Expert Interview Series: the5kRunner of About Activity Monitors, Heart Rate Training Zones, and Other Running and Training Tidbits

By Aaron Eisberg

the5krunner loves triathlons, training, and tech - with, of course, the odd 5k thrown in for good measure. We recently caught up with "Tfk" to get the scoop on some of the latest training and fitness technology and learn a few tips on how to better prepare for events like 5k runs.

Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to start a fitness blog?

I have always been sporty and I have a work background in marketing, corporate IT, and entrepreneurial IT. I currently have a few "jobs" - some speculative that don't pay a salary, and one that does. I run the blog anonymously in a vain attempt to keep some professional credibility with my "proper" job's clients. Sleep is for wimps!

I was going through a 5k phase in my sporting life and started a blog by accident. I wanted to help people achieve similar goals to mine. It then all got out of hand and morphed into triathlons and gadgets, which seem to have become two of my new passions in life.

What are some of the newest gadgets or technological fitness advancements that you are the most excited about right now?

Some people get excited about lots and lots of features on a device. I don't. I get excited about weird things. Here are some of them.

First, I would say "beauty." Most sports devices have been plain ugly, and while they were "technically" designed to be worn all the time, I just couldn't wear them. Examples of good looking ones now would be Suunto's SPARTAN, Garmin's new Fenix 5, and Polar's A360.

Secondly, I would say "connectivity." I love the many clever devices and apps that can be integrated into Garmin's sports ecosystem, such as STRYD and XERTonline. But it's also connectivity through smartphones. I used to deliberately use an old smartphone when testing devices, and (apart from Fitbit) very few would work. I gave up on that as it wasted too much time, yet I still find problems pairing even with the latest Garmins. Hopefully, we will see the advent of AndroidWear2.0 very soon which should bring proper and consistent connectivity with our Android devices - kind of like the Apple Watch but cheaper.

Thirdly, I get excited about things to do with measuring heart rate, and that includes optically measuring it in clever places (wrist/ear) as well as measuring it in special ways through HRV. It sounds a bit geeky, but newish products like WHOOP could revolutionize the training regimens of half-decent athletes (as well as elite ones) by enabling them to better understand how to adapt to the exercise they plan to do using HRV.

Given the mounting evidence that wearable fitness trackers aren't producing improved results, do you feel that these products still provide certain benefits for their users?

People change people. Not gadgets. Gadgets just help. To "cure" an alcoholic or an anorexic, the desire for change must come from that person. I'd say lifestyle changes linked to being sportier are the same. So simply buying someone a Fitbit will not achieve anything unless the recipient wants to change. Is that realism or cynicism?

I suppose there is also some value in knowledge; perhaps knowing and tracking your steps will move you onto greater sporty things. I hope so.

What's a realistic goal that an individual can set if he or she is an average person who enjoys running in 5k events?

The answer depends on the age and sex of the person trying to achieve the goal. I would say that it's easy for an 18-year-old young man but very hard for a 60-year-old woman to go and run a 5k park run and then look at your age graded percentile result. For instance, 70% is fairly hard to do for anyone but achievable; while 80% is extremely hard to do.

What's the biggest hindrance or stumbling block that causes someone to quit their fitness or training plans?

Lack of motivation or lack of routine. Even if you are injured, you will come back fighting if you are motivated.

When training for a 5k, what are the optimal heart rate readings to shoot for?

I have to add caveats about seeing a doctor here. You know the routine.

To answer this question is also difficult because everyone is different, and you will need to do a bit of research or follow a generic plan. Also, a 5k is a tricky distance to train for if you want to get continually faster, as you have to train several different aspects of your physiology.

Runners need to determine their heart rate zones, which will vary depending on a variety of personal factors like age and current fitness level. Then a combination of long runs in zone 2, 1-minute intervals in Zone 5, lots of rest, and 1km intervals in zone 3 or 4 should sort you out nicely. If you are not fit, then don't do the fast stuff.

How has the emergence of measurable and displayable real-time data impacted people's training and fitness regimens?

It has allowed more precision and prescription even for casual runners. Being more precise can make your training more effective. Being able to be more prescriptive will enable a training plan to be better understood and followed.

For instance, it's very important to understand your HR zones, your pace/speed. and your running cadence. Twenty years ago, literally all you had was a stopwatch and (if you were lucky) a training plan that told you how long to run for and what it should feel like. Now, you can now get very accurate real-time data in all these aspects even on entry-level sports watches.

For higher-level athletes, there are other things that can be measured and displayed in real time such as power (STRYD), muscle oxygenation (MOXY), hydration (BSX 2017), and running form (SHFT.RUN). The latter even has a digital coach feeding back to you and coaching you in real time on some quite complex gait metrics.

How do you expect technology and fitness products to evolve over the next several years?

There will be vast amounts of innovation in professional sports as everyone seeks the fabled "marginal gains." That will all fairly quickly trickle down to the rest of us who want it.

We are now seeing optical heart rate technology on the wrist; that will get more accurate. We will see hydration monitors come into play this year or next. Many more runners might start training by power. Training plans and coaching should continue to get ever-more personalized and adaptive.

We are starting to see some activity tracker companies and sports watch companies fail. Competition is weeding out the weakest. If some of the weaker players offer a good, niche product or service then we shall see that being subsumed into larger corporations through M&A activity.

I'll predict that online sports data ecosystems will get ever more complex (I'm not saying that's a good thing!). The year 2020 will also see a jump in positional accuracy as Europe's Galileo satellite systems take over from the less-accurate American GPS. That might also boost the adventuring that we do as "proper" maps also start to make their way onto your wrist both through AndroidWear and through powerful new devices like Garmin's new Fenix 5x.

Many people are predicting a great future for tech that goes in the ear, gets integrated into fabric, or gets miniaturized into rings. Though there's a place for all of that, I'm generally cynical. (Then again, I questioned why Google would buy YouTube.) Maybe one day we will all have nano patches and sports devices impregnated under our skin. But I hope not.

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