the link and select "Save as . . ."

Spin & smile!

Looking for more workouts? Go here!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Race Report: Ironman Mallorca 2015

My first Ironman. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. That's not to say that it was easy; more than anything, I had the feeling that the hardest parts were over, and all that was left was to relax and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

We flew out of Washington-Dulles on Wednesday. I tried to sleep on the flight over, because I wanted to adjust my internal clock as early as possible. I failed miserably, though; I can't sleep on planes. I got about one hour of sleep on the way over. It was a long trip, and we were tired and hungry by the time we got to the hotel (compounded by the fact that we took public transportation from the airport to the hotel, then couldn't find the hotel once we got to Alcudia). I had trouble sleeping for the next few nights. Didn't really get over my jet lag before the race. I did have a dream in which the race's "Australian exit" involved getting out of the water and running around an Australian guy in a speedo and swim cap who was sitting on the beach.

Breakfast the morning of was leftover paella!

2.4 miles in 1:18:29 (2:01/100m)
IM Mallorca utilized the new "rolling start" option that WTC has been implementing. I seeded myself slightly slower than what I thought I could do, right at the end of the 1:30 group. I expected that 1:30 would be a good time for me. I never dreamed that I could do 1:18! That's a better pace than my last several half IMs! The water was pancake-flat, salty (i.e. buoyant), and clear, just barely wetsuit-legal, and the rolling start ensured that I got to swim the whole 2.4 miles in the draft.

I used a new wetsuit, a Roka that I picked up secondhand from my local tri shop (which recently closed). I know that auditioning new equipment in an A race is verboten, but I'm glad I did it. It's a sleeveless wetsuit, which kept me from getting overheated and took some of the pressure off of my shoulders and neck. Those two factors have given me trouble in much shorter races. As a result of that new wetsuit, I had an easier time in the swim than I ever though possible.

112 miles in 6:57:45 (16.08 MPH)
Mallorca is a beautiful place, and the bike course was equally beautiful. I don't remember much about the race part of the ride, but I can still picture clearly in my mind the coast, the countryside, the mountains, the whole experience of getting to ride 180 km in paradise. The roads were mostly really nice, with a few rough stretches. There was a headwind coming back towards Alcudia (which we did twice). And the primary feature of the race course is a 10 km climb with 600 m elevation gain and a steep, steep descent. I haven't done switchbacks on a steep downhill in years, and I descended very conservatively. That's something I'd like to work on in the future, but for this race, I was happy to take it slow and make it down the mountain in one piece. In short, the bike was tough, but really enjoyable--an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.

By the way, Rob and Brian from the UK, I watched you draft through the entire bike course. Maybe if you can't handle the distance on your own, you should stick to shorter races, eh?

26.2 miles in 5:00:29* (11:27/mile)
I took my time in T2 (11:39), sat for a little longer than I needed to, commiserating with the other women about the pain we were about to experience. But I headed out of transition on the run, with a smile on my face. The smile soon turned to a grimace, however. I had horrible pain in my abdomen. I figured for sure there was something wrong. Emily met me at the first aid station, where we could get outside assistance in lieu of special needs. I hurt so bad at that point that I sat down on the curb and cried. She encouraged me as much as she could, and sent me off on my way with a hug and, "It will all be over in a few hours." It occurred to me on that leg of the run loop that my aqua belt might be causing my pain. So, the next time I saw her, I took off the belt and gave it to Emily. I experienced instant relief!

From then on, I felt like I was floating. In fact, I went sub-10:00-pace for a good chunk of the run course! We did 4.5 loops on a perfectly flat course through crowds of spectating tourists. I got extra cheers on the run because I am a woman (only 12% of competitors!), I am from America (not very many of us!), and (I assume) because I look like I am 12 years old. I'm very cute; everyone wants the cute little American girl to finish strong! The only disadvantage to the crowd support was that it was difficult to execute my pacing plan! I'd planned to walk for 30 seconds every 5 minutes, but it's hard to walk when people are yelling "Go Jamie!" in half a dozen languages!

The last 3-4 miles of the marathon were tough and they hurt, but by that point, I knew that I could make it. I came across the line with a fist pump and a smile! After soaking my feet in the Mediterranean and grabbing a plate of food (and my swag), I found Emily, who informed me that she'd almost missed my finish! Why was that? I had expected to finish in about 15 hours, but came across the line in 13:38:47, much earlier than I'd planned! I was elated! And tired. And hungry. But mostly very, very happy.

Total: 13:38:47 (F rank 156, F 30-34 rank 28, Overall 1531)
I am so, so happy with what I accomplished. Looking back, it doesn't seem like that big a deal! Am I allowed to say that? Most of the difficulty was in finding time and energy (and eating enough food) to train. By the time the race came, it felt like crossing T's and dotting I's!

