Tag Archives: easy run pace

Heart Rate Training Zones: A New Approach

Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on Pexels.com

Heart Rate training zone systems take for granted that a fairly high level of sustained aerobic effort is comfortable or consistently sustainable for most people, which of course it’s not. Most runners just take for granted that it’s normal and never consider that what they consider “easy” or “recovery” is in fact still too hard.

One of the reasons a runner’s aerobic development improves more quickly than their neuromuscular development is because running itself is very demanding. On both fronts you’re being pushed very hard. However, your aerobic and hormonal capacities bounce back much more quickly than your muscles, bones and joints.

Still, it’s incredibly stressful on your body chemistry to go that hard that often, and the fatigue can snowball too quickly for you to be able to handle a high volume of that kind of aerobic training.

In my cross training, I find I need to go pretty hard to get to Zone 1 in most heart rate training zone systems‚Ķ somewhat too hard for the purposes of whatever cross training I’m doing. The level of effort require would leave me rather tired and possibly sore. This supposed recovery exercise ends up not helping me recover much at all.

It’s not that most runners are just stronger. They just spend all their lives in this perpetual fatigue, physical and adrenal. The long term effects on their health are taken for granted as aging or wear and tear, when in actuality it’s probably preventable‚Ķ without compromising your fitness or development.

My most recent heart rate zones of choice were a standard 50/60/70/80/90/100 split based on the Karvonen Formula, which uses heart rate reserve. This is a function of your resting and max heart rates, and the zones are proportioned against those rates. Zone 1 for example would be 50-60% of the gap between your resting and max heart rate (your “heart rate reserve (HRR)”), zone 2 60-70% of the HRR, etc.

With a max HR of around 184 beats per minute, this sets my minimum training heart rate around 120 (depending on what my resting heart rate is at that time), with zone 1 peaking at about 130-135. This is about where most heart rate zone systems would put zone 1, and is considered a “recovery” heart rate.

On the spin bike, even at a brisk but easy effort, my heart rate is around 105-110. On the ARC Trainer I can get to 125-130, but only with a more moderate effort. On the rowing machine, a concerted effort typically gets me to about 110-120.

However, when running, I rarely can cruise at a heart rate below 130, no matter how slow and easy I run. I basically have to stop and walk/run to average a zone 1 heart rate. This is not a product of lacking fitness: Even at my peak condition and training in Chicago, it took the right combination of circumstances for me to average 125-130 at an easy effort.


All of this is to say that maybe our view of heart rate zones and “recovery zones” is a bit warped and could use an adjustment.

This is especially true in our coronavirus circumstances, where if we go to the gym (and in many cases train outside) we need to wear a mask while while exercising. We can’t huff and puff at full volume and expect max results if a mask is filtering much of the air taken in or expelled. I’ve talked before about this being a long term training benefit, but in the present it makes the effort required for aerobic training a bit too much.

Bear in mind as well that, to maintain the typical intensity for a full volume of training, you have to consume a lot of carbohydrates, which can cause a variety of inflammatory health problems if consumed in the large amounts that most endurance athletes tend to require.

One of the reasons low-carb diets tend not to work well for endurance athletes is because they train at an intensity where they need a lot of glycogen, and that can only come from and be replenished from a carbohydrate rich diet.

Could it be possible to scale back carb consumption to a more (shall I say) human level, rely more on slower fat burning, and still be able to train, perform, and develop at a high level.

I say yes, and I say the key to doing so is combining (now-)traditional 80/20 training principles with a revised approach to heart rate zones.

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Half Marathon Training and Finding A Faster “Easy” Pace

Training for a Half Marathon, and running quicker on eays runs than before

Ambivalent about forming any 2021 training plans, I decided none the less to use one of Garmin’s automated training plans to build up for a hypothetical half marathon by the start of next year. Being in shape to run a half by January would get me in line to be ready for a late spring marathon… if coronavirus allows it to happen.

(Incidentally, BBSC Endurance currently plans to host the Lake Mead Marathon, Half Marathon and other races on January 9, 2021, which incidentally fell 18 weeks after I had started the half marathon program. So, if that Half Marathon happens, it would be a good goal race. We’ll see.)

