Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Real Heart Rate Zones: Chill, Working, Suffering

My friend Krista pointed out that her new Garmin doesn't do heart rate zones. I replied that I don't use that feature anyway, I check out the raw data as I go and in my mind I categorize it all into three zones:
  1. Chill
  2. Working
  3. Suffering
Yeah, my coach has things set up in Training Peaks and I see my ranges for Active Recovery, Aerobic, Tempo, Threshold, and VO2 Max. Yada yada.  He specifies the zone for different workouts or intervals.  Here's how those zones translate, how I really think about them:

Active Recovery = Immobility.
This includes sleeping, watching TV, hanging out on Facebook, working (desk job).  In my mind, there is nothing exercise-y about this zone.

Aerobic = Chill.
On the bike and run, this state is only attainable where it is flat or downhill.  In this zone I can go on autopilot and think about lots of things. It automatically qualifies as Chill if the run involves a dog or a kid, or if the bike ride involves a kid.  (If the bike involves the dog it becomes Suffering).

Tempo = Working.
This is a sustainable effort where I give some thought to what I'm doing but the mind can occasionally migrate to other important places, like the to-do list, sorting out a work problem, why it's apparently SO hard to get the socks INTO the laundry basket, that sort of stuff.

Threshold = Suffering. 
In this state I am only able to focus on my personal suffering, the time/distance I have gone in the suffering state and the time/distance I am expected to continue on in said state of suffering. Sometimes I can also think about how strange it is that a song I normally like is incredibly annoying when I am suffering.

VO2 Max = call 911.
Self-explanatory.  Thinking about nothing because I am unconscious.

It turns out I don't enjoy the Chill Zone very much, but I know it's important to hang out there on long runs and rides and recovery efforts.  I keep vowing to get better at being in that zone. I have a terrible habit of slipping into Working and the Suffering Zones. I love/hate the Suffering Zone.

Today's brick included a 5-mile run with "Standard Aerobic Running."  I had my watch set to show average pace per mile and by golly, on it appeared was that magical target 5K pace!   It felt easy and I thought, "I can do better!"  Before I knew it I had sailed beyond the Working Zone to the Land of Suffering. Then I couldn't give into it.

Turns out my left quad and hamstring had other ideas and at about 4.5 miles in, I relented and returned to the Working Zone and eventually Chill, followed by Immobility.

So keep it simple: think Chill, Working, and Suffering.