When a runner starts to dive more into how training actually works and methods of actually improving how well you run, inevitably you’ll come across training zones.
This can be helpful for appropriately managing how hard you run, making sure you’re running easy enough, and giving you some general guidance other than “going running today”.
But what happens if you’re (understandably) a little overloaded with information when it comes to heart rate zones, pace zone, and perceived effort zones?
I know it can be confusing, even more so when you realize that not everyone uses the same terms or definitions! But here I’ve laid out a few various training zones and how you can go about picking the best one(s) for you.
Why do you want training zones?
One of the biggest errors a runner can make is to do too much moderately hard running.
Contrary to what many believe, running should almost always be done at a relatively easy effort, an effort or speed that you can recite Shakespeare in its native Klingon fairly easily while running without being out of breath.
On the flipside, training zones can be nice guidance to make sure you’re not doing your harder workouts too hard. No need to destroy a workout of mile repeats! Go hard, to be sure, but there’s little reason to run them at best effort as many tend to do.
The ultimate goal here in making sure you’re running various workouts at the appropriate levels is
- True easy runs so you can get the runs and volume in without sacrificing recovery.
- Hard workouts so you get good training load but not overdoing it.
- Avoid continually accumulating fatigue week after week and thus increasing your injury or burnout risk.
So let’s break down how I like to use various training zones with my clients!
Training Zones for Easy Runs
With my clients I primarily use 2-3 different methods of making sure they are not running their easy runs too hard. It’s important to keep these truy easy so you can still have good run consistency and frequency but not accumulate fatigue that builds up over time.
The Maffetone Method is a nice way to make sure you keep your easy runs right. You can certainly read more about it as entire books have been written on the subject (https://amzn.to/3b3UO7y) but the short version is to take 180 minus your age, and whatever number you land on is your Max Aerobic Function, aka it’s a nice max heart rate to stay under for your easy general running, which should be about 75% of your total weekly volume for most runners.
A second method is perceived exertion, which is simply being aware of how easy or hard a run feels. I always share this graph (kylekranz.com/rpe) with my clients to best explain ratings of perceived exertion. The easy run should be comfortable, you can generally have a normal conversation during it and you should end the run with little fatigue. If you ran the first half slower than the second half, unintentionally, it’s often a good sign of an appropriately done easy run.
The third method of keeping your easy runs where they should be is nasal breathing. This is a tactic I picked up when I unexpectedly signed up for an ultra marathon and needed to get my long runs up in distance safely. I practiced only breathing through my nose on these runs as a means to force myself to slow down. The practice was a struggle at first but now I do it for most of my easy running without even thinking about it. I’ve had many clients really start to also enjoy nasal breathing! You can read more about the benefits at their youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBQwNB_YphlLqnOpAtEzZdg)
Training Zones for Workouts
When it comes to selecting training zones for workouts, I often change it up a bit.
First off, I consider a workout to be any run that’s not an easy run of less than 60 or maybe 90 minutes. Anything longer than that or with bouts of high-intensity running is what I often refer to as a workout.
Examples of various workouts may be:
- EZ 2 miles, 2 miles alternating MOD/HARD 1:00 + 2:00 JOG, EZ 2 mile cooldown
- Easy 15 miles + MOD5
- EZ2 mile warmup, 5 x 1k @ 4:00 km pace + 1:00 jog, EZ2 cooldown
How I like to personally and as a coach prescribe the zones for these workouts may depend on a number of factors.
If we’re 15-20 weeks out from the goal race and coming off a period of rest, you’re simply not going to be as fast as you would be 1-2 months out from the race. During times like these our workouts will likely be shorter and quicker and not quite as race specific as doing 3-10 miles at or near marathon goal pace (for example). So early on in a training campaign I like to still stick with perceived exertion for workouts of 30-90sec hill reps or 1:00-3:00 surges. Our speed is down, but most importantly, the speed does not matter at this time! We’re simply using these workouts as a means to prepare for the more important work to come.
And when that time does come, it’s nice to do longer workouts such as 1k or 1 mile repeats or 3-10 mile tempo runs with goal paces in mind.
I like having my clients do a short race or time trial every 4-6 weeks to get a fitness benchmark but also to give us an idea of what you should be running these workouts in. For example, if you can run a 10k race at a speed of 7:00 / mile, we can have an idea of what your workout goal paces will be. And for these longer workouts it’s nice to see and have a goal speed for them and not always estimate based on how you’re feeling.
But wait, there’s more!
We can dive into this more in depth but that’s outside the purview of our time together today.
But as a coach part of my job is filtering out what my clients don’t need to know, and it’s likely that you don’t need to know about VDOT, figuring out your max heart rate at this time, etc.
If you’re ready to have a teammate to chat about things like this with and figure out what method is best for you to use, and when, then I can help you along that path. You just need to take the first step forward by filling out the contact form at kylekranz.com/pbrcoaching
– Coach Kyle