Trying to figure out what pace to aim for your (long) runs? If you’re training towards an endurance event, we recommend that runners consider pacing different weekly runs at different paces…. don’t always run the same pace! But the hardest thing to figure out is typically where to start – and in particular, what pace should I run for my long runs?
SHOULD I USE “HEART RATE” OR “PACE”?
Using Heart Rate is generally regarded as the “smarter” way to pace yourself for most endurance running purposes. But the best way to train is to be able to monitor both HR and PACE together. Specifically these are some reasons why HR is important:
- ENVIRONMENT – monitoring your HR will help you “listen to your body” and better adapt for your environment, including anytime you’re dealing with hills, wind, heat, humidity, etc.
- METABOLISM – You’ll be able to tailor your training towards your true metabolism to ensure that you can burn more fat for fuel in order to drop body fat more quickly by build endurance.
- FATIGUE / TRAINING STRESS – monitoring your HR both at rest and during workouts will help you gauge if you are recovering well or if you need to take a day off or simply go easier. Pace your runs and adjust your training based on recharging your “body battery” smarter!
- NEGATIVE SPLIT – less than 3% of marathoners are able to finish strong and negative split their races. “Bonking” is a common problem in endurance racing. Take this as a challenge in your next race to join the ranks of being a “smarter” athlete by practicing negative splitting your runs in training!
- INJURY PREVENTION – This is especially important when building your DISTANCE and VOLUME at the start of any training program. You can easily avoid injury by avoiding running too glycogen-depleted for too long (where muscles turn off and joints start taking too much load). Watching your HR is like having a car gauge “warning light” telling you when your tank is running low and overheating. Avoid having to take your engine into the shop!
- PERFORMANCE – if you have a time goal or “PR” focus and need to dial in an aggressive pace, you may focus more on pace, but you still want to watch your HR in order to optimize your performance by looking at your HR:Pace “Decoupling” factor. If your fueling, hydration, and effort level are all balanced, then your HR and pace will correlate. But when you start pushing too hard or your system becomes “off balance” you’ll notice your HR going up while pace stays the same (or pace dropping while HR stays the same). This is called “decoupling” and is a key performance metric to monitor in training and racing if you want to achieve your best!
STEP 1 – RUN A 5K!
You can determine run paces, using several calculators or estimations based on some “benchmark” runs like running a “best effort” 5k. Depending on your fitness level, build up to a 5k distance at a moderate pace first before attempting a “time trial” to benchmark your “best effort” fitness. The minimum should be to start running consistently for at least 1-2 weeks of training before adding any real “hard” efforts (and have clearance from your physician!). Generally speaking, your marathon or half marathon training pace should be about +2min/mile slower than your 5k pace, but there are more accurate methods to calculate with greater prevision.
HR TRAINING TIP: If you are in good heart health, run a 5k while wearing a HR monitor and finish with a “sprint” effort across the final finish line to help estimate your “Max HR”. Typically if you run for 15+ minutes at a progressively increasing effort and finish with a hard anaerobic “sprint” for at least 50 yards or more, you’ll likely get close to your true Max HR at the end, so this is generally a good way of estimating your Max HR! DISCLAIMER: ONLY PERFORM HARD EFFORTS IF YOU HAVE CLEARANCE FROM YOUR PHYSICIAN, ARE IN GOOD HEALTH, AND HAVE AT LEAST A WEEK OR MORE OF CONSISTENT TRAINING!
STEP 2 – CALCULATE!
Once you have your 5k run time, enter it into a calculator like the RUN SMART PROJECT’S VDOT CALCULATOR and click on the “TRAINING” tab to see the recommended paces for different types of runs! You’ll get guidance on both what your “EASY” training pace should be and what your “MARATHON” race pace might be. Generally, we expect to see someone’s marathon pace to be about 2 minutes per mile slower than their 5k time (but this might range between 1 to 3 minutes per mile slower depending on your fitness and how aggressively you plan to train). Other alternatives to the VDOT or similar calculators include “pace charts” like those provided by RRCA and RRCA certified coaches.
VDOT CALCULATOR – https://runsmartproject.com/calculator/
STEP 3 – UPDATE YOUR DEVICES & APPS!
If you use any fitness apps or devices (like a Garmin watch or TrainingPeaks?), make sure you update your “MaxHR” and “Threshold” Pace based on the numbers of your (5k) benchmark.
