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training zones confusion

The more I read on this, the more I seem to get confused. When I was at PE college, and teaching GCSE PE, zones were based on %of HRmax. Most HRM still seem to use this - my Suunto t3 has zone1 60-70%, z2 at 70-80%, z3 at 80-90%. I've always used this method when running and cycling. Now I see articles that talk about setting zones based on LT thresholds, others on FTP using power meters, or that training at 80-85% is ineffective as it is neither aerobic or anaerobic but a bit of both, and others besides.
As a recreational athlete, training about 4 times per week, I'm not going to be buying a power meter, or attend a lab test for threshold measurement. What is the best method to use for a plodder.
Also, I seem to have difficulty running at less than 85% max hr, even when running some 2-3 mins slower per mile - any slight incline sends my HR up. I have regularly run for upto 1hr with a HR over 90% on my HRM but even running slowly it rarely reaches into the 70's even downhill. My max Hr is set at 183bpm, higher than the calculated one on the HRM, I'm 42, 13st 10 and 6ft 1in, wit 16% body fat according to the scales. However even if this is a couple of beats out, that will not drastically alter the hr range for each zone.
Any one got any plain, simple advice for some one trying to get fitter and make the best use of limited training time.


  • largeadelargeade Posts: 166
    My HRM is 180ish (seen 173 recently), age 41, 6'3", 89kgs, running LT=165 ish. Getting old is clearly bad. When interval training I regularly bump into heart rate induced plateaus in speed, when I've still got loads left in the legs/lungs.

    I'm doing really well using 3-day a week pace training, which I've never done before. Off the back of two HIMs I've just completed week 8 of http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/general/t ... /2493.html

    It makes you pick a recent best 10km time and calculates pace from there. I chose a stretch goal of my 10km PB of 47mins, probably 2 mins faster than I could at the start of the plan

    Yesterday I managed the 13.1miler at 1hr45, a half-m pb 7 mins quicker than I've done before.

    Following this plan has shown me that so long as I get the nutrition right I can 17 miles at 150bpm 5:19/km. I ran the 13miler at 159bpm, 5:00/km pace. If you've not got GPS you have to run a loop with marker points to keep the pace steady - no going out quick, no slowing down.

    Its the concentration on pace and interval work that I've never ever done before which has caused a massive speed up for me. Its hard, theres no doubt, but its paying dividends.

    I'm confused about zones too. There are so many, and each plan uses a different one. Pace seems independent of this and its working for me.

    fyi http://www.mcmillanrunning.com/mcmillan ... ulator.htm too.

  • HarryDHarryD Posts: 425
    Ade, don't be too surprised that you are achieving results based on your race pace rather than HR zones. It's how a lot of us athletics coaches try & get our athletes to train. It seems to have fallen out of favour as there is generally nothing to sell & no high tech gadgets to buy. That is until GPS with pacing came along - potentially a very usefull tool if used correctly (a very big IF there).

    If you can't judge pace in terms of minutes/km or are going off road you could use your HR obtained in a race (or races) & recalculate for endurance, tempo & interval sessions.

    As for three sessions per week training - have read the article. Even that could be overtraining. A mate of mine used to run four 20mile training runs 5, 4, 3 & 2 weeks before his annual marathon. Took the week off before to taper & always went sub 3 hours. The rest of the year it was 2 or 3 easy run a week. Certainly not a natural athlete & certainly lacking the build of a runner.

  • largeadelargeade Posts: 166
    Thanks for the feedback Harry.

    I've been running on and off for 4-5 years, before starting tri 2 years ago, but have never actually pushed myself before this year. Pretty much this was just down to plain laziness (who needs pain?), but also due to being scared of injury.

    But having done the HIM training its clear that what I was missing was bike training (err.. and the correct orthotic prescription, and compression socks to keep my calfs intact). I now have far more stability when running.

    So in addition to the plan I'm currently doing a 50min hard turbo and a 2hr ride with hills, and an optional 1hr swim. With a bit of plank work total weekly load is under 8 hours. I'm finding that I am looking forward to the run sessions a great deal, so I think I'm on track and avoiding over training.

    But unfortuantely I dont think that I'm going to get 3hrs off minimal training. Inury experience implies I cant increase mileage by more than 10% a week and at 159bpm for the 13miler I was quite close to the edge: at 3.3 gels an hour I was slightly bonking after 70mins, getting out of it with the next gel, and then falling back in just before the next. I'm big so next run I'm going to try 4 gels an hour, with a bucket ready; I've never tried it, so who knows if it will work.

    Hopefully fitness will improve as the plan moves on as I would be over the moon with 3h30.

    Thanks again,
  • HarryDHarryD Posts: 425

    Thanks for the post.

    I wouldn't recommend anyone increases their mileage by more than 5 - 10% per week. Consistency, progressive increases in training load and recovery will pay dividends - certainly more than quick fix solutions. One of the reasons for the "success" of the three sessions a week plan is that those three components are there. Also subjects of scientific studies also behave differently to Joe Public - they probably did the training exactly as prescribed. I once trained up a group of 20+ fun runners and we had similar results. Most of the sessions were supervised by me or other coaches.

