Understanding My Zones

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    Hi Everyone 🙂 I have read through a lot of forum posts, the resources here, and reading through the book. I’m still a bit wondering about my zones and the accuracy of them and would love any feedback. Going to give a bit of information for context, apologies if it’s too much!

    1. Trained for 2 sprint triathlons this year, in June and July. Now training for half-marathon on October 9. Indoor cycling last year after not having done much for a decade. Still lots of room for big % improvements, which is part of my struggle in establishing zones.

    2. Because of the tri’s, wasn’t doing a lot of running and not much RPE basis for understanding my zones and pacing.

    3. Did a mile test on the track to set my zones. Was probably around 85 degrees on the track, 80% humidity, which is also why I didn’t do a 20 minute test. Too dang hot and needed to get going on my plan.

    4. Mile test was 7:50, but my pacing was a little off, could have done better, plus based on weather studies, easy to assume my real time is 7:30, down to even 7:10. I’m using 7:30 as my basis for the 8020 zone calculator.

    5. Zones 1 and 2. For endurance and foundation runs, doable on pacing. When mixed with anything higher, zone 2 is sometimes not possible pacing wise, regardless of cardiac drift, and I have to drop into zone 1. Improving and I think within 2-4 weeks maybe not an issue re: pacing.

    6. Zone 4. This honestly feels like it might be too slow on pacing. 1 min intervals on the Fartlek run today wasn’t getting into zone 4 at all. I know it lags, but definitely feels low. But my very first run of this program, with 5 min zone 4 finish fast after 25 zone 1/2, pacing/hr was right on. But that was after more running to tire me out, and was my first run of the program. Definitely stronger now.

    7. I ran 800 meters in high school and I think my body is strongest at that kind of distance. So my experience is weirdly that my zones 1 and 2 are a little fast on pace, and zones 4 and 5 are too slow (with respect to hr zones).

    For an example workout, my fartlek run today. The pacing garmin records is kind of garbage, especially today, it was frequently off and lagging and not accurate for what you see. Warm-up was good in zone 1 and 2, no problems thankfully.

    Zone 4 runs I would start off a little too fast, slightly into zone 5, then settle into mid to high zone 4 pacing. I felt pretty good and my hr never even got to the top of zone 3, let alone Y or 4. Again, what Garmin shows in the stats isn’t right because of how much it lags, but I’m confident that I started each 1 minute run at around 7:30 or lower (unintentionally), than adjusting down to 7:40-8:10. However, in the rest I needed to walk a little bit so I could get my hr down into the top of zone 2. For the final cool down in zone 2, I was way over and had to do a lot of periodic walking.


    So I’m a little baffled on what to do!

    For testing, given I’m really still getting to know my pacing still, I know that the longer the distance, the more accurate my low zones will be, but my high zones will be off, and vice versa. Another example is the Half Monty and 4DP from Wahoo SYSTM (if you know those). I dominate by a good degree better on the shorter-ish Half Monty (bigger power outputs, even though they are testing the same thing).

    Any thoughts are most welcome!

    Leyla Porteous

    HI Ryanoelke,
    Not to over simplify but you have really just summed up the limitations of training to HR.
    You may want to consider switching to pace or power – which will remove a lot of those zone lag, zone discrepancy and weather related impacts you are experiencing with HR zones.


    Hey Leyla 🙂 Thanks for the reply! Ok, to clarify then: I was thinking that this meant that my pacing zone 4 was too slow, but maybe what you’re saying is that it might be right, even if it doesn’t get my hr up into hr zone 4? If that’s the case, I could just not worry about it 😛

    I’m still thinking that I might be faster that what the zone is set to pacing wise, but I’d rather be under than over 😛

    I’d worry about pace based only in my lower zones, that my hr would be up to high, and I’d be building up too much intensity. I have felt AMAZING switching to 80/20 approach, and being in the low intensity hr zone I think has been crucial.

    Leyla Porteous

    Hi Ryan,
    Yes that is the issue with using HR as a training metric – especially on shorter or longer sessions. Using pace or power gives you a more precise reading of your effort – and then you can cross check against your HR zones. You may have times where your HR zone is either lower or higher than the pace or power zone – as long as this disparity doesn’t bleed across more than 1 zone then you are all good.

    Example: Zone 2 run – you are running in your zone 2 pace zone, but it’s hot out – your HR might be in Zone X and that’s ok – but if it creeps into Zone 3, slow down your run pace.

    With our approach to training balance – when it comes to Low intensity work you can’t really go too slow when you are starting out. This low intensity aerobic work builds the strong foundation of fitness from which comes consistency and increased training load – which is what in the long run makes your faster,,,, get fitter to race faster…:)



    Thanks for this, Leyla! Super, super helpful. Puts my mind at ease 🙂 I had a good endurance run today where my zone 2 creeped up into zone x only towards the end, and mostly due to heat and some cardiac drift, so I knew not to worry about it and just kept steady at my pace.

    Definitely likely erring on the side of too slow as I always feel good afterwards 🙂


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