GARMIN CUSTOMIZATION – To customize your heart rate zones for a Garmin device:
- Go to “DEVICES” (icon of watch on upper right corner of screen when logging into the Connect.Garmin.com website)
- Go to “Device Settings” and then “User Settings“
- Under “HEART RATE ZONES” select Based On… “Percent of Max HR“
- Change your Max HR and it should recalculate your zones:
- Scroll down and select “SAVE SETTINGS” (don’t forget this step!)
- Sync your Garmin watch (via Phone, PC, or wifi)
- If you’re using TrainingPeaks make sure you “auto sync” with Garmin via the following link (https://www.trainingpeaks.com/garmin), then update TrainingPeaks zones via the additional steps below…
TRAINING PEAKS CUSTOMIZATION – Go into SETTINGS->ZONES in the TrainingPeaks phone app or on the web at app.trainingpeaks.com and then:
1) Under HEART RATE change the “Max Heart Rate” and then select the Auto-Calculation method of “Maximum Heart Rate” and “Sally Edwards (5)” and this will align your HR Zones in TrainingPeaks to the most common, traditional 5-Zone model that you’ll find similar to most devices such as Polar and Garmin heart rate monitors that use the 5-Zone model with each zone representing 10% per zone. Don’t forget to hit “SAVE“:
2) Under “SPEED/PACE” change your “Threshold” Pace for Running to the “Threshold” pace from the VDOT Calculator. To auto-calculate training zones, select the “Auto-Calculation” method of “Threshold Speed” and select “CTS for Running (5)” then hit “Apply” and “Save“
NOTE: The “Threshold” pace should be approx ~30 seconds up to 1-2min/mile slower than your 5k pace. Do not use your 5k pace as your actual “Threshold” pace since “Threshold” pace generally represents what you could sustain for a full hour or consistent running (somewhere between your 10k up to half marathon pace).
GENERAL HEART RATE GUIDANCE: THE 4STAR +10% RULE
If you are looking for correlation of PACE and HR zones, and setting your zones to match your metabolic efficiency, we recommend generally estimating your lactate “threshold” to be right at 90% of Max HR as a starting point. We do conduct metabolic testing (VO2 Max or Blood Lactate) if you want lab-level precision, but if that’s not in your budget, the simplest way to dial in your zones is to find the highest average HR you’ve held for up to 1 hour, and then set your Max HR in your devices to be 10% higher…. we call this the 4STAR +10% RULE.
Yes, this might mean changing your Max HR “setting” in your apps and devices to be slightly above or below your “true” Max HR that you can hit, simply to ensure your zones stay accurate to your fitness level and metabolic efficiency over time. This way, you can follow these simple guidelines for 5-zone HR training zones to correspond to the same 5-zone PACE terminologies that you would find in the RunSmart Calculator. It might sound complex, but it makes training and using HR and PACE zones super-easy to follow and understand based on a percentage scale where the top 4 zones will each be 10% blocks that match the most common average metabolic efficiency we see in endurance athletes (based on research studies, and our own VO2, FTP, and Blood Lactate testing of thousands of athletes). This way your PACE and HR zones can correlate to a simple 5-zone model:
RED = up to 100% carb burning / 0% fat burning
YELLOW = ~75% carb burning / ~25% fat burning
GREEN = ~50% carb burning / ~50% fat burning
BLUE = as low as ~0% carb burning / 100% fat burning
“EASY” RUNS = “GREEN”
MAINTENANCE RUNS (HR Zone 3 = ~70-80% of MaxHR) – also, what to use for most “easy” paced long runs to build endurance and burn more fat.
“MARATHON” RUNS = “GREEN TO YELLOW” (Negative Split Pacing)
26.2 or 13.1 “RACE PACE” should be around this intensity where HR Zone 3-4 = 75-85% of MaxHR. If you’re staying “in the green” that will mean you’re staying balanced with your “metabolic efficiency” and burning about 50% of your energy from fat and 50% from carbs… the ideal sweet spot to build endurance is staying in the green!
“THRESHOLD” RUNS = “YELLOW UP TO RED”
TEMPO RUNS should be at this intensity (HR Zone 4 = 80-90% of MaxHR) ideally pushing the threshold in a mid to high yellow zone, but avoiding going red until the very end of your runs!
“REPETITION” or “INTERVAL” RUNS = “RED”
Conduct track run “hard intervals” allowing your HR to creep up into the red HR Zone 5 (90-95% of MaxHR) in order to work on your “VO2 Max” fitness!