I don't know if I'll do another Ironman. I certainly don't plan to do another one anytime soon. It takes up too much space in my life, and there are too many other things that I want to do. But after this accomplishment, nothing will ever seem quite so difficult**. In my mind, I'll always have the response, "It's not as hard as an Ironman."

*5:00:29 is a new marathon PR for me!
**I expect this will not include giving birth. Pushing humans out through your genitals is definitely harder than an Ironman. And more painful.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Race Report: Pacers Crystal City Friday 5k

This race served as a fitness test for me in my first week of Ironman training. I was excited to see what kind of speed I would have coming off of a marathon training plan. I had a great run at a great race, and I was happy with my fitness!

As I get older (or maybe just wiser), I find that I benefit from a longer warm-up. It may be that I was just too lazy in past years to take 15-20 minutes for preparation. I could get away with it in my early twenties. Now that I'm approaching thirty, I'm more mindful of how my body feels, and my body feels better when I take at least 15 minutes to warm up.

That said, I ran the 1.2 miles to my closest Metro station and took the train to Crystal City. I picked up my packet, stopped in at Crystal City Sport & Health (right next to the start line, thank you very much) to pin my number and have a drink, and then took another 1.2 miles to warm up. My left ankle felt tight on the inner side, just behind the ankle bone (I think these are annular ligaments that are tight and cranky from all of my ankle injuries last season). It loosened up within a few minutes, though, so I wasn't too worried.

Standing on the start line, I felt nervous. I haven't run hard and fast in many months. I remember, though, that 5ks hurt, and I was not excited about the 30 minutes of pain. I think I seeded myself well, since I didn't have to pass very many slower runners early on. And, considering the tight quarters, the pack thinned out relatively quickly.

I bought a Garmin 910XT with the leftover budget from my bike purchase; this was my first race using my new GPS watch. I ran by heart rate, trying to keep it under 170 BPM for the first mile, then shooting for around 173 BPM until the last half mile. After that, I let 'er rip, and ended up at a full (probably ugly) sprint across the line. Finished in 27:26, and didn't throw up! But it was a close call.

There was one woman who ran near me the whole time. She was probably 20 years older than me, with a similar build, wearing an Ironman cap with green stripes. We went back and forth through the whole race. For a while, I was running behind her and we were perfectly in step, stride-for-stride. I passed her with a little over a quarter mile to go, and held her off until the end. After I got a water bottle and established that I wasn't going to puke, I started looking for her. She found me first, though, and we chatted about our race together. Thanks, lady in the green cap, for pushing me to run my very best! If you ever need a running buddy, call me!

The other person I saw on-course who really impressed me: There was a woman, probably a new mother I assume , heavy-set in the way that new mothers often are. She was almost at the very back of the race, probably only half a dozen people behind her; I passed her as I was heading the opposite way, towards the finish line. She was pushing her baby in its stroller, wearing blue spandex tights, a cute, turquoise shirt, and a floppy, sparkly tutu. She had a huge smile on her face, as she walked along the race course. She looked so proud and happy to be doing this 5k. So good for you, mom with the sparkly, blue skirt, and congratulations on your 5k!

I enjoyed this race. It had a great feel to it, and it was cool to run on the roads of Crystal City, which had been closed to traffic for this race. There was an exciting mix of people: strong, fit runners, walkers doing their first-ever event, an older women (late 70s, maybe?) wearing salmon-colored jeans and a nice sweater, the mom with her sparkly tutu, and a bunch of middle-of-the-pack runners like me. Everyone seemed excited to be there, and the race was well-organized. I would definitely do this race again. In fact, I might sign up for another one! They run every Friday through the end of April. So let me know if you're going to do one, and maybe I'll see you there!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Race Report: Yuengling Marathon 2015

I did my first marathon! It hurt. It was much harder than I expected, much more painful than a half distance triathlon or anything else I've tried. But I also recovered much faster than I expected, based on the duration of the event.

My roommate and I headed to Virginia Beach at around noon on Saturday. Between bad traffic and stops for peeing and snacks, the 3 hour drive took us almost 6 hours. And then when we got to Virginia Beach, we had mapped the wrong convention center location (the convention and tourism office instead of the actual convention center). By this point, I only had 45 minutes left to pick up my racing packet, so I was super stressed. After that, we had to drive up and down the main drag in Virginia Beach looking for my hotel. I couldn't find my confirmation e-mail for my hotel, but I had in my mind it was a Days Inn that I was staying at. I was wrong. We went to both Days Inn locations on the beach, and I wasn't booked at either one. I finally found my confirmation email, and realized that I was actually booked at a Best Western. So then, of course, we went to the wrong Best Western. We finally got to our hotel--and keep in mind that we've driven up and down Atlantic Avenue 3 times at this point, and each 1-mile trip was taking 10-15 minutes, so we'd been fighting through the ridiculousness for an hour--and we were greeted by this view:
Not too bad!

