Training zones are something that seem complicated at first but are actually very simple! They can be measured by pace, heart rate or RPE but considering the number of variability in the measurement of pace and heart rate we use RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion).
RPE Explained – This is a self assessed scale of effort from 1-10, in running terms 1 is a gentle walk and 10 is a full gas sprint. This will be used to explain the zones, along with some descriptions of the sensations you may feel when running in a given zone.
This is your recovery pace. This should be no higher than a 3/10, talking should be comfortable and it shouldn’t feel much harder than a brisk walk. If a run is prescribed in zone 1 – DO IT SLOWLY! There is no benefit to going faster than the plan says.
This is a steady pace, it should feel easy but may become challenging toward the end of a longer run or when running on tired legs. The RPE for a zone 2 run, often referred to as a ‘steady run’, should be 3-5 though this is often dependent on how you feel on a given day. You should be able to speak comfortably in full sentences and your heart rate should remain steady. You should feel in control. If your usual steady pace feels hard on a given day, don’t be afraid to slow down and run it a little easier.
Now we are starting to get to a slightly harder effort! In zone 3 you should feel your heart rate be higher (but not the THUD THUD THUD of a really hard effort). This should be a 5-7 /10 on the RPE scale and you should be able to speak in short, but fairly full, sentences. This is the sort of effort you can maintain for around 90 minutes. This zone is often referred to as ‘subthreshold’ or ‘uptempo’.
This is the sort of effort you can maintain between 30 and 60 minutes and should be an RPE of 7-8/10. This is commonly known as ‘tempo’, or ‘threshold’. You should be able to manage very short sentences but you will feel your heart rate rising slowly at this effort. Intervals of 5-8 minutes are common in this zone.
This is the hard zone. The kind of effort you can maintain around 15 minutes. This zone is 8-9/10 and should feel very hard. You should just about manage to talk in single words.
Pretty much as fast as you can run… we don’t prescribe many intervals in this zone apart from some fast 400s or 200s. Just imagine you’re sprinting for the line in ‘Chariots of Fire’.