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PT365 Run Plans | Gear roundup: Heart-rate monitors

PT365 Run Plans | Gear roundup: Heart-rate monitors

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Our PT365 Run Plans rely heavily on heart-rate training, which means that to get the most out of them, you’ll want to invest in a heart-rate monitor.

A monitor, says Run Plan author Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. (Dr.) Mark Cucuzzella, will help you get a handle on what your body is telling you. This is called biofeedback. Over time, the monitor will help you get a feel for how hard your body is working.

Consider programming a zone alarm, but if all the beeping gets on your nerves, just turn it off.

We tried out these heart-rate monitors and watch-monitor combos:

Suunto Ambit2 R

The sport modes allow you to choose different heart-rate options for each mode, meaning you don’t have to have a one-size-fits-all heart-rate alert. Input your maximum aerobic heart rate (180-your age; read more at militarytimes.com/pt365runplans) for your regular Running setting, but punch in a higher range for your anaerobic Track Running mode workouts. Pick the Indoor Running mode to use the heart-rate features without turning on the battery-sapping GPS.

The soft ANT heart-rate band is as comfortable as wearing a band around your rib cage can be. Traction strips keep it mostly in place, but you’ll still have to wear it fairly snug.

Download data to Suunto’s Movescount platform or sync with multi-sport Strava.

GPS: Yes

Battery life: 8-25 hours

Get it: www.suunto.com; $299

New Balance NX980 GPS Trainer

Try this watch on first or risk it riding up the pointy bone of your wrist. The watch face is molded into a C-shape, so if that doesn’t fit well, you won’t get any help from the band. The GPS inner workings conspire to make it feel bulky, but you might forgive it that for the 80s-calculator-watch-aura you’ll sometimes pick up out of the corner of your eye. The band for the heart-rate monitor fit comfortably, holding steady at very snug and not-so-snug.

Alarms for preset upper and lower limits might sound appealing if you’re sticking to the PT365 Run Plans and running at or below your maximum aerobic heart rate. But setting the alarm for that upper limit, in this case, just results in a lot of beeping — because it really is hard to go slow. Two beeps when you go over; two when you’re back under; and on it goes, until you’re glancing at the watch every few seconds as it slowly drains all the joy from your workout.

Setup and navigation are simple if you’re patient. The software is quick to download and foolproof to install on a Mac. The heart-rate monitor should already have been paired, or digitally joined up, with the watch right out of the box, but ours wasn’t. When in doubt, follow the instructions for pairing. It takes just a second.

GPS: Yes

Battery life: 12 hours with GPS

Get it: www.newbalance.com; $149.99

TomTom Runner Cardio

Finally, a heart-rate option that doesn’t require a chest strap. Instead, TomTom’s Runner Cardio watch tracks your heart rate with a sensor that measures blood-flow changes in your wrist.

The heart-rate readings match those of the Ambit2 R when the watches are worn together. But be sure to get the fit on the Cardio correct; wearing it snug and about an inch up from your wrist will give you the most accurate data.

Pick your workout mode (Run or Treadmill), then pick between five heart-rate zones — sprint through easy — to really focus your workouts. We noticed the Treadmill mode is wildly inaccurate at tracking distance. It typically read 30 percent short, but the Cardio will allow you to manually input the distance when saving.

This watch is amazingly simplistic yet still gives you all the data options now standard on pricier watches. All functions are controlled with one button, making surfing through screens easy. Plus no more squinting at tiny numbers — an extra-large display makes it easy to read while on the move. When you’re done, the Cardio will sync via bluetooth to TomTom’s MySports app (free on iOS and Android).

GPS: Yes

Battery life: 8 hours with GPS

Get it: www.tomtom.com; $269.99

Polar H7 sensor

If you run with your iPhone, this is a great heart rate monitor. It connects to your phone via Bluetooth and works with a number of apps. We used it with MapMyRun and Polar Beat, both of which connected seamlessly and never lost their links to the mother ship. The strap is so comfy that after a couple of miles you’ll forget it’s there. Even during steamy summer runs, we’re happy to report there hasn’t been any chaffing.

Polar Beat — download it for free on Google Play or iTunes — is pretty slick. Set training goals (distance, duration or calories burned) and get a weekly summary of your workouts.

For a list of compatible devices, click here.

GPS: No

Battery life: 200 hours

Get it: www.polar.com; $79.95

Polar FT2

This watch is great for runners who want simplicity and ease of use in a heart-rate monitor. What it lacks in bells and whistles it makes up for with a unique rotating display screen: The Polar FT2 allows you to rotate through three screens without using your hands, which means no fussing with buttons on a run.

The display changes when the watch is brought close to the chest strap, and the watch then beeps to let you know the display rotated. The three display options are time of day, heart rate and run time. This large, singular display makes for a quick read without a need to discern between several sets of numbers.

It might not be the prettiest monitor out there, but for a third of the price of the other ones, it gets the job done with zero hassle.

GPS: No

Battery life: Two years (exercising one hour a day, seven days a week)

Get it: www.polar.com; $79.95

Military Times staffers Rachel Barth, Sara Davidson, David Larter and Amanda Miller contributed to this report.

Sara Davidson

Sara Davidson is an ultrarunner and contributor to PT365. She's run 7 marathons and 32 ultramarathons -- including her first 100-miler. This fall she is training for the Marine Corps Marathon using our PT365 Run Plan. Reach her at sdavidson@gannett.com .