Running Heart Rate vs Pace Training Plan Compliance | 80/20 Endurance

Running Heart Rate vs Pace Training Plan Compliance

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    I am getting ready to move the the HR Maintenance Training Plan after I complete the 10K Pace Plan.

    I notice that the TSS and Intensity values are lower for the HR plan on a sliding scale than with the pace plan for any given workout. I assume this is to compensate for Training Peaks defaulting to rTSS scoring in the workout analysis area. Is my assumption correct?

    Second question: When on a pace plan I will anticipate the next higher workout interval by accelerating a couple of seconds early. This gets me into the target zone immediately where I can stay for the prescribed duration. When I am on a heart rate plan is it advisable to do the same, but exceed the pace zones to get into the heart rate target as quickly as possible? (I am thinking I can get away this the “surge” on the maintenance plan because I will be entering the plan at a high level of fitness and will not be beat up from the higher stress of one of the race plans.)

    David Warden


    Your first TSS issue is addressed in our document Understanding Your TrainingPeaks Structured Workout Plan It’s actually a bug in the TP software.

    This is a known problem in TrainingPeaks for HR-based workouts. The auto-calculation for predicted CTL or TSS for HR-based workouts has two main issues. First, the predicted TSS value will only increase in units of 10. If you have one run that would should have a TSS of 41 and another run that should have a TSS of 49, TrainingPeaks will calculate both as a predicted TSS of 40. Second, for a given amount of planned workout time, and regardless of the planned intensity, TrainingPeaks uses a minimum value. For example, if there are two runs of 30 minutes, one performed at 75% of LTHR and the other performed at 90% of LTHR, both will have a predicted TSS of 40. Thus, TrainingPeaks systematically miscalculates predicted TSS and predicted CTL for HR-based structured workout plans.

    This particular issue is limited to the predicted TSS and predicted CTL for HR-based plans only, and does not impact TSS or CTL for completed workouts, nor Pace or Power-based workouts. TrainingPeaks reports they are looking into the issue.

    Your second question is also somewhat addressed in our document Understanding Your 80/20 Run Plan. HR can take several minutes to catch up, and as a result HR is not reliable for Zone 4 and 5 intervals. Pace, Power and even perceived effort are better. You don’t want to exceed pace zones to artificially meet HR zones, because HR is not an output, it’s an indicator.

    From Intensity Guidelines for Running

    There are four ways to measure intensity: pace, heart rate, power, and perceived effort. The testing protocols for all four types are listed below. Each metric has different applications among the three triathlon disciplines. Each metric also has certain advantages and disadvantages. Power is an output, pace is an outcome, and heart rate is an indicator. Let’s use an automobile as an example. Horsepower (power) is the output, and represents actual work performed regardless of terrain, grade, or environmental factors. Your speedometer (pace) indicates the speed, or outcome. Your engine temperature (heart rate) represents how the car is responding to the output and environment. During a hilly ascent, the output (power) might be high, but the outcome (speed) might be low. On a hot day, the engine temperature (heart rate) might be very high even when stopped at a light with almost no output and zero outcome. For this reason, power is considered superior to pace, and pace superior to heart rate to measure intensity. There are some exceptions, such as hills, where HR can be superior to Pace to measure intensity. The recommended best-practice is to use Power or Pace as your primary measure, with HR as a secondary measure.

    Therefore, stick with Pace or perceived effort on Zone 4 and 5 intervals, and just wait for your HR to catch up on Zone 3 intervals.



    Thank you David,

    Rats. I really want to stick with heart rate for next segment with the maintenance plan. Summer is coming and it will be hot. I like the idea of having a governor on my efforts so I don’t stumble into trouble.

    The other reason is that I am not convinced that my mismatch between heart rate and pace at higher training levels is heart lag only. My VO2 max estimates from Firstbeat are far higher than my racing and training performance. Training at the higher hear rates would, I hope, reveal if I don’t yet “know” what it is supposed to feel like at the higher RPEs.

    What you are telling me is that I need to look elsewhere to learn (feel) RPE. Maybe sneak in a couple of sessions that assure getting into and holding those upper heart rate zones?


    David Warden

    Charles, I want to be careful to not say one should disregard HR. We just want to help athletes understand the limitations of HR. HR has a place, and it can act as a governor for long workouts, but probably not short workouts. No reason you can’t use Pace as a primary, but also set an upper HR limit that you won’t exceed when trying to maintain Zone 2, for example.

    For high intensity Zone 4 and 4 intervals, which I believe was the type of interval you were asking about originally, HR is not a good measure. For Zone 1 and 2, it can be, and for Zone XS and 3, just be patient and let it “catch up” after a few minutes.

    Yes, RPE can actually be a more reliable measure of intensity at high intensity than HR.


    Jay Furnas

    Hi David,

    I have a follow-up to this line of questioning. I just purchased a pace based running and power based biking plan based on the advice from the book. I’ve always had trouble keeping my heart rate down even when slowing my runs way down. I live in a fairly hot and hilly place and I’m afraid my easy runs will be done at a higher corresponding heart rate if I stick to the paces in the plan. For example, I have a LTHR of 173 and a pace of 7:30. Today I ran at a 10:26 pace to stay in zone 1 but my average HR was 157 which is zone x. The run felt very easy, but it was 85 degrees out and not flat. This sort of situation is typical for me when running easy, especially when it’s not cold out, and it is part of the reason I chose the pace based plan. If I was to try to keep my HR below 140 I’d probably have to walk a good chunk of the workout. If I’m consistently above the corresponding HR zone when running at the slower paces is that ok?



    David Warden


    This is why Power is the gold standard for running and cycling. It is immune from the pitfalls of hills when using Pace and the environmental influences when using HR.

    When using a combination of Pace and HR, the best option is to rely on Pace on a flat surface and HR in hills. In hot weather, I would definitely rely on Pace over HR as you’ve decided to do. Yes, it is OK to exceed HR zones in extreme conditions if you have a reliable measure to use like Pace or Power.


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