I needed a nap and a butt-load of water at that point, though.

My parents arrived shortly after we did, and we settled into our room. Once we figured out the sleeping arrangements, we headed to a popular Italian spot for dinner.

I woke up at 5:30 (3 hours before race start) to try and get my breakfast in. I brought a huge bowl of steel-cut oatmeal with protein powder, coconut oil, and raspberry jam. I ate most of the oatmeal, but 2 cups of steel-cut oats is a lot. I figure I ended up with about 500 calories for breakfast.
After breakfast, I tried to go back to sleep, but I was too excited. I ended up staying up and watching the weather channel. My dad got up and around sometime after 7 to keep me company, and we took off for the the start line (a little over a mile away) around 7:45.
It was chilly before the race, but I was kitted up in sweat pants and a jacket. I chose to wear my favorite running shorts with a short-sleeve shirt, arm warmers, gloves, and a thermal cap. The only thing I didn't keep for the whole race was the gloves, because there was a cool breeze, and I kept having to put my arm warmers and cap back on.
The course was great. Flat as a pancake, with some really interesting sights. We got to run through Camp Pendleton, and a great group of soldiers were cheering us on as we ran through. There was a long, boring stretch from mile 13 to mile 19, where we got onto Fort Story, but it was still very pretty. And Fort Story was kind of a drag; the roads were bad, and the only spectators to speak of were armed guards. Still, much better than running on McConnell Airforce Base in my first half marathon!
I felt good through the halfway point. My sartorius often bothers me on really long runs; I get a sharp muscle pain at the tendon, right up at the attachment near my hip. It feels like the tendon is trying to pull away from the bone every time I lift my leg. It started bothering me around mile 14, worked itself out after a few miles, but came back in the last 10k.

At halfway, I tried to pick up the pace a little bit, which I think was a mistake. I should have stayed steady until the last 3-4 miles. I had a very rough time from around mile 17 to . . . until the end of the race, actually. Maybe if I'd kept it slow at mile 14, I would have felt stronger throughout the second half.
I did well with my nutrition plan. I took a gel or chews every 30 minutes, drank Gatorade and water at every water stop, and drank from the water bottle I was carrying every 5 minutes. I never got stomach upset, although I did have a little bit of cramping in the second half; it went away when I had Gatorade. I think in the future, I will carry Nuun instead of water, and only drink electrolytes. I've been doing some reading on isotonic fluid replacement, so I may see if I can get more scientific with that. I've also never done a sweat test (where you weigh yourself before and after a hard workout to see how much sweat you lost), and that might be helpful before my next big race. Taken as a whole, though, I was very happy with how my nutrition plan worked for me. I'm glad I practiced it in my training.

I'm not very happy with my pacing. I was able to restrain myself early in the race, but my plan to pick up my pace in the second half was not wise. Now that I've done a marathon, I think I'll be able to develop a better race plan and pace more consistently. I was counting on a negative split, but a better strategy would have been to keep things easy until the last 10k, or even later.

I experienced virtually no chafing, though I did stop at about the 17 mile point to put some lube on my little toes. But I had no blisters on my feet at the end of the race, no raw spots that surprised me during my first post-race shower. Normally I get chafing under my arms and in my . . . personal area. Aquafor and chamois cream, and lots of practice on where and how much to apply, served me well.
The most surprising thing to me was how much muscular pain I experienced. My back and legs seized up so much by the end that I could barely hobble across the finish line; I literally could not lift my feet more than a few inches off the ground. I'm not sure why that happened, but I assume it was a lack of overall strength. I know it's a little crazy at the paces that I run, but I think I would feel much more confident with a few 26-mile or longer training runs leading up to a marathon. Around 16-18 miles is where the wheels started coming off for me, and I did a lot of runs at those distances. My theory is that I built up a resistance to that point in training, and if I want to feel good throughout the race I'll need to do some 26-milers.

I'm also surprised by how quickly I recovered. I had a hard time with stairs on Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday I felt like I'd just come off a week of recovery: snappy legs, no muscle soreness, I was rocking my commute! And I didn't get the horrible stomach upset that I often feel at the end of triathlons. So marathons are much worse during, but much better after.

