Training In the Right Zones

Use 3 different methods to make sure you're training in the correct zone

Thanks to everyone who was patient with me as I took a week off from the newsletter. 

This week, I’m diving into finding the correct paces/zones you should run in and what effect does it have on your running if you run in the wrong zones (too fast or too slow).

If you’ve worked with me in the past, you know that I stress trying to run in the right zone - whether that’s with your heart rate monitor, within a range of paces I give you, or based on the feel of the run.

Here are the 3 over-simplified ways you can train using different methods:

1) Heart Rate Monitor

Training via heart rate monitor is a very useful tool IF you know what your max heart rate is.  If you do, great!

Here’s what you’d do:  

Using your max heart rate, different percentages equate to different training zones. The percentages below are based on max heart rate!

Easy running: 65-79%

Tempo running: 80-90%

Threshold running: 88-92%

Interval (5k) running: 98-100%

You can train within these zones based on the percentage of your maximum heart rate.  I wrote an entire blog post about heart rate training and you can read it here.

2) Based on Paces

In this current climate, races are hard to come by, but if you have a race or a race effort available to use the data, and you feel your race performance is an accurate representation of your current fitness, you can use the race performance to indicate your training paces.

Personally, I use a combination of Jack Daniels’ formula and Tinman’s calculator to come up with training paces for myself and the runners I coach.  

If you’ve run a 5k in 20:00, you can put that data into either calculator and determine current training paces for workouts.

Find both of their calculators in the links above.

3) Based on Feel

This method is the hardest to get correct because this is less driven by science/data and more by intuition and feel.  Coaching runners and instructing them to run by feel is open-ended and takes some trust that they won’t run too fast or too slow.  

An experienced runner will fare much better running by feel than someone who has just started.  A newer runner probably will struggle finding their threshold pace/feel because they haven’t done a whole lot of running at this effort level.  All running feels the same and the difference between an easy run and an interval run is blurred.  

Running in the Wrong Zones

If you find yourself running in the wrong zone on any given run, you may not find it’s that big of a deal.  If your easy run should be done between 8:30 and 9 minute pace, what’s the big deal if you crank it down to 7:45s per mile?  Honestly, one run won’t make a big difference.  A week of too-fast runs may not even make a big deal… But week after week of running too fast will lead to some lasting issues that really only slow running or time off will help fix.

  • Slower runs allow you to recover

  • Helps you build mitochondria and stronger capillaries

  • Failure to adapt to harder runs

  • Higher mileage requires more easy miles; lower mileage you might be able to run a bit faster

So there you have it.  Where do you stand with your training zones? Do you need help setting up appropriate running paces?  Reply to this email and I can help you decide which method of training is most beneficial to you!

Friday’s Action Plan:

Train in all four (or five) zones throughout a 7-14 day period to maximize your running performance.

What’s Got My Attention:

Article: How to Watch the Big Weekend of NCAA Indoor Track and Cross-Country Championships

Article: Heart of the matter for Flagstaff elite marathoner Matt Llano

Popular Articles on the Blog this Week:

Beginner’s Guide to Using Resistance Band Exercises

Fueling Your Long Run

Interval Training Running Playlist

Popular Newsletter Sessions:

The Case for Ditching Strava

Leave No Stone Unturned

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The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential... These are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.

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Marc is a middle school teacher and coach but also works with distance runners online. I help distance runners around the globe by providing support, writing customized training plans, and designing workouts to help them reach their racing goals. I write for my blog every Wednesday morning and newsletter every Friday morning.