Run Training by Heart Rate Zones

author : mikericci
comments : 0

How and when to include speed sessions, tempo training and hill training into your running program.

Member Question

I have been a runner for two years now (completed four half marathons) but have just recently bought a heart rate monitor after hearing other people talk about its benefits. I found my maximum heart rate (MHR) to be 190 and my resting heart rate (RHR) to be 45. I try to run at the 70-75% range and cannot believe how slow my pace is. Will this pace get faster at the same heart rate over time and what type of running schedule would you suggest? I currently run four times per week with my longest distance being ten miles every Sunday morning. 

Should all my weekly runs be done at 70-75% or should I do one hill session and a tempo run as well? 

All my running buddies have left me in the dust due to my newly found pace. Also, is it typical to get slower each mile while maintaining a constant heart rate? 

Answer from Mike Ricci
USAT Level III Triathlon Coach 

First off, I’m happy to hear you are now training with a heart rate monitor. It’s a great tool, if used properly. With that being said, I am not a fan of the max heart rate (MHR) test, as I do believe there are too many variables that will affect MHR on any given day.

My recommendation would be to re-test using a threshold test or jumping into a 5k or 10k race. This way you can line up your threshold heart rate along with your running pace. Use these two metrics along with your RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) and you’ll have a very solid idea of where your running pace / HR / effort should be.

Once you conduct the threshold test, then you can figure out your training zones using the heart rate zone calculator on your training log page here. As a general rule of thumb, you will subtract about 20 beats from your threshold heart rate (average HR over the 30 minute test), and this will be around your Zone 2 HR. 75-80% of your training should be done in Zone 2. The other 20-25% can be a mix of tempo effort, threshold efforts (for example, hill repeats), and finally as you tune up for race season, some faster, race-paced type efforts.

Zone 2 and speed sessions

Here is a small example of how to start out a season if you are a relative beginner: 6-20 weeks of lots of Zone 2 training, with 1-2 speed sessions per week. Speed sessions consist of running for less than one minute at 5k to 10k pace. A good set to start out with is 4x20 seconds, with full rest between the efforts.

Tempo training phase

After you’ve finished the basis of your training, it’s time to add in some tempo work. I would start with something like 15 minute warm up, then 10 minutes of tempo effort (Z3 and slower than 10k pace), then a nice easy cool down. You can build this tempo effort up to 2x20, 3x15, or even 2x30 if you like. During this period you will continue to do your speed sessions. This period can last anywhere from 4-6 weeks.

Hill repeats

For the next period of training, I would add in hill repeats. I like to see these done at a 10k pace and lasting at least two minutes. If you don’t have a hill that long near your home or work, then you can use a parking structure or a treadmill. I would start with 4x2 minutes and if you can, build up to 15x2 minutes. This will certainly make you strong!

The final phase of training - race pacing

As you now approach your key races, you are about 6-10 weeks out and you can start to add on the last 1% - the frosting on the cake, as some like to call it. It’s time to do a few pacing sessions that are a mix of 200, 400, 600, 800, 1000 repeats and all the way up to two miles. These sessions are hard and will better prepare your body for race day.

An example of one of my favorite track sessions is: 1.5 mile warm up. Drills, then 6x100m fast, with 100m walking in between sets. Then the main set may be something like 4x200, 2x400, and 1x800. That’s 1.5 miles of speed and each week you could build on that workout by adding on the next layer. For week two, you could run 4x200, 2x400, 1x800, and 2x400. In week three you could add in the last set of 4x200 and so on. The rest should be an easy 200m jog. Your actual fast running should not exceed more than 10-15% of your weekly miles. If you are running 30 miles a week, then 3 miles of track work is enough. You can still add in tempo runs and mix in other short speed sessions as well. Mixing up the training and keeping it fresh and new every few weeks will lead to new breakthroughs this season. 

Mike Ricci is a Level III USA Triathlon Certified Coach and has been coaching endurance athletes since 1989. Mike founded D3 Multisport in 2000, and has slowly added top-notch, USAT certified coaches each year to handle the demand for high quality triathlon coaching. D3 Coaches have coached hundreds of athletes to their first triathlon and hundreds more to become Ironman Finishers. From 2002-2008, D3 was awarded the job of writing the training programs for the USA World Championship Teams. Mike currently coaches the three time defending Collegiate National Champion University of CO Triathlon Team.


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date: January 21, 2013