When you are hunting around for training plans there are usually two kinds – heart rate zone or pace based plans. In essence they are both the same thing – they are just interpreting the information in a different way. A Heart rate zone plan might have a long run in Zone 2, speed intervals at Zone 4-5 with recovery in Zone 2 and a steady run at Zone 3.
Heart rate zones are guesswork (without a metabolic assessment) but a good guide is:
Zone 1-2: Conversational talking
Zone 3: Talking in short sentences
Zone 4: Be able to get out a word or two
Zone 5: Max effort. You can’t talk at this level of effort
A pace based plan will guesstimate what your pace should be for these different levels of effort so it will have a guide for easy, steady, tempo, race and speed.
Generally you can find training pace calculators that will help you with this. It asks you to put in a recent time. So as an example mine would look like this:
Recent run: 10km in 55 minutes (got to love treadmills, right?)
Running pace: 5:30 min/km
Easy run: 6:39 min/km
Tempo run: 5:34 min/km
Max oxygen: 5:01 min/km
Speed: 4:39 min/km
Long run: 6:39 – 7:29 min/km
Yasso 800s: 4:09 min/ 800m
Now my only problem with this is that while I agree with the long run/easy paces I don’t think it quite pushes you on the speed paces. Because it seems to calculate based on training required for a speed you have already run. If you want to run faster, you have to run faster. So I often look at guides to tell me if I want to run 10km in 50 minutes what speed do I need to train at (so long as that goal isn’t a huge leap from what you have already done. For example if I wanted to improve a 55 minute 10km time to a 50 minute 10km run time suggested running paces would be these:
Race pace: 5:00 min/km
Easy run: 6:09 min/km
Tempo run: 5:05 min/km
Max oxygen: 4:35 min/km
Speed: 4:15 min/km
Long run: 6:09 – 6:55 min/km
So which is better?
The answer is that they are both guess-work. There are dangers in not running your easy runs easy enough or in pushing yourself too hard on a tempo run. What both things can help you with is figuring out what is right for your own body.
The benefit of the heart rate over the pace is it measures effort rather than an arbitrary pace, which might be right on one day, but is going to be way off on another day where you might not have had enough sleep or are a bit run down. Conversely, pace can also limit you unnecessarily on speed days. If you are running to feel, you may actually run faster when you are feeling good than if you were just aiming for a pace.
For that reason, if you don’t have a heart rate monitor, rather than using pace as a guide – you are probably better off using a perceived effort approach. So you would aim for your easy and long runs to be 60-70% effort, your tempo runs to be at around 80-90% effort and your speed intervals at 90-100% effort.
If you aren’t a regular heart rate monitor user, using one occasionally to see how your perceived effort and your heart rate match up can be a good thing. I often find if I haven’t used one for awhile my sense of an easy run effort is actually probably more like a steady state effort and it reminds me to slow down on those types of sessions.
But even so, it’s good to keep in mind that heart rate monitors aren’t perfect. They are measuring something that is correlated to effort, but there are going to be discrepancies if you are stressed, if it is hot or if you’ve been unwell, so it’s a great guide but when in doubt go with how you feel.