Garmin’s automated training plans prep for either the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon or Marathon distance. You select a desired training schedule and time goal. You choose from one of three coaches, whose identity determines the algorithm that automatically prepares your training schedule. Garmin then has you do a brief 5 minute “benchmark run” to estimate your current fitness, from which your initial workout distances, intensities, schedules, etc, are set. This benchmark also clues you into how realistic your chosen pace goal may be.

I’ve built my own training schedules for years, but for many reasons decided this time around I’d prefer to let Garmin build it for me.

  • I have more schedule flexibility.
  • I’m doing other strength and cross training
  • Garmin tends to book shorter workouts, which is easier to get done.
  • I’m studying for certifications and working on other projects.
  • I wanted to train and build volume, but didn’t want to worry too much about how to go about it.
  • Not to mention… with coronavirus cancelling everything for a while, I had nothing to lose in trying things this way.

So this time around I used an automated plan.

Garmin’s three choices for coaching styles are:

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Pace goals and getting the most out of your easy runs

boy runs at the street while people looking at him

Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels.com

Let’s say you want to run a sub-4 hour marathon, and know your goal marathon pace is 9:00 per mile.

Many training plans advise your long runs be done at a pace about 60-90 seconds per mile slower, i.e. do your long runs at a 10:00-10:30 pace.

While this is not a bad idea, it’s rather difficult to do if you’re also not paying any mind to the general pace of your regular midweek easy runs. While you want those runs to be low-pressure, it may not be a bad idea to also have the same “pace goal” in mind for your regular midweek runs.

If the pace is practiced everyday in 3-8 mile chunks, then trying to do it for 2-3 hours becomes less daunting.

I understand the idea of these runs being “recovery runs” where you don’t want to put yourself under any pressure other than to run.

If you don’t struggle with focus and don’t struggle to maintain pace in a marathon, then sure, don’t worry about it. Just run.

If you don’t have a pace or time goal, then of course don’t worry about it. Just cover the distance or time required. Relax.

However, there are two camps that could benefit greatly from focusing on an “easy pace” in regular runs. I just brought up the first group: People looking to nail a time goal who also have a pace in mind for easy long runs.

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Your goal pace has an easy run pace

Most runners train for a race with a goal pace in mind. Many will train for that goal pace by running it in varying distances and durations during their training.

Various authors, most recently and notably Matt Fitzgerald in 80/20 Running, advocate building a solid base of mostly easy running from which you can do a bit of tempo-specific running each week. This makes sense since your ability to run fast won’t matter much without the aerobic development to sustain a desired pace over your desired race distance.

Jeff Gaudette of Runners Connect takes this a step farther. He actually posits that most runners already have the desired speed to run a goal pace, that what they lack and need to develop is the aerobic and neuromusucular fitness to sustain that pace for their desired race distance.

Gaudette has a good point. Whenever you are able, go outside and run as fast as you reasonably can (i.e. don’t hurt yourself). I imagine if your pace was measured you’d easily exceed your desired goal pace.

I also imagine you won’t be able to hold that fast-as-you-can pace for very long. Running at max speed, you’ll be winded and your muscles will be neurally screaming in seconds. I’ve done max speed reps for giggles a few times, and I find the longest I can reasonably go at that intensity is about 30-45 seconds.

When we do speedwork, we’re not really training ourselves to run faster. Most of us already can run pretty fast. What we’re training is the ability to hold a given speed over a desired distance, whether that distance is 400 meters, 5K, or a marathon. (Ultra distance runners by and large have other aerobic and endurance concerns during training aside from speed)

This is why many coaches say the goal of speedwork should be economy, i.e. refining your form and taking every step as efficiently as possible, so that when you run your races you’ve honed and improved the efficiency of every step.

I realize I’m digressing a bit. I mentioned easy pace for a reason. We focus a lot on speedwork, on our goal pace, while forgetting that every goal pace has a corresponding pace at other distances… as well as a corresponding regular and recovery run pace.

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