In the Zone, Parts 2 and 3

Yesterday morning was my running heart rate zone test!  And tonight I did a swim zone test as well!

You could say I’m totally zoned out.  HA!

For the Poconos 70.3, I am using a training plan created by Coach A.J. for those of us in the DC Tri Club’s Half Iron Program (HIP).  The training is based on intensity as measured through our heart rate zones.  Heart rate zones are one fairly simple way to measure exercise intensity (perceived exertion rate is another common and pretty much free method).  For our purposes, the various heart rate zones are determined by our average lactate threshold (LT) heart rate in each sport.

There are a number of places that will perform fancy physiological tests on you to determine your lactate threshold.  Usually you are hooked up to a crazy elephant trunk machine while you run on a treadmill or bike on a trainer.  Not only are they suuuuper unflattering devices, but these tests can run you in the hundreds of dollars.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that much moolah to dump at the drop of a hat.

But the good news is, there’s a way cheaper, still reasonably accurate equivalent in performing field tests!  All this takes is sport watch or GPS watch with a heart rate strap.  As an entry-level triathlon freak, of course I had a couple of devices that would do the trick.  So I strapped on my Garmin and heart rate monitor strap and hit the road.

For the bike and the run, the test is pretty straightforward.  You first warm up for 15 minutes.  Then, hit the lap button, and start in on the fastest pace that you can reasonably maintain for the next 30 minutes.  Hit the lap button after the first 10 minutes, and again after 20 more minutes.  Voila!  The average heart rate zone you maintained for the final 20 minutes should be your LT heart rate!  Then, it’s a simple matter of math to determine training zones 1-5 based on a percentage of your average LT heart rate.  There are a few approaches to the formulas/percentages, but many websites that will help you figure out your training zone ranges.

I was a little nervous about doing this test accurately, mainly from the perspective of actually pushing it hard enough for the full 30 minutes (especially on the bike).  But my average LT rate for the run was about 10 points higher than that for the bike, which is normal according to Coach A.J., so I think I was probably close.  I also kept records of my average pace on each, so I have an idea of LT pace.  This should help me re-evaluate in a few months when it comes time to run these tests again.

So far as I know, there’s no commercially available heart rate monitor that will work in the pool.  So, the swim test works just on time and distance to determine LT pace.  For the swim test, I warmed up for 500 yards.  Then I swam 200 yards as quickly as I could maintain and noted the time.  After a 1 minute rest, I did the same for an 800 yard distance.  I was actually pleasantly surprised at my average 100 yard pace in both instances.

Now that I’ve done all the number-crunching, I can’t wait to get started on the training!  I’ve never done a zone-based training plan before, and I’m excited to see how this focus will improve my fitness.  I’d also be lying if I denied that I’m super nervous about my ability to actually stick to it on the days I’m supposed to stay in the lower heart rates.  I’m so used to pushing it as hard as I can, and that’s just not sustainable sometimes in the longer distances and the long haul of endurance training.

So, will I succeed at zoning, or end up on a highway to the …

You knew it was coming.  🙂

A few web-info resources on lactate threshold zone testing and training:

Gale Bernhardt for

Beginner Triathlete

Endurance Factor

Running Times

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