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Run zones

Run zones


The first thing you need to do is complete your 30 minute threshold field test. Here is a summary of how to complete this:


Warm Up:  5 mins in Z1-Z2 (easy/steady).

Main Set: 
Run/jog for 30 mins at the fastest pace you can maintain for the duration. Try to keep a steady pace but if you need to take walk breaks that is OK. Record your average pace and ideally average heart rate too. 

Warm Down: Get warm or dry clothes on and walk for 5 mins. Optional gentle stretching session after.


Having completed your 30 minute field test, you should now know your average pace per km, ie your threshold run pace. If you read below for some background in run intensity you will come to the calculator under the 'Functional Threshold' section. Otherwise, click the button below which will take you to a google document to work out the calculations.






Once you know your threshold running pace, you can compare it against any previous tests you may have done to track your progress. If you did a 10km or 10 mile race to test your threshold pace, you can also start to predict what time you might achieve for various other race distances. There are numerous race predictors, but Runners World have some of the best.


How intensity is measured in running


1. Heart Rate
  • This is an input measure and is affected by many external and internal variables like heat, sleep, recovery level, caffeine intake, etc.​

  • I mostly prescribe heart rate zones for training sessions that are low intensity. (Zone 1 - Active Recovery or Zone 2 - Aerobic Endurance or "long slow distance").

  • Heart rate lags by approximately 3 minutes before it stabilizes at the level of the output you're producing.

  • In VO2max type of hard workouts with short intervals, heart rate is not a very useful measure.

2. Pace
  • A direct measure of output of what you producing and getting out of your running.

  • This has limitations with terrain and wind that affect pace.

  • As soon as we get quality training sessions like Zone 3 - Tempo, Zone 4 - Threshold, and Zone 5 - VO2 max, then I would use pace zones and not heart rate zones to prescribe workouts.

  • A more precise prescription compared to heart rate.

3. Power
  • A direct measure of output of what you're producing and getting out of your running.

  • The power you produce is always an objective measure regardless of if the terrain is uphill or downhill or into a headwind (or soon - headwinds are still not accounted for today by most power meters, but will be in the future).

  • Not everyone uses running power meters yet.

Training zones in running

Essentially the same as in cycling.....Andy Coggan's zones for cycling uses 6-7 zones.

For running we will use just five, which is the the first 5 zones in the Coggan system.

Zone 1 - Active recovery

Very easy recovery runs.

  • Most age group triathletes don’t need to do this run.

  • But if you’re a runner doing large volumes of training, you definitely need this one.

Zone 2 - Aerobic endurance
  • This is your bread and butter runs to build volume safely and effectively, not going too hard, easy conversational pace but not as slow as active recovery runs.​

  • This is basically the intensity of your long and slow distance runs.

Zone 3 - Tempo
  • This is often the race pace intensity for many triathlon and running distances.​

  • Not as high as threshold. Functional threshold is the intensity that you can hold for one hour in a race.

  • For example, in an Olympic distance race, many triathletes will be running at an above threshold pace, and some would be just around threshold. When you go up to half distance or full distance triathlons then Zone 3 will be the zone that you would be running, or possibly Zone 2 in a marathon of an Ironman.

  • This zone is still a good zone to train for an olympic distance race because you can get a lot of stress even if the pace is slightly slower.

Zone 4 - Threshold
  • Threshold is the intensity that you can hold for one hour in a race situation.

  • Classic workout examples would be a continuous 20 minute run at threshold pace or power, or 3x10 minutes with 4 minutes jog recoveries.​

Zone 5 - VO2max / aerobic capacity
  • These are hard intervals of just a few minutes each.

  • A classic example would be 5x3 minutes with 2 minutes jog recovery and the intensity here is 5k pace or faster.

Functional Threshold


  • Training zones are based on percentage points of the functional threshold. Whether we are talking about heart rate, pace, or power zones, you will always have a functional threshold heart rate, functional threshold pace, and functional threshold power.​

  • Power, pace, and heart rate zones are always certain percentages of those functional thresholds.

  • Here’s a spreadsheet that I have borrowed from Scientific Triathlon that you can download and use to enter your threshold values, heart rate, pace or power and it will quickly give you your training zones.

  • But you do need your threshold values that is obtained through the 20 minute field test, as in your training programme.


How to train using running zones

We are all different so there is no one answer here. Just a disclaimer, unless I coach you directly 1-1, the following examples are just suggestions - because these are not one size fits all frameworks 🙂

  • But here are some examples for your reference:

    • If you run 2 days a week, 1 run would be a longer run in Zone 2, the other would be a Zone 4 or 5 quality workout depending on where you are in your season.

    • If you run 3 days a week, 1 run would be a longer run in Zone 2, then a Zone 4 or 5 quality threshold or VO2 max interval workout, then the 3rd run would be a brick run which would also be intense in Zone 3 or 4 but not too long, 10-20 minutes is plenty. 30 minutes at most when you're getting deep into your race preparations.

    • If you run 4 days a week, a Zone 2 long run, Zone 4 or 5 quality workout, then just a Zone 1 or 2 volume building workout, and a brick run in Zone 3 or 4.

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