    I'm worried about your level of gel consumption. It seems to me excessive. Two of the main purposes of the long weekly run are to train the body to burn more fat as a fuel and to train it to store more glycogen. Burning more fat (and the body has more than enough to see you through many marathons) helps eek out the stores of glycogen. Most good club runners who train for a marathon will be able to store enough glycogen to see them through to 90 minutes or more of racing. Elite runners with glycogen loading type diets can boost this to over 2 hours.

    If you are always topping up your energy levels with gels & the like the body doesn't adapt to either storing the glycogen or improving it's fat utilisation capability. It uses the easiest form available - glucose etc from the gel. This does't mean you shouldn't use gels but could possibly benefit from changing your training and racing nutrition a bit.

    Google "glycogen depletion" training and see what comes up. Cyclists have been using it for years. A typical session would be to go for a run or ride first thing without breakfast (or any other form of carbohydrate or fat based food), black tea or coffee is ok. It would be a long steady ride. Nothing is eaten until well into the ride. For example you may do 30 minutes before having a gel or jam sarnie and continuing the ride. Next time it would be 40 minutes and so on until you can go 90 to 120minutes without eating. This is hard uncomfortable training as you will be using a lot of fat so don't expect to be sparky at first. Also if you feel unwell eat & don't do the first few rides alone. This sort of training can develop your onboard fuel systems so lessening dependancy on gels while developing endurance. Gels can then be used to supplement body glycogen during long races. No bucket required & you wouldn't have to carry 14 gels.

  • largeadelargeade Posts: 166
    Thanks for the feedback, its very much appreciated. I know I'm reliant on gels but havent worked out how to fix it. Those links look promising, and I could certainly do with losing another 8lbs.

    Its hard to put everything on a forum, but hopefully I can reassure you I've been working on it...

    Following the plan, when I ran the first 15 miler @5:19/km I used 280kcal total (High5) which had worked up to 14 miles. I bonked terribly just after 1hr50m and pace dropped off to 6:00+/km pace rapidly and continued south.

    So when I ran the 17 miler I dropped the high 5 and went for a powerbar gel every 23mins (2laps) - 279kcal per hour. It went perfectly, pace did not drop, and I could have continued.

    I only had 6 hours sleep prior to the 13.1 mile TT which may have affected it. I started out using the same 23min gel strategy, but when I bonked at 70mins I had to switch to a gel every 1.5laps and got round in a PB without dropping pace. Actually I let my body tell me when it needed it rather than taking them on schedule, but it roughly matched the 1.5 lap timing. Working it out, the increased rate was "only" 366kcal per hour.

    So on this evidence I'm pretty certain I can do the marathon at 5:19/km pace on a reasonableish 279kcal per hour. But if I want to go faster currently I need to eat more.

    Is that as bad as you feared?

    I actually dont mind the feeling of bonking (and I must be thick because it took me a long time to workout it wasnt dehydration) but the drop in pace is appalling and doesnt feel like good training to plod round in what I suspect is equivalent to an ironman shuffle. Certainly happy to do it if its going to help.
  • HarryDHarryD Posts: 425

    Obviously what works best for you should be your race strategy. What effect the long term consumption of gels is on the body is I couldn't comment. Maybe a diabetes doctor or clinical nutritionalist will be able to answer. However, I wouldn't think it would be good.

    Training the body to live efficiently off it's own fuel reserves seems to me the way forward but it does need a systematic approach to forcing those adaptions. It's how all athletes used to train. Maybe it is the way endurance athletes shold once again train.

    When the London marathon started there were no real energy drinks or nutrition strategies based on lab results funded by the makers of such products. There was Staminade (a foul brew of electrolytes & glucose) but this wasn't too popular. In the late 1980's my running club would expect 5 or 6 members to beat 3 hours. These days it is more like a member will break 3 hours every 5 or 6 years. 3 hours was the realistic target time. Now sub 3:30 or even 4:00 is. Over the same 25 year period the aspiration time for 10k has dropped from 36min to 40min. I'm taking about a club composed of recreational runners throughout the period.

    In general over the period when we've had huge amounts of reseach into race nutrition, greater awareness of sport science and the best possible racing kit ever why are results getting worse? Taking the London Marathon as an example between 2002 & 2010 (the only results I could find) the average finish time increased from 4:20 to 4:32. To finish in 2,500th place in 2002 you would need to run 3:13:28, in 2010 3:15:31, 16,250th (half the field in 2002) place slowed from 4:17:36 to 4:20:31. It would be interesting to compare earlier results. The trend is to become slower when the research & the products should be making us faster!

    So no real advice there just a few questions as to whether all this progress is actually taking us forward. I remain to be convinced.

    Enjoy your training & your races. It's why we do them in the first place.


  • largeadelargeade Posts: 166
    Thanks Harry, I take your point ;-)

    I'll suck up the pain for a bit and see how it goes. Its only mental after all.
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