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Finding My Zones


March 2012

I’ve posted many times about my lack of love when it comes to the act of running – finishing I love, but the actual run itself has never been more than, maybe, enjoyable.  I love being in shape and I love not being flabby but I’m a cyclist first.  More than likely, just because I like the speed.  In any event, riding on the trainer in my office has helped immeasurably with my running.  I was able to better define my aerobic zones which translated into an ability to push it a little harder when I run because I used to cruise slower to save energy for fear I’d run dry before the finish.  Today things are quite a bit different.  I’ve tied my aerobic zones (and the anaerobic zone 5) to how many strides I take per breath in and breath out.  It’s made an incredible difference and has only gotten better over the winter.

This is an excerpt from a previous post that explains my experience:

Without getting too scientific, the best description I read to know the zones (which actually center around heart rate) is through knowing your breathing. Now, I’ve been breathing methodically, measuring exertion in relation to my stride for years, I just never knew what I was doing. This is the best way I’ve read to measure without electronics:

Zone 1: Breathing through the nose only is easy. Full conversations are possible

Zone 2: Breathing through nose and mouth, conversations still possible, a few sentences at a time

Zone 3: Breathing shifts more to the mouth, one sentence at a time.

Zone 4: Only a word or two are possible at a time before catching the breathing up.

Zone 5: Conversation is impossible

As a rule of thumb, I used to think that if I could talk, I wasn’t running hard enough. While noble, it was all wrong and actually detrimental to my time; I was spending too much time in Zone 5 and burning out. I’d have to drop back to Zone 2 or 3 to catch back up which slowed me down considerably. Now I’m able to keep it in Zone 4 and I can run for miles there. On up hill climbs, I can kick it up to Zone 5 for a minute to push up the hill and then drop back to 4 (or 3 if necessary) to catch the breathing up.

Another method I use for running is matching breathing in and out to my cadence. Zone 2 is four strides for every inhalation and four for every exhalation. Zone 3 is three and three. Zone 4 is two and two and Zone 5 is one in, two out or one and one. Now that’s just a personal thing, I’ve never read anything that suggests breathing this way, but I hated feeling out of control as I was running – there was no method, only madness – so I developed that method, right or wrong, to stop the madness which helps me get into “the zone” a little easier.

In any event, I’m a lot faster, both on my bike and running, since figuring all of this out.

UPDATE:  Christos who handles the Christostriathlon1 Blog comments:  “…the number of strides should be around 90, it only changes the length otherwise you are not running efficiently and economically”.

I should have been more clear about this, he’s right.  While there will be variations to the theme, and speaking from experience here, if the cadence is too much below 90 strides per minute, we end up plodding which is the equivalent of putting on the brakes with every stride (not unlike the heel strike if done improperly).  To get to my different zones, I’m taking bigger strides at the same cadence which takes more energy.


  1. swimbikerun1 says:

    i have a comment about your running cadence: it should always be the same. slow or fast,the number of strides should be around 90, it only changes the length otherwise you are not running efficiently and economically.

  2. […] than normal just to loosen the legs up.  Years ago I even took the time to figure out how I can attain the “zone” that leads to the runner’s high at the end and repeat it, […]

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