Are you unsure of how to pace your training runs? Or looking to find out how to train to run at a specific pace in a race?

There are a lot of different factors that need to be taken into consideration when pacing your training runs, especially when training to heart rate. 

First things first. 

One needs to make a decision, whether you’re going to train according to pace or whether you’re going to train to heart rate. 

Training According To Pace

At Coach Parry, we wouldn’t recommend training on pace if you’re NOT getting advice from someone who is very experienced in calculating proper pace-related training zones.

This is because what typically happens when we train according to pace or a target pace is that we often end up running too fast. Pushing ourselves too hard and therefore we don’t develop at the rate that we should be developing at.

Which leads you to train on heart rate. 

While it is still challenging to calculate HR training zones, HR is a reflection of the physiological effort, while pacing is a calculated estimate of what should be easy.

Calculating running zones in terms of pace takes A LOT of experience.

So, how do you do it…

A Formula For Working Out Training Effort

We’ve found that the most useful heart rate method for the layperson is the MAF method developed by Dr. Phil Maffetone.

Dr. Phil Maffetone’s MAF method requires you to run at a strict Heart Rate of 180-age or slower.

But … what that tells us is that we are almost certain that by running at 180 minus your age, you are running aerobically. 

If you’re new to running, if you’re returning from an illness, or if you are returning from an injury, you will then take further amounts off the value. 

If you have all three, if you’re brand new to running, returning from illness and injury, then you would take a further 15 beats per second off of that.

In the case of most people, if you’re repeatedly getting injured or repeatedly getting sick. We would do 180 minus your age,  minus 5.

In extreme circumstances, it would be 180 minus your age, minus 10 and that would effectively set the intensity that you are running at.

There are limitations to the MAF method, particularly as you age and so for athletes older than 50 we recommend 190-age as the starting point.

If you want to work out your maximum heart rate…

How To Calculate Your Heart Rate Maximum

I can assure you that Dr. Phil Maffetone’s method works. 

We’ve used it on many clients where it’s obvious that they’ve got an over-developed anaerobic system. It’s worked very, very well. 

If you do want to go a little bit more detailed, a bit more scientific, then you could determine your heart rate maximum.

We do not recommend you to calculate your heart rate maximum by saying 220 minus your age… you should go out and measure it. 

Provided you’ve been exercising fairly regularly and been cleared by a health care practitioner, you can head to a track or onto a hill (preferable) and do between three to four minutes of all-out efforts with a long recovery in between. (Five minutes between three-minute efforts.)

You should get very close to your maximum heart rate on effort three or four.

You can use Maximum Heart Rate to calculate your easy and hard runs. 

Your easy runs should be done at 70-75% of whatever your maximum heart rate value is and your hard runs in a range from 80% and higher depending on the session.

When you start training on heart rate it’s frustrating and it seems ridiculous, it seems like you can’t run this slowly. 

There are times when you’re forced into a walk. 

Trust us though, if you stick to it and you persevere with it, over six to twelve weeks, you will see very significant improvements in your running speeds at those heart rates.

So, for the vast majority of the population 220 minus your age gives only a very rough idea of what your max heart rate is. 

In this video, we show you how to get to your maximum heart rate, what tests can be done