January 26, 2016

Starting the 80/20 plan

My birthday yesterday was fantastic--thanks for all the birthday wishes! And for those of you that participated in the fourth annual virtual 5K, thank you for that as well :) It's been super fun to see the pictures and read about the experiences from the runners/walkers.

I posted recently about the 80/20 running plan, and decided to go ahead and officially start doing it over the weekend. And since I have such an ambitious goal (to PR my 10K on April 10th), I figured I might as well do the "level 3" training plan (the most advanced). It's not a very difficult plan in terms of the workouts, but it is high in mileage. There are even days where I am scheduled for two runs in a day! I've never done plans like that before, and I'm actually looking forward to doing something new. Since 80% or more of the running is done at a low heart rate, the chances of overtraining/getting injured are slim.

I can't post the whole plan here, because it's not a free plan--it's in the 80/20 Running book. But here is a sample week (you'll have to click to make it bigger):

This is actually my schedule for this week. I typed it all out and color coded it, so I could see at a glance what I was getting myself into. The orange runs are all done at a low heart rate (very light, easy running). The green one adds in Zone 3, which is a tempo pace; and the purple adds in Zone 4, which is about 90-95% of my maximum heart rate (there are also Zone 5 runs, which are short sprints). Some of the orange runs can be subbed with cross-training, so I'll probably do that once in a while too (especially when it gets nice enough to ride my bike outside).

At my current fitness level, my "zones" are like this:

Zone 1: HR 125-135 bpm
Zone 2: HR 135-147 bpm
Zone 3: HR 160-167 bpm (about the pace I can hold for an hour--8:20 ish?)
Zone 4: HR 170-175 bpm (about 7:25-7:45 pace)
Zone 5: HR 177+ bpm (sprints--basically as fast as I can do those segments)

The book says that for runs in Zones 1 and 2, you should use your heart rate as your guide. For Zone 3, you should use a combination of heart rate and pace. For Zones 4-5, the intervals are so short that you can't really use HR as a good guide, because of the lag (it takes 30 seconds or so for your heart to get up there). In that case, you should use perceived exertion and pace.

Anyway, yesterday, I had a 45-minute run on the schedule: 5 minutes at Zone 1, 35 minutes at Zone 2, and 5 minutes at Zone 1. It went really well! At Zone 1, I just ran as slowly as I could without looking at my heart rate every second, and it's super comfortable to run in that zone. After five minutes, I bumped up the pace just slightly, in order to get my heart rate over 135, but under 147. I've been getting pretty good at running this pace by feel and not having to constantly speed up or slow down. Again, it's comfortable, and as much as my legs want to go faster, I just fully enjoy taking it easy.

It's interesting, because when I started the lower heart rate training (about five weeks ago), my pace was in the mid-11:00's when my heart rate was about 145. For the past week or so, my pace has been in the mid-10:00's for the same heart rate. That's a good thing--it's exactly what is supposed to happen with enough patience ;)

I tried doing HR training (MAF training) in summer 2014, but that plan was different because you could NEVER run at a higher heart rate unless it was during a race. My pace was ridiculously slower than what I was used to, and I just didn't have the patience to keep doing it. Now, I feel like I'm in a much better place mentally to give this training my full attention.

Here is a comparison of two similar easy runs--one from yesterday and one from January 3rd:

The only reason that the pace was slower in the first and fourth miles of the run yesterday was because of my Zone 1 warm-up and cool down. But if you compare the middle miles of each run, the pace was at 11:29-11:40 on Jan. 3rd; and yesterday, it was 10:18-10:33. My heart rate was the same for each run. It's fun to see the numbers as proof that it's working!

I got a few questions about the 80/20 Running plan (the book by Matt Fitzgerald), so I thought I'd address them here in case anyone else was wondering the same thing:

1) Is this good for a beginner?
*Yes! Running with 80% at easy pace and 20% at moderate to difficult pace is ideal for 99% of the population. This information was nothing new to me when I read the book, but the book explained the WHY so well that it made me want to actually commit to doing it. For beginners, you are still supposed to keep your heart rate low on the 80% runs, and for some people, that may mean walking. Even a very slow jog might make your heart rate too high--so in that case, you just walk and keep your heart rate in the zone, and over time, you'll have to push yourself more to get your heart rate into that zone (like you see from my example above).

The book has several plans for distances from 5K to marathon, but it also explains how to create your own plan so that you're doing the 80/20 principle. Don't let my sample week scare you off! That's from the advanced 10K plan, so it's certainly a lot of running. When I was doing the Hansons training, though, I felt amazing while running six days a week; so I think I will do well with this plan.

2) Is the 80/20 plan good for someone who only plans to run shorter distances, like a 5K?
*Yes! It doesn't matter the distance you plan to race--the ratio in training should still be 80/20. Obviously, you don't need to run as many miles per week to prepare for a 5K as you would for a marathon, but the ratio will still be the same.

3) Is reading the book necessary? Can't I just work on fitting my runs into that ratio?
*I highly recommend reading the book, because it explains WHY 80/20 works so well. When you learn why it works, it makes you much more motivated to do it. When I got my coaching certification, we learned all about how to put together ideal running plans, but we didn't get very much into the details of WHY those plans are ideal. The "why" is the most important part! The book is also very motivating in terms of helping runners to slow down. Most recreational runners are running their easy runs too fast, and slowing down is actually really difficult to do (mentally). You feel like you're taking a step backwards in your training, but the book details just how important it is.

4) Do you have to use a heart rate monitor to train?
*Technically, no--the book gives you alternatives. However, since most runners do their easy runs too fast, the heart rate monitor will give a definitive "cap" on how fast you go. You just run at the pace you want, as long as your heart rate doesn't go over a certain number (for the easy runs). Without using the monitor, there is a good chance you'll still run your easy runs too fast--but it's not completely necessary to have the monitor.

So far, I'm really enjoying doing the lower heart rate training. I didn't "officially" start the 80/20 plan until this weekend, but the plan I was following before was very similar and it fit into the 80/20 principle. The best part about it, for me, is that I am really enjoying my runs! I no longer dread going for a run in the morning :)

If you did the 5K yesterday, and haven't already, make sure you fill out the Finisher's Form. I'm going to compile the results and post them tomorrow. I hope you enjoyed the "race"!


  1. Congratulations on your Virtual Birthday 5K, is it really your 4th annual? Its exciting to read about your renewed goals and success. Proves for long-term maintenance you have to keep evolving, setting new goals, trying new things to keep you motivated. What I enjoy about your blog is the steady focus, not a quick fix, and that fact that you share your tools. Happy Birthday Katie!

  2. Hi Katie - I really recommend checking out the book "Beyond Training" by Ben Greenfield as well - he uses similar 80/20 type principles for training, including how to incorporate training into your everyday life. I think you would like it a lot. Happy birthday!!

    1. Thanks so much for the suggestion! I am going to check it out right now :)

  3. As a person who is fairly new to running, I have only run a 5k, a 10k and a half marathon. However, I want to work on speed as I am currently running about an 11:30 min mile. This is what I average for all my runs up to the HM distance. Do you have any recommendations on where to begin? I am running 3x a week about 12 miles a week. Thanks

    1. At your current pace, doing just a small amount of speed work each week would help improve pretty quickly! I would suggest doing some short intervals, like 0.25 miles, at what feels like a hard pace to you. See if you can do four intervals fast, and recover for 0.25 miles between each. Alternatively, you could try a tempo run. These runs are the best for making you faster! I hate them, because they're hard ;) I would start with 10 minutes (tempo pace is roughly the pace you could hold for an hour-long race... hard, but not as fast as a 5K). You can increase the time of the tempos to progress. Good luck!

  4. How did you calculate your heart rate zones? Did you do a lactate threshold test or are you using some max heart rate formula?

  5. I'm using the formulas that were in the book for each zone, which is based on the lactate threshold heart rate. I had to take an educated guess as to my lactate threshold heart rate, based on several of my previous runs.


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