Training with Pace Vs. Heart Rate

“Due to the uncertain surface on every step, it’s better to train a specific physiological response vs trying to run based on pace. “

Are you training based on pace or heart rate? This question is often asked by athletes as they wonder which metric to focus on. Throughout this article, we will discuss when to train with heart rate and when to train with pace. By training correctly with both metrics, you can maximize your training and achieve your performance goals. 

Specific Goals

First and foremost, you need to ask yourself what your goal is during training. Are you running for fitness, or are you running for a specific time.  When athletes begin to target specific running times (20 min 5k, 4 hour marathon, etc), then we would recommend you train with pace. If you are training with pace, we recommend you only do this in your peak portion of training.  The last 6-8 weeks of your training block should focus on specific pacing to help prepare your mind and body. Other times where training with pace is appropriate is on a track. If you are on a track and targeting specific splits, then tracking your pace will be key. Not only will it help you achieve your goal, but it will serve as a historical marker for future track workouts. 

Temperature

The ideal running temperature is between 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to the changes in season, many runners experience temperatures ranging from 0 degrees all the way up to 100. When running in extreme weather, it is best to train based on heart rate. Your pace will be slower than it is during ideal times of the year and that can play psychological games with your mind.  Rather, focus on running in your specific heart rate zones to build your body’s aerobic base, threshold, VO2, or anaerobic capacity. 

Ground Surface

Depending on the ground surface and foot contact, your pace will change regardless of your effort. For example, when running on snow/ice, you often lose traction and run much slower regardless of effort. The same can be said for trail runners with dirt, rocks, and mud. When running on uncertain surfaces, we recommend that you train based on heart rate.  Due to the uncertain surface on every step, it’s better to train a specific physiological response vs trying to run based on pace. 

Periodized Training

Based on your training calendar, you’ll have different times when you train with pace or heart rate. During the base portion of your season, it is often best to train with heart rate. This will ensure you are training in the appropriate zone and building your base for the upcoming season. During your build portion of the year, this is when you may get into pace training. If you want to build your threshold to a specific number, then pace focus will be necessary. Finally, in your peak season, if you are targeting a specific time, then it is best to prepare the mind and body for what that pace actually feels like.  

Conclusion

Training with pace and heart rate both have a purpose within an athletes training schedule. When training with heart rate, you want to ensure you are targeting the proper physiological changes (aerobic vs anaerobic).  When training with pace, you want to prepare the mind and body for a specific goal time. Be sure to take note of outside factors such as temperature, altitude, and ground surface to help you train in a more efficient manner. Trying to achieve a specific pace while running in adverse conditions will cause additional stress and mental fatigue. Keep these guidelines in mind as you head out the door and explore perfection!

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2 thoughts on “Training with Pace Vs. Heart Rate

  1. Thanks for the comment. You will see more and more people use running power as it becomes more refined for all terrains. You’re absolutely correct though, once running power evolves as a metric, it will be the top one to use. We wrote about pace vs heart rate as this is what many runners question in todays day and age.

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