Help me with HR zone training

After some three years of running, 1.5 out of which is under the supervision of a running coach, I got myself a Garmin Fenix, so now I start getting HR data (you know that i am a numbers’ guy).

And I am now baffled by this data, how to interpret it and how to use it in the future. Before getting to the problem(s) i’ll take a short detour to describe my fitness and training levels.

These are the stats for 2016 (where you see ‘walking’ it’s actually triathlon races 🙂 )


So, if we look just at running, we have 400km last year in training and some other 150 in races. My PBs are 1:59:57 for the half maraton and 51:23 for 10k. I am 36 and 84(ish) kgs (muscular type – think speed skating / bike legs)

Now back to the problem: I get the HR sensor with the fenix and use it for a winter-time trail half marathon. And although i was running ‘slowly’ (‘easy’, ‘breathing relaxed’) – or that’s how it felt / i thought about it 🙂 – the heart rate stays at 170bpm:


I  then start reading much more on the subject, since I am training for the first half-ironman this year and everybody says “long slow runs, in zone 3”. And i go to practice that. And this happens (i am only under 150bpm when walking):


Even more frustrating: i do some laps at 5:30 pace and at 6:30 pace and i have the same HR (the coloured lines).

If we define the zones with the formula “220-age: i get this thresholds (zone 3 stops at 147):


And after doing a LTHR test a la Joel Friel, with the bike on the hometrainer I get 172 as threshold heart rate, and use it to compute these zones:


I think I have SOME chances of running slow and long under 163 bpms , but as shown in the long run chart, the heart rate is all over the place, regardless of the pace (it does not significantly drop if I just slow down, only if I walk!)

So here are the questions that torment me now and I am asking for your help with :

  1. is this actually ‘normal’ since I am not really a ‘trained’ athlete?
  2. why is the HR not dropping sensibly with the pace? And , as a corollary, how should I train then?
  3. should I be leaning more towards the Joel Friel formula for the heart rates (and use the 163bpm threshold for ‘Zone 3’ ( long runs )?
  4. If when doing a long run (or a bike ride) my heart goes over 163, should I stop (pedalling) and walk ?

4 thoughts on “Help me with HR zone training

  1. There’s so many things to add, but I’ll try to keep it short and we can discuss more about it in further posts or in private.
    1. ” is this actually ‘normal’ since I am not really a ‘trained’ athlete?” – yes
    2. ” why is the HR not dropping sensibly with the pace? And , as a corollary, how should I train then?” – because of 1.
    To improve I can see a few easy and straight forward things.
    a. use periodization:
    b. have a constant training schedule all year round, example:
    c. don’t skip training sessions. 1 week break – almost no loss in form. 2 weeks break makes you lose up to 75% of the form you accumulated.
    d. Get leaner:
    For your weight 86 kg, I’d expect you to be 210 cm or more in height.
    For reference, Ironman champ and world record holder Jan Frodeno has 194cm and 76 kg.
    Or for a more muscular profile Sebastian Kienle 180cm, 73 kg. Or Javier Gomez 178cm, 69kg.
    e. related to all of the above..train more! get those numbers up.
    I had the same HR for the training volume you displayed above for the first 2-3 years when I started to do the three sports(2013-2015).
    For the past year I trained a lot more(6-14 hours/week ~45 weeks – 200km swim, 1.1k km run, 4k km bike, and a little strength training ~30 hours).
    The HR decreased from 170(outside run summer 2015) to 151 bpm(outside run january 2017) for the same pace(5:30 min/km).

    3. should I be leaning more towards the Joel Friel formula for the heart rates (and use the 163bpm threshold for ‘Zone 3’ ( long runs )?
    Don’t focus too much on which one is the exact formula, they are pretty close to eachother.
    I use this one(adapted to your max HR):
    Zone 1 Recovery Zone – 60% to 70% of max ⇒ 110-128 bpm
    Zone 2 Aerobic Zone – 70% to 80% of max ⇒ 128-147 bpm
    Zone 3 Anaerobic Zone – 80% to 90% of max ⇒ 147-165 bpm
    Zone 4 Maximal Zone – 90% to 100% of max% ⇒ 165-184 bpm
    I train mostly in Zone 2 for long runs 1.5-3 hours. I train mostly in zone 3-4 for technical or short fast runs 1h-1.5h(warm-up/cool-down included sometimes).

    4. If when doing a long run (or a bike ride) my heart goes over 163, should I stop (pedalling) and walk ?
    If your scope is to do a long easier run/ride, you shouldn’t reach that heart rate.
    You should keep an eye on the watch in the beginning to stay within the limits.
    You’ll get used after a while and feel your HR without looking at the watch.

    1. Thank you very much for the time needed to write this very well documented and aimed at my questions! WOW !

      Just one clarification regarding my physique. Don’t think Frodo or Javi, think more like Blumenfelt 🙂

      I have never been under 80kg and my leanest was 84kg but that came with 15% body fat 🙂

      Talking to some other guys on Facebook I also realized that (as indicated by my coaches) most of my training was high intensity intervals, and almost never long slow runs (or bikes) – that would also result in the higher HR and my not being used to running long with lower HR

  2. Hello.
    First of all, you mention the age and weight, but you say anything about how tall you are. 84 Kg for a triathlete …. hm, this make me think you are at leas 195 cm tall.
    Then, HR measuremes are pretty relative and the results you get are depending of the day (your mood, if you slept well and enough, if you are a relaxed mind generally speaking or you are under a lot of stress, it is about the weather, time of the day and so on).
    Then, HR and peace: if you are running steep uphill you can have a very high HR but a very slow peace. If you are running downwill will HR will be low and the peace high.
    I would analyse the nutrition first – to much protein should be avoid, too much sugar also -. Nutrition depends also from very many components and training state. For a beginner, the nutrition base should be different than for an advanced training state, for instant. Nutrition AND REGENERATION are more important than the training itself. You probably should train more, longer, see about intensities and pay a lot of attention to regeneration. Or you start to study how all these things should be combined for your, because no general training plan will help you very much for long time. For a season maybe, but you have to adjust the training plan due to the changes your body is going through.

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