zone 2 training with a heart rate monitor

When I first bought my Garmin forerunner 210, I had almost no idea why I needed a heart rate monitor. “Finding Ultra” by Rich Roll mentioned about training with a heart rate monitor (HRM) and I was intrigued by the science behind it. A lot of people have no idea how to effectively train with one; what I’ll talk about here is how I’ve applied it and what I think I have gained from training using a HRM.

The start of Zone 2 training

There are plenty, plenty of information online about training with a HRM so after some reading; I applied what I knew when I first started training in July 2012. I used a generic calculator which you could find online, put in my resting and maximum heart rate and the zones are generated. I used my iphone to measure my resting heartrate in the morning which was about 40bpm and for my max heart rate, I used the formula 220 minus your age. Now I’ve got a resting rate of about 36 and my max is about 194 (measured during interval workouts).

Running at the highest end of zone 2 (140bpm), which is my max aerobic zone, was agonizingly slow. I was running a 7min/km for a 10km route and whenever I wasn’t paying attention and picked up the pace a little, it would spike to 150bpm (beats per minute) in a matter of seconds. But I was confident and convinced to sticking with this after reading “Finding Ultra” and all the other stuff online, so I just stuck to the plan and hoped for the best.

What goes on inside

Doing more zone 2 running would mean I was building up my aerobic base, my endurance engine. My body would be working aerobically and it would learn how to burn fats effectively (plenty of reserves) instead of my limited carbohydrate reserve which I would have to constantly refuel on long workouts. In long slow runs, new capillaries would develop to give me more effective oxygen transportation to my muscles.

How I felt while doing zone 2 training

Running in my aerobic zone most of the time, I seldom get muscle aches or feel fatigued at such a slow pace. This would mean I was able to run more often and my mileage picked up pretty quickly over a couple of weeks. I was able to do a 20km run and still feel good to run again the next day. I naturally got faster from all that distance I’ve been clocking, and there wasn’t much injuries from the increase in mileage.

Now 140bpm will give me about 5:30-5:40min/km for a 10km run, so that means I can go faster in my aerobic zone.

Running slowly allowed me to focus on my technique, consciously paying attention to my running posture, arm swing, CG and foot strike.


With 80% of my runs being zone 2 runs, the rest were either fast runs, interval training or hill training. I managed to improve my marathon from a 5:30ish (Sundown 2012) to a 3:52 (Stan Chart Marathon 2012). The improvement was huge because I didn’t really train for Sundown so my fitness level was really in the dumps to begin with. But I ran a 4:56 for my first marathon in 2006 with regular training ( 4-5 runs a week, 3x5km, 2x10km); so this time round being 6 years older and less springy, I would say this HRM based training worked pretty well.

Of course a more structured training program helped in my improvement; I would say a generic marathon plan you find online should be a very good guideline on how to train; then just tweak the plan according to how you feel after a few weeks and you should be well on your way to running a good marathon race.


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