Friday, January 11, 2013

Chris' Happy Heart Rate Zones

Arthur Lydiard? Ernst Van Aacken? Roy Benson? Phil Maffetone? What do these names have in common? Great coaches who utilized heart rate (or effort-based) training zones. I've been playing around with their various target zones for several years now. And I've come to a conclusion...I don't need any of them. I have my own zones!

I am calling my new feeling-based zones Chris' "Happy Heart Rate Zones." Why? Because they make me happy. Not too fast, not too slow, and each has a purpose. Lately I've been running at whatever paces or efforts feel good to me. I seem to settle into three basic zones: easy, moderate, and hard (but not too hard). Those three efforts are not that unique, but what is different, is that I've tracked what my heart rate is in each of those feeling-based zones. Here are my three zones. The "in the zone" heart rate is where I seem to settle into when I'm cruising along in that particular effort level.

Heart Rate Zone = 115-135
"In the Zone" HR = 130
This is my easy aerobic zone. Basic conditioning. Mostly fat burning. I'm never breathing hard in this zone, but I still am making an effort. In the past, my "easy" zone was too easy and actually felt uncomfortable. Why run at an uncomfortable "easy" pace? If I'm going to be uncomfortable, I should be running a lot faster! Easy should feel easy, relaxed, and comfortable. I can run forever in this zone. Well, maybe not indefinitely, but this is certainly 30+ mile territory. Never taxing.

Heart Rate Zone = 136-156
"In the Zone" HR = 145
This is still mostly aerobic, but toward the higher end. I need to push just a bit to get into this zone, but once there, it's easy to keep it going. Still not breathing hard, but the legs are moving faster. This is officially still in Lydirad's (and Benson's) easy zone. It's not completely easy for me, so I call it moderate. Seriously less effort than a tempo run, but harder than a basic easy run. I can do this for a couple of hours. I'll feel a bit spent after a long effort here, but still ready to go again tomorrow. Short runs in this range leave me with more energy than when I started. Pretty sweet zone!

Heart Rate Zone = 157-167
"In the Zone" HR = 165
This is my tempo run pace. Not extremely hard, but definitely a concerted effort. Just pushing up to the lactate threshold boundary (for me, around 170-172). My breathing is slightly faster, but not truly labored (which happens when I cross the LT threshold around 172). This is what Lydiard and Benson would call "sub-threshold" running. I can stay here for 20-50 minutes. The shorter efforts bring renewed energy, the longer ones a bit of fatigue. I'm not completely spent after these runs, and I can run the next day with just a hint of soreness.

As an ultrarunner, I don't do much speed work. Maybe I should. I find the risk-reward equation to be too risky for me. Tempo runs, or sub-threshold runs, seem more appropriate. With an average of 6 runs per week, I figure I'll split them up into 3 easy, 2 moderate, and 1 hard. That's Chris' simple "Happy Heart Rate Training." I encourage you to follow an "effort-based" (HR-based) training program...but don't blindly follow other's suggestions...find your own zones!  Happy running.


Jake Wyatt said...

Chris, I think you've hit the nail on the head in your approach.

I'm still in the relatively early stages of finding the best HR training zones, and I'm pretty sure that's the key - finding what truly works best for me. The various formulas and guidelines of the heart rate training gurus are a great place to start, but the real work comes in figuring out how the training ranges need to be adjusted for an individual's needs.

It's a shame that some runners come across the Van Aacken or Maffetone concepts, try out the default computed training ranges, then conclude after a week or two that they simply don't work, or that the concepts behind them are flawed. I'm convinced that once a person puts in time enough to discover the appropriate zones FOR THEMSELVES, training becomes more enjoyable and effective.

Congratulations on finding yours!

Chris said...


You are correct! I've struggled with various formulas and not paid enough attention to how I FEEL when running--then translate those feelings to HR ranges. I'm excited.

Brad Williams said...


I've had some of the same issues in the past and I've used Tums with success but I think I liked ginger chews even better. The flavor is so intense it wipes out that I've been eating gels for hours taste in your mouth and does wonders for my stomach.

Chris said...


My wife loves those ginger chews, maybe I should give them another try. They are intense.