Improve your running, get in the Zone… Zone 2 that is!

Let me preface this by saying if you are already a Zone 2 convert then this post is not for you as you have already learned the secret and it would be a pretty safe bet to assume you are reaping the benefits. 

However, it seems lockdown has pushed a lot more people to get outside and get running. I’m guessing a good percentage of these will not continue to run when they can get back to their old routines but some will. Some will have started to find that place where running starts to suck a little less and actually becomes something (almost) enjoyable. 

Maybe thats you, or maybe you’ve been a runner for a long while now but you’ve never heard of Zone 2 or you’ve heard of it but not bothered to look into what it actually means. Well lucky for you, I’m going to break it down and make it real simple for you. 

Zone 2 training is probably the best tool available to improve your running, especially if you want to get faster over longer distances. This is also the perfect solution for those of you that struggle to breathe properly whilst running. 

Zone 2 refers to heart rate zone 2 so in order to unlock this magic you will need a heart rate monitor, preferably of the chest strap variety (as these are way more accurate than the monitor in the watch on your wrist). 

Your Heart Rate Zones

Zone 1 – 65% to 79%
Zone 2 – 80% to 89%
Zone 3 – 90% to 94%
Zone 4 – 95% to 99%
Zone 5 – 100% + 

% of what ????

I know, I know.. the next question is % of what exactly and the answer is your Lactate Threshold. 

It is better to work off your Lactate threshold rather than Max Heart as this gives better results for running performance and it is easier to work out your Lactate Threshold than Max Heart Rate; no Max Heart Rate is not 220 minus your age. It’s a calculation used as it’s better than nothing but wildly inaccurate for a lot of people and doesn’t take into account he myriad of factors that affect your heart rate. 

What is my Lactate Threshold?

Put as simply as possible the lactate threshold is defined as the fastest pace you can run without generating more lactic acid than your body can utilise and reconvert back into energy. I’m sure you’ve all experienced that uncomfortable burning in the muscles when working at high exertion. That burn is lactic acid! 

How do I calculate my Lactate Threshold 

With an uncomfortable 20 minute max effort run.
This must be completed while feeling rested and refreshed – Do not do this under fatigue!
Here are the steps to follow…

1) Ensure you can record your run on a device that will record your heart rate for your 20 minute effort. 

2) Put your heart rate monitor on (if you have a chest strap)

3) 10 minute warm up run. Gentle pace but with 2 or 3 sprint intervals that spike your heart rate as high as you can. Ensure the last spike allows for 2 minutes easy recovery.
Do not record this warm up on your watch or if you do make sure it can be separated from your 20 minute effort.
You do not want heart rate data from your warm up mixed in with the data from your 20 minute effort. 

4) 20 minute max effort run. Basically ensure your watch starts when you start and run as hard as you can for 20 minutes.
Distance is not important, only time and your effort.
Stop the watch after 20 minutes.
If you do not go as hard as you can the data will not be accurate, which means your work following this test will not yield the best performance improvement possible. Make sure you give this your all. It will hurt, it will not be any kind of fun but it is important and necessary.

5) Recover! Make sure you take some time to walk off the effort.
Please do not finish the 20 minutes and then just collapse on the ground. Take a few minutes, walk around the park/block. whatever. 

6) Workout your Lactate Threshold – yay… at last I hear you say, and it’s really simple;
Your Lactate Threshold =  your AVERAGE Max heart rate for the 20 minute effort. 

Now what? 

Now, you add Zone 2 runs into your programme. Some of the best runners and endurance athletes do nearly all their training in Zone 2. All you do is go for your planned run and keep your heart rate in Zone 2.

Sounds easy huh? ell, it is easy but it is also hella frustrating when you first start out. It’ll be frustrating as I can can pretty much guarantee you will end up walking a lot because as soon as you run your heart rate shoots into zone 3 and above.
I usually advise people to start with 5k. If you haven’t got to that distance yet then you do whatever you can.

The key to Zone 2 training is patience and perseverance. Because you end up walking a lot in the beginning many, many runners give up, claiming it can’t be doing any good. Oh how wrong they are.
For maybe the first month it might feel like a pointless exercise but just hold on, good things come to those who wait. 

Once you manage that first 5k where you can run the whole way and that heart rate stays in the right place you are well and truly on your way.
You will soon find you can run that 5k at your old pace but in Zone 2, where it feels soooo much easier than it used to. Then you start increasing distance and soon you are running long distance, at a great pace, all in Zone 2 where you feel comfortable and in complete control. 

Don’t Get to Comfortable   

Just remember to retest your Lactate Threshold every 3 months or so. The heart is a muscle and like every muscle, the more you train it the fitter it gets.

To continue getting great results you must ensure you are working with accurate information. 

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  • Mastering Heart Rate Zones for Peak Endurance Performance
  • Setting your HR Zones & How to Judge Progress
  • How to Test your Lactate Threshold
  • Why Lactate Threshold trumps Max Heart Rate for Endurance Training
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