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This is one of several articles describing different testing protocols for running. These tests are appropriate for triathlete as well as for runners. This test is for determining your estimated Threshold Heart Rate. If you’d like to determine your threshold running paces, visit the Running Pace Training Zone Calculator. Or return to our main Training Calculators Page.
20 Minute Protocol for Running Threshold Heart Rate
This is a twenty-minute field test protocol used to determine your “threshold heart rate” and pace. Knowing your threshold heart rate will help you both plan workouts as well as to measure progress in your training.
Field Test Warmup
A good running warmup serves several purposes in both training as well as racing. Your muscles need time to both warm-up physically as well as “wake up” neurologically. When you start an activity, your body recruits only the smallest amount of muscle to get the job done. Why? Because you are an efficient human being! The body only uses as much energy as needed to get a task done without wasting energy. In order to run your best and fastest, you need to keep stimulating the muscles involved in running with a good warmup. Your brain and nervous system will recruit more and more muscle groups in order to spread the workload. By recruiting more muscles you can run faster and determine your true abilities.
Suggested Run Warmup: 5-10 minutes brisk walking with muscle activation drills. 5-10 minutes easy jogging, with three twenty-second strides thrown in, 2-3 minute recovery between strides. Be sure to take a minimum three-minute recovery before beginning the test, so your muscles can recruit the energy systems needed.
- Begin 20-minute effort at the maximum sustainable effort.
- If needed start slightly below what you think you can sustain, but continue increasing effort without going harder than you can sustain for the duration of the test. You should finish knowing you gave it everything you had.
- Your estimated Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (LTHR) is 95% of your 20-minute average heart rate for the test.
- 15 minutes easy cool down with stretching
Now you can do some simple math to determine heart rate training zones, either relative to your LTHR, or as a percentage. These zones are starting points. Each test will have some variation as heart rates can vary from day to day depending on several factors. Taking 95% of your 20-minute average HR is just an estimate for your “true” threshold heart rate which could be determined with a 60-minute time trial.
As long as you maintain the same conditions from test to test, the 20-minute test is excellent for maintaining your current heart rate zones and measuring progress from test to test throughout the season. Record in your training logs your 20-minute heart rate average, the total distance covered for the test and the average speed of the test.
The heart rate is used to determine training zones, and the average speed and distance are used to measure progress from test to test.
Calculating your Heart Rate Zones
|Level 1 (Recovery Zone)
||< LTHR – 35 beats
|Level 2 (Endurance)
||25 – 35 beats below LTHR
|Level 3 (Tempo)
||15 beats below LTHR up to LTHR
|Level 4 (Threshold)
||Tested LTHR from time trial
|Level 5 (VO2)
||5-10 beats above LTHR
Additional Run Testing Resources
5K Running Field Test
A 5k race or field test is a fantastic way to regularly check your current fitness, training paces and heart rate zones. After you test, be sure to use our Running Pace Training Zone Calculator to determine your training zones.
Steel City’s Running Pace Training Zone Calculator
Our own running pace training zone calculator uses well established physiologic principals and a logarithmic regression that accounts for human fatigue rates. What’s that mean? It’s among the most accurate training pace estimators available on the internet.
McMillan Training Zone Calculator
While we enjoy using our own calculator for customized training plans, in a quick pinch the McMillan Training Zone Calculator is one of the best out there. Like ours, Greg McMillan’s calculator is based on human physiology, and also accounts for variations in muscle fiber type (sprinter vs endurance). Have fun with this one!
Running World Pace Calculator
Running World gets our vote for one of the top calculators because they use the same reference material that we do! it’s laid out so that you can enter 2 different previous race times to get your estimated goal race pace. This one is Steel City Approved!
Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
The Triathlete’s Training Bible, Joe Friel
Training and Racing with a Power Meter, Hunter Allen & Andy Coggan
Dr. Phil Skiba, personal communication
Dr. Skiba’s great book:
Congratulations to our Steel City Endurance athletes & coaches competing in spring running races. Here are a few photos of our superstars who have been outside dealing with winter training elements including snow, ice, rain, fog, morning & evening darkness and are getting results worth sharing.
