Keeping Your Heart Rate in Zone 1 and 2

author : mikericci
comments : 6

I am a new runner and my heart rate spikes with a very small increase in effort. So, when I run 2 or 3 miles (non-stop), I jump up to Zone 3, 4, and 5 almost immediately. What can I do?

Member Question

I've been training now for almost one year.  I started off with the Couch to 5K plan for run training.  I've lost about 30 pounds from 258 so I'm definately getting more fit but still have a long way to go.  I've competed in two sprint triathlons and have another in early September and another in October.  I average a 12:00/mile run pace.  My goal for next year is to step up for an Olympic distance triathlon.  I've read quite a bit about the need to run in Heart Rate Zone 1 and 2 for endurance. 

My concern is that my heart rate spikes with a very small increase in effort. So, when I run two or three miles (non-stop), I jump up to zone 3, 4, and 5 sometimes within the first 1/2-mile.  I've tried to run slower but it still goes up pretty quick and my running form is less efficient.  I've started to throw some walking in on the "long run" to try and get it back down but I can't get it back to Zones 1 or 2.  I guess my question is should I or how can I refocus my run training to hit the Zone 1-2 range on a more consistent basis?

Answer by Mike Ricci
USAT Level III Coach, D3 

My first question for you is how did you determine your HR zones? Did you do a 5k, 10k or a 30 minute test? If you did and have laid out your zones according to the race or test, then we are off to a good start. 

Your situation is not uncommon for people who are starting out in running. There are a few options and here is how I would lay it out for you. If you are running three days a week, then I would make one day your longer day (add 10% to the time each week). I would make your 2nd day a run off the bike, even if it’s only 10-15 minutes. And your third run would be a ‘run as you feel’ run and I’ll explain that in a minute. 

So, for your longer run, I would take walk breaks and do everything necessary to keep the HR down, no matter how slow you have to go. You’ll become more efficient quicker than if you discard the heart rate restrictions and run as you wish. I would implement a run / walk strategy and that could involve running 5 minutes and walking 3 minutes. You’ll have to find the right rhythm for you, but experiment and you’ll find it. 

For your brick run I would keep that one super easy as well. I wouldn’t use the run / walk method but I would keep it as easy as possible. Each week it will take longer and longer until you see the HR rise into the Z3 and Z4 zones. 

For your 3rd run of the week, I would run as you feel. Wear the heart rate monitor, pay attention to it, but don’t let it dictate how you run. Run as you feel and if your heart rate rises into Z3 and Z4, just keep running. After a few weeks, hopefully the heart rate will come down more in line with Zone 2. 

If you were to run a 4th time during the week, then keep it short, like the brick run and keep the HR below Zone 3. Eventually, you’ll improve your pace with the same heart rate and you won’t have a problem keeping the heart rate in Zone 2.

Give yourself some time and be patient, and you’ll see some great results!


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date: September 24, 2012