Running by Heart Rate

When I was putting my latest marathon plan together I came up against the tricky issue of pacing. My plan is made up of different types of sessions run at different paces from recovery pace to long run pace, half marathon and marathon pace, and so on. So the big question became, how do I know what these paces should actually be?

Marathon Pace

Take an important one for example – marathon pace. I have a record of the pace I ran at my previous marathon, but I’d hope I’ve improved beyond that now (even if my pace did collapse 20 miles in), and surely I’ll be improving over the next 16 weeks of training too. So what does marathon pace actually mean, and how can I work it out?

Advanced Marathoning

I read advanced marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas before creating my training plan, and this had a great explanation of training paces calculated by heart rate (or heart rate reserve) which seemed to make complete sense. It wasn’t the first time I’d looked at training by heart rate, but it introduced and explained training based on zones particularly specific to the different sessions it recommends.

Lactate Threshold

Going back to our marathon pace question – one of the important things to understand is lactate threshold. Wikipedia has this to say on the subject:

Lactate inflection point (LIP), is the exercise intensity at which the blood concentration of lactate and/or lactic acid begins to exponentially increase. Often expressed as 85% of maximum heart rate or 75% of maximum oxygen intake. When exercising at or below the LT, any lactate produced by the muscles is removed by the body without it building up.

So, in a nutshell, one could reasonably work out that if my marathon pace causes me to go above my lactate threshold I’ll end up in trouble and I’ll need to slowdown until my body catches up, and if this happens I could see myself stuck in a stop/go loop for some time! But, run under this threshold, and as long as I look after hydration and nutrition my body should be in great shape to get all the way to the finish. Sounds easy, right?

Not only does this give me a great way to pinpoint my current marathon pace, but because lactate threshold can be increased through training, it’s also a measurable value that I can use to determine my pace as I improve.

There are a few different ways to calculate your personal lactate threshold, and lots of people more knowledgeable than I have explained these online. Just do a search for ‘calculate lactate threshold’ and you’ll find what you need.

All of my other sessions will be following a similar concept – e.g. Improving lactate threshold by running close to threshold pace, recovering by running under my aerobic heart rate, etc. I’d recommend the advanced marathoning book I mentioned earlier to get a good understanding of all the different types of session.

What are your thoughts? Could this method result in under/over training? Is this the right way to do things? I don’t know for sure, but I’m giving it a try. Let me know what you think and if you have any other suggestions.

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