Running Zones versus Cycling zones | 80/20 Endurance

Running Zones versus Cycling zones

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    Grand Chelem

    I have been following your 8020 Triathlon plan for 70.3 distance (Level 3 MINUS swimming, for now) and I really like it. I read your book, and it’s true that I was mostly training at “mid-intensity” most of the time.

    But I’m curious about one thing. I find running in my Zone 3 “very easy”, for example RF11 session. I could go on for hours. However, I find cycling in Zones 1-2 (like the CF9) quite exhausting and I am just so glad when it’s over. I re-did both the running pace test and the cycling FTP, so i think my Zones are pretty much calculated correctly.

    Maybe it’s partly psychological, since I’m a much more experienced runner than cyclist, and enjoy it more 🙂 I’m still surprised with the perceived difficulty of Cycling zones compared to running.

    I guess the fact that I am so BORED on my indoor cycle also contributes to my feeling. I think I used to enjoy a challenge more when I was allowed to cycle outside. For now my outdoor cycling options (especially at a training pace) are very limited.

    Or are some people’s ranges of Zones different for each sport?

    David Warden

    GC, my first reaction was going to be “you need to re-test your zones…” but you already did!

    Yes, this is curious. Your theory about your run and cycling experience psychology is sound, but I want to dig into this a bit deeper.

    Let’s suppose your running threshold pace is 6:30 per mile. This means that the maximum pace you can hold for 30 minutes is 6:30 per mile. Based on the 80/20 Zone Calculator, the “easy” end of your Zone 3 would be 6:59. So, you can barely hold 6:30 for 30 minutes, but can hold 6:59 very easily. That’s just a spread of 29 second per mile between as hard as you can go for 30 minutes and “easy”. Or, in other words, the speed difference is just 7% between very hard and easy.

    It does makes me think your run zones might be off. Can you confirm how you established your run zones just to be sure?

    For the bike, are you using HR or Power? If HR, did you test your LTHR indoors or outdoors? There is a 5-10 beat difference between indoors and outdoors, so if you tested outdoors, but are training indoors, then it would feel much harder. Power would be very close indoors or outdoors.

    Otherwise, your theory could really be correct: that you just need time to build up some confidence on the bike. But, reply with those answers and let’s see if we can discover anything else.


    Grand Chelem

    Hello! Thank you for your thoughtful answer. To answer your questions about my testing :
    – For running I tested my pace, running as much as I could in 30 minutes and I could un 1 km in 4m30s. I used your calculator to establish the zones and I think this is accurate accurate, because I know my running ability quite well. Even with this, I find your zone 3 runs not easily, but comfortable, and I could run for a long time at that pace.

    – For the cycling, I did a 20 minutes test cycling as hard as I could on my trainer and my power meater showed 210 watts. which I believe comes to an FTP of 199 (My Garmin cycling computer calculated this, but I think your calculation using 95% of 20minute result comes to the same FTP). It is based on this result that I find the “easy” cycling zones difficult.

    But since writing my original post, I thought about what I was feeling, and I beleive my feeling is a mixture of 1) normal fatigue from this moderate effort 2) discomfort and restlessness from cycling posture, since I hadn’t cycled much over the winter and 3) distaste and revulsion from having do to this inside staring into space 🙂

    I think it is getting better this last week, so I will try and learn to relax more (I fell totally relaxed and happy running). I think the science of FTP and zones is pretty solid.

    Also is it possible that I have the muscular strength to produce X number of watts, but just lack ENDURANCE to do that over a longer time?

    So I will continue. I’m also observing this process with curiosity since it is the first time in my life I have attempted to improve my cycling and so I’m ready to put up with some discomfort. I know lots of cyclists, much stronger than me, who simply don’t LIKE running, so I guess I should be more sympathetic to them in the future

    David Warden

    GC, I confirm you performed both the Run and Bike tests exactly right. Your theory of just needing some more time in the saddle is the best candidate.

    What about bike fit? Its it possible that your saddle is too low/high or perhaps another another common fit issue that is making it difficult for you to hold your endurance?

    One of the most fascinating (and scary) studies I ever read was regarding saddle height. If the saddle is too high, the result is certainly a loss in power. But the loss in power is remarkable low. If the saddle is too low, the the loss in power is significant. An inch too high might lose 5% power, and inch too low might lose 15%.

    Therefore, if you are to err, err on the side of too high and work your way down. Of course, there are injury risks from a saddle too high, so it’s best to get a professional fit.


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