4 Basic Marathon Training Heart Rate Zones


Once a runner has established breath management and started to build endurance, it is important to manage a marathon training heart rate zone. There are two camps of runners who feel differently about measuring and managing heart rate; the free spirits who dodge the math and gadgets, and those who are meticulous about each and every number that comes across their super tech watches. Personally, I believe that a balance in between is a good place to fall on that line.

Most runners should seek to maintain a steady heart rate zone for endurance workouts, while pushing past their threshold to improve performance. Target heart rates can be divided into four basic categories; endurance, aerobic, anaerobic and VO2 max. Depending on your source, there might be several more or even fewer, but this gives you a general idea of the brackets and their purpose.

The endurance rate should be more properly described as the rate at which a runner is able to maintain their pace for significant time or mileage. This heart rate should fall somewhere between the 139 – 152 beats per minute zone at 60% – 70% effort. This zone is used for maintenance, recovery or slower workouts. This will not improve performance, but will maintain the work that is already done.

Aerobic heart rate is a zone which pushes the runner just past the endurance pace to work a little harder. The added effort is well worth it; this pushes the runner into the fat burning zone and into performance building. The beats per minute zone for the aerobic zone is 152 – 166, pushing at 70% – 80% effort. This zone is also known as the target heart rate zone, because it is the most basic effective workout for distance runners. Running in this zone improves cardiovascular capability, muscle strength and ability to work harder for longer periods of time.

The anaerobic threshold is a harder pace, not to be pushed for long periods. This zone falls into the 166 – 179 beats per minute at approximately 88% effort. The anaerobic threshold pushes the runner into a place of high performance and strength building. This effort should not – I repeat NOT – be maintained for long periods of time. During this phase of the workout, the lactic acid releases more slowly from the muscles and can cause damage if it is prolonged. Instead, it is better to add an anaerobic phase into the end of a workout, or a circuit set. For example, if you are running 10 miles at 5/2 intervals, it is best to run 5 minutes at target heart rate (or aerobic) pace, with 1 minute anaerobic threshold and 1 minute recovery. If this proves too difficult, add the anaerobic threshold pace in every other interval.

The VO2 max zone is predominantly used (and should only be attempted by) veteran athletes who are in top shape. This is the hardest zone, where lactic acid builds quickly and releases slowly. The benefits of this zone are building endurance and speed.

Experiment with these zones by measuring your heart rate with a heart rate monitor or watch. By incorporating an awareness of your heart rate during workouts, you can be more aware of their benefits.

This article was written for RunnersGoal.com by Kari H., a guest author

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