I can't decide whether I'll do more marathons . . . For sure I won't do one again until after my Ironman in September, but I'm not sure if I ever want to do that again. I said the same thing after my first triathlon, though; I imagine that the challenge of figuring out the training and racing puzzle will draw me back eventually.

Final: 5:10:39 (11:51/mile)
F25-29: 121/153
Women: 707/946
Overall: 1763/2185

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Pre-Race Nerves

Tomorrow I run my first marathon in Virginia Beach.

I've been slightly nervous all week. I haven't felt this nervous before an event in years. It's nice; feels like a challenge again! I go into it thinking, What if I can't do this? I don't really believe that I'll try and fail; I recognize that I'm pushing the limits of what I've done before, and it's possible that I might not be able to do it. Can I run 26.2 miles? I don't know! I've prepared well, but there's still a thrilling niggle of doubt.

So cheers to chasing the unknown! I'm off to Virginia Beach to pick up my race packet!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Ooh, Shiny!

Look what I got!

Technically, this is a reward for finishing my marathon, which I haven't finished yet.

So hopefully I don't totally poop out on Sunday, because I'm pretty sure that Tri360 won't take it back!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ironman Mallorca

It's official! I am going to Mallorca for the 2nd iteration of the Thomas Cook Ironman!

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Ironman Barcelona sold out.

I already had plane tickets, but hadn't registered yet.

Sad face.

Fortunately, There are plenty of races still open. In fact, IM Mallorca is still open, and it's only a week before. It's still in the same part of the world, I can change my plane tickets for less than 100 USD, and I can still see everything I wanted to see in Spain and the surrounding area. Flights to the mainland from Mallorca are less than 50 Euros, one-way.

I was never going to Barcelona for Barcelona; I arrived at that race primarily by a process of elimination. My roommate wanted to go to Western Europe, and Spain was going to be a lot less expensive than Zurich. The time of year is perfect. It's a beautiful part of the world, a part of the world I've never seen, and I can easily see Spain, southern France, Portugal, and maybe even Italy!

The one big change between IM Barcelona and IM Mallorca is the course. Barcelona's bike course is pancake-flat, but Mallorca has a pretty significant climb. From what I can see on the course map, there's a 15 km climb that peaks at 600 m. The descent is technical, too. I'm a little concerned about my ability to make the bike cut-off with that big climb in the mix.

On the other hand, I finally live in an area with some hills, so I can train properly for a hilly course. I was thinking of signing up for Challenge Poconos for a warm-up race, and the course will help prepare me for Mallorca better than for Barcelona. I'm planning to buy an aero road bike, which will be better suited to a climbing course than to a flat course like Barcelona. And I'm excited to have a more challenging course for my first Ironman (because my first Ironman isn't challenge enough in my brain, apparently).

So I was bummed for a couple of hours last night, but now I'm excited to switch to Mallorca. It'll work out, either way.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


That alphabet-soup title translates to Lactate Threshold Heart Rate Time Trial, for those in the know. Here's a 60-minute workout that will help you approximate your LTHR for the bike (keep in mind it will be different on the run, and LTHR isn't an accurate measure to use in the pool). You can also use this workout to estimate your functional threshold power (FTP), if you have access to a power meter. There's a 20-minute warm-up to get you ready for the time trial, and the time trial is 30 minutes long. You should go as hard as you can for those 30 minutes. If you're testing heart rate, hit the lap button 10 minutes into the time trial; your LTHR will be the average heart rate you sustain for the last 20 minutes of the time trial. If you're testing FTP, take the average for the whole 30 minutes (so you'll hit your lap button at the beginning of the time trial).

Click the link below to download the workout:


Spin & smile!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Training with Heart Rate

Since the beginning of 2015, I've been teaching my cycling classes some of the ins and outs of training with heart rate and power. Heart rate training isn't as cutting-edge as it was at the turn of the millennium, when Polar was all the rage and heart rate monitoring was considered the truly scientific way to train. NBC specifically mentioned Mark Allen's relatively innovative chest strap in its broadcast of the 1990 Ironman. In the years since, we've learned that heart rate doesn't provide as absolute a measure of intensity as was originally believed (or promoted by companies like Polar). In short, monitoring heart rate doesn't necessarily lead to "scientific" training; it just provides additional data to the overall picture.

Still, heart rate training remains a valid training tool, in spite of any drawbacks associated with its use. It may not be the best tool; you shouldn't use it for every application; it might not be appropriate for all athletes; but it is still a tool in the athlete's box of tricks. I think it's worth examining the pros and cons of training with (or without) heart rate.

Body Awareness
Heart rate monitoring allows you to tune out. This can be a positive or a negative, much like running with music. On the one hand, heart rate monitoring may encourage you to pay attention to a somewhat arbitrary number rather than listening to your body. Especially because heart rate can fluctuate so much based on external factors (heat, overtraining, lack of sleep, dehydration), you may end up working lighter than you could or harder than you should based on the number flashing on your wrist.

Even with a heart rate monitor, you should learn to pay attention to your body. Your heart responds differently when you're overtrained, hot, or dehydrated. There will be days when your heart rate tells you you're not working hard enough, but you really need to back off. Or maybe your fitness will improve (i.e. your numbers will change) before your next fitness test, and your body will tell you that you can work harder, even though the numbers tell you to slow down. Like with all data (yes, power junkies, ALL data), heart rate monitoring has its limits, and it can't replace mindfulness and awareness of what's happening in your body.

Delayed Response
Heart rate doesn't immediately change when you change intensity; it lags by anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. That means that on short, high-intensity intervals, heart rate tells you nothing until after the interval's over. Even worse, on longer intervals, you may be tempted to work harder than you should for the first 30-90 seconds, waiting for your heart rate monitor to show the change in effort. You end up performing the first 2 minutes of a 4-minute interval too hard, the last 2 minutes too easy, and you totally defeat the point of doing a 4-minute interval.

The best (but harder) solution is to learn to pay attention to your body and its signals. The easy (but more limited) solution is to train with a power meter, which I'll discuss next week (because training power has its own advantages and disadvantages).

Worthless in the Water
Heart rate training basically doesn't work in the water. Your vascular pressure is so different in the water that pulse doesn't accurately reflect your work rate. To determine intensity in the water, you have to go by pace and rating of perceived exertion. This link will help you set training zones based on pace. If you're water jogging or doing water aerobics, you're better off with perceived exertion.

Preventing Overtraining
One of my favorite uses of heart rate monitoring doesn't even require the fancy equipment. Just take your pulse every morning. Elevated resting heart rate is an early indicator of overtraining; it usually shows up before other symptoms, like crankiness and weakened immunity. If you keep track of your average resting heart rate, and back off on days when it's elevated, you're more likely to avoid the nastier aspects of training too hard.

For example, I take my heart rate every morning using an iPhone app. I get up, go pee (for some reason my heart rate's higher before peeing), lay back down, and take my heart rate. My fully-recovered heart rate is around 52; my normal in-training heart rate is around 56; if my first-thing-in-the-morning heart rate gets above 61, I take it easy for a day or two. Just make sure that you take your resting heart rate at the same time and in the same circumstances every day. First thing in the morning (right after peeing) is best, to make it as repeatable as possible. Even if you take it after breakfast, the results might be affected by variations in what you ate or drank.

Getting Out of a Rut
Probably the greatest benefit of training with heart rate zones, having that number handy may help knock you out of a steady-state aerobic rut--it may help you to vary your training intensity. Many (most?) cyclists, runners, and triathletes fall prey to the cardinal sin of endurance training: going too hard on the easy days and too easy on the hard days. Improvement stagnates with that training method, and using a heart rate monitor to set and train within zones helps you avoid that pitfall.

I use lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR) to set my training zones. To find your approximate LTHR, you can perform a 30-minute time trial on the bike or run. Warm up thoroughly (I recommend 15-20 minutes of warming up, with some light accelerations towards the end), then start riding/running at race intensity. After 10 minutes, hit the lap button on your heart rate monitor (if you have a lower-end heart rate monitor, it probably doesn't have a lap button, in which case you can stop and then re-start it with a new workout). The average heart rate for those last 20 minutes of the time trial is your approximate LTHR. Keep in mind, though, that just because your first 10 minutes don't count in the average doesn't mean that you should ride them at a lower intensity.

Once you have your LTHR, you can set your training zones at this link (zones based on a bike TT), or you can do it the old-fashioned way:

Zone 1 (recovery): <85% LTHR
Zone 2 (sub-aerobic): 85-89% LTHR
Zone 3 (steady-state aerobic): 90-94% LTHR
Zone 4 (aerobic threshold): 95-99% LTHR
Zone 5a (lactate threshold): 100-102% LTHR
Zone 5b (aerobic capacity/VO2 max): 102-106% LTHR
Zone 5c (anaerobic capacity): >106% LTHR

Keep in mind that your training zones will be different for the bike and the run; your running zones will be higher because of body position and the increased effort of supporting and moving your body weight.

That's all that I have to say about heart rate, for now. I am working on a free cycling workout to help you do a 30-minute time trial indoors on a trainer or stationary bike. Look out for that next week, as well as an article on the basics of training with power.

By the way, this is the heart rate monitor that I use.