Spring races are not only our first chance to get out of the winter training doldrums, but also provide great information on where our fitness level is at the current time, which can help you structure upcoming training blocks for the best effectiveness in training.
Nick Hamilton, Just a Short Run
Nick ran the 13.1 mile distance “Just a Short Run” as a training event and took 4 minutes of of his prior half-marathon time, placing 3rd in his age group!
Ahmed “Doc” Fahmey, New York City Half-Marathon
Doc Fahmey took time out of his crazy clinical schedule to sneak in this cold half-marathon in New York City, while building up to his next two races, Syracuse 70.3 and Lake Placid Ironman.
Steven Benardete, 60-64 yo Age Group Winner, Two Rivers Half Marathon, PA
Steve entered this half-marathon race as a taper event for the upcoming Boston Marathon and took first place in his age group.
Many triathletes coming from single sport or team sport backgrounds are used to integrating variety of practices and intensities to improve. Mile repeats (track) , Auburn sprints (swimming), 3-on-3 scrimmage (soccer or basketball), “around-the-horn” (baseball) are all well known practices in their respective sports.
A challenge for the triathlete is how to continue to use interval training while drastically reducing the frequency of workouts in one sport. This triathlete expresses the concern well. I’ve removed his actual 5k speed, because the answer that follows is somewhat irrelevant.
I’m new to triathlon but I have been running for a few years now. It’s recently dawned on me after many years of half marathons and that a workout without a purpose is a wasted workout. It’s often not the time you spend on it that makes the quality.
My running is not what I would like it to be over 5k and 10k. Can anyone recommend a decent set of running intervals to do to start me improving my times? My idea is to do two running sessions a week; 1 long run and 1 on interval / speed work.
A common response to this type of question is to simply run more…4-5 runs a week with most of them being easy miles. That’s definately an option, but reality for many triatheltes is that they can’t fit in more than two sessions a week of one sport, because perhaps they are limited to 6 sessions a week or maybe they are already swimming 5 days a week and cycling 4 days.
From a coach’s perspective I look for ways to help the athlete get the most out of their training time. Sometimes it may require that they find time to train more often. But I’m not the controller of their schedule and in the end, there will be plenty of folks who can only run twice a week. So what’s the best way for them to use their time?
In the case of this triathlete, it sounds like she is an experienced runner. Doing interval training once per week and an easy run once per week will probably result in some speed gains or at least prevent speed losses.
Here is an example of a 9-12 week progression, that can easily be extended to a 4-6 month routine if a runner is limited to only two runs per week. I’d recommend starting with a 5k test or race (keep it fun!) and repeat that at 4-6 week intervals.
12 week plan for 5k/10k interval work
3-4 weeks of 1 weekly fartlek session…google fartlek if you don’t know what it is
3-4 weeks of 1 weekly hill repeat session progressing duration of hills from 5-6 repeats of 30seconds week1, to 45 seconds week2 to 1 minute week 3 and 90 sec week four. Downhill walk/jog recovery. next time through the progression, start at 1 miin, then 1:30, then 2 min, then 3 minute hills.
3-4 weeks of 5k paced 400 repeats. Take your 5k pace, calculate your equivalent pace for a 400 & subtract 2-4 seconds from that. week 1 do 4-6 repeats, week 2 do 6-8 and week 3 do 8-10. Week 4 8-12. The goal is to nail the pace, not beat the pace.
Strong Before Long – Why this works
This progression is moderate, meaning there is a low likelihood of injury. It allows you to build playful speed first, then leg strength, the 5k specific speed. This is a concept that is sometimes referred to as “strong before long” by run coach Bobby McGee. Building leg strength functionally with hill intervals, then take that leg strength into 400 (1/4 mile) repeats at your current 5k pace or slightly faster to work on leg speed. The combination is powerful for building speed at 5 & 10k distances.
If you’re just coming off of marathon training, half marathon training (or half-iron & iron distance) training, the endurance you’ll carry over will also stick around for a little while. This plan would then help you also run a pretty speedy half-marathon even when cutting your run frequency back significantly.
Even if you can running 3-4 times per week, I’d suggest the above as your weekly “speed” work and let me know how it works!
The arms are at least 50% of running yet most triathletes let them do as they wish without conscious effort in using them to refine form. These are not my original ideas, rather my assimilation of many sessions with Bobby McGee, possibly the greatest running coach alive, and one of the smartest people I’ve been aquainted with.
There is a kinetic chain of motion that connects your upper and lower body. Right arm connected to left leg and left arm connected to right leg. What one limb does mirrors & synergistically affects the other. Shoulder and hip are connected, elbow and knee are connected, wrist and ankle are connected.
Arms swing naturally from the shoulder joints which should be loose and relaxed and respond naturally to the movement and motion of the alternate hip.
Who should use this 5k Running plan?
This 4 week plan is for a beginning to intermediate 5k runner with a time of 29-30 minutes personal best. This plan assumes you can run 30 minutes continuously, have been running about 3 times per week, and have a 5k Personal Best of 29 to 30 minutes. The paces are in MPH to account for treadmill workouts, as the original plan was for someone living in Florida during the dog days of summer.
When to use this plan:
Use this 4 week plan in between 5ks. These paces are based off of your most recent 5k, so you should have the ability to do all of the intervals! The long runs are longer than you are used to, but likely slower than you’ve been running them. The idea is to add some mileage. The interval training is specific to your current level of fitness. Try to finish each one if possible. If you can’t finish a workout, do as many intervals as you can. If you can’t finish an interval, run at the correct pace (MPH) and cut off 30 sec to a min of the interval as needed to finish.
Run 3 times a week, and Walk on 2 other days
Each week has three key running workouts. Cross train on at least 2 additional days a week and one of these should be 45-60 minutes of brisk walking, but not running. This keeps the blood flowing to your legs, but eases some of the impact you’d otherwise experience if you added another running day. By increasing the intensity , you need to allow for your body to recover a bit more than you may be used to.
Start each workout with 5 minutes of brisk walking and jogging, then start your workout. After each workout, finish with 5 minutes of brisk walking and stretch. Do 10-15 minutes of core work after each run…that way the core work is done for the day!
Basic Nutrition for the 5k Runner
Hydrate well each day inbetween your workout days. Before your workout, eat a 250 cal snack at least 1-2 hours prior to the workout. Drink plain water during the workout (these aren’t long enough to deplete glycogen or electrolyte stores). After the workout, have a 100 cal snack within 15 minutes or so of finishing. You don’t need a lot of calories as these workouts aren’t long…so don’t use them as an excuse to eat a lot. Eat a meal within 2 hours of finishing the workout.
Week 1 Begin Tempo Training
Workout 1: 2 x 1.5 miles @ 6mph 2-5 min recovery between intervals
Workout 2: 4 x .25 miles @ 6.5mph w/ 2 min walk recovery
Workout 3: 2 x 2 mi at 4.9mph (YOU CAN DO IT!)
Week 2 Continue Tempo Training
Workout 1: 6 x .25 miles @ 6.5mph 2 min walk recovery btwn each. 5 min recovery then 1 mile @ 6mph
Workout 2: 1 x 2 miles at 6mph with 2 min rest
Workout 3: 3 – 4 miles 4.9 mph (GO for 4 straight miles! You can DO IT!)
Week 3 Begin Interval Interval Training
Workout 1: 3 x 1 miles at 6mph with 2 min rest
Workout 2: 1 mile at 6mph pace, 1 min rest; 1 x 0.5 mile at 6.5mph, walk 4 min, 4 x 1 minute at 6.9mph, walk 2 min rest
Workout 3: 5k race simulation at venue if possible (fast and continuous!) Try to negative split this run, doing the first mile at your previous 5k pace and picking up the pace as you go.
Week 4 Race Week
Workout 1: 30 min 6mph
Workout 2: 4 x 1 min at 6.9mph (walk 2min), 2 x 0.5mile 6.5mph walk 4 min
Workout 3: Race. Practice the “negative split” that you did last week. Start off moderate (but not slow). in the 2nd half of the race, start choosing people to gradually pass and slowly pickkup the pace till the end of the race.