I'm a newbie to triathlon, coming from a not particularly running background. I committed and bought a watch with an HR strap and have been trying to commit to a structured training program rather than just ad hoc as I have been for the last couple of years running. What I have been finding however, is that when running, I've been really struggling to keep my heart rate down in the zone 2-3 range as frequently prescribed in the plan. Zone 4 starts at 85% max heart rate. (My MHR calculated on a track, not algorithm. 2 BPM lower for bike than running). Perhaps unintuitive to myself, while cycling (either on my spin bike, or outside), something I have spent less time on historically except daily commuting, I find it much easier to stay within the recommended heart rate zones. Should I really be running 9 minute miles and slower at times when training for an Olympic distance triathlon, given my last half marathon time was 1:33?
For most athletes, base training is well-underway as we inch closer to Spring and the first events of the race season. If you are new to triathlon perhaps you have been learning about the importance of training in specific HR zones and applying these strategies in an effort to improve upon your previous performances. Whether you are just becoming acquainted in training with a HR monitor or have been using one for years, we all need to spend the proper amount of time building that aerobic base. One of the main benefits of using a HR monitor in training is to keep your effort in check in the early base and build phases. It basically becomes a 'governor 'on your work rate. We are forced to slow down to what seem like pedestrian paces for steady, aerobic runs. Not an easy thing to do if we have historically been training with no rhyme or reason and likely have been spending too many miles in the physiological “no man’s land” – a grey area where you aren’t going fast enough to reap any benefits for expanding your threshold and aren’t going easy enough to see any aerobic gains.
While the slower paces will initially seem foreign, if you stay true to training in the proper zones, your body will make the necessary adaptations and you should see progress with being able to run at a faster pace at the same HR over time. It takes discipline and commitment to the big picture goals to stay true to this type of aerobic training, but it seemed to have worked alright for six-time Ironman World Champion Mark Allen who is known to have walked parts of his early season runs in order to keep his HR in check. Less experienced athletes who have never gone through a season of training cycles will likely need a longer base phase to really focus on the development of a sound aerobic foundation.
While aerobic training is the primary focus for our winter training, I do believe there is value with including small doses of quality year-round. One way to incorporate this into your aerobic base training at lower HR zones is by inserting 10-20x30’’ strides during one of your steady aerobic runs. The efforts are short enough and at a controlled, moderate pace that they will not detrimentally impact the goal of building your aerobic engine while still allowing you to stay in touch with some leg speed. Applying patience and allowing your body to re-wire itself with this focused training will prove fruitful long-term.
For most athletes, the bike HR zones are going to be 10-20 beats lower across the board compared to run HR zones. For example, if an athlete does a standard 30’ bike evaluation and has an average HR over the final 20’ of 155, this would reflect the athlete’s bike LT. Provided the athlete is relatively conditioned and not just coming off the couch, it is reasonable to expect the run LT for this athlete to be mid 160s or higher. To get the most out of our training, it is best to have separate HR zones for both the bike and run and not rely on one general formula for both. Field tests of 30’ seem to be one of the more accurate and repeatable to assess progress over time. If an athlete sees her/his HR climbing into z3-4 for what should be steady aerobic endurance sessions, then it will require discipline to back off the gas and likely run at much slower paces. See more on HR Lactate Threshold Field Testing.
Train smart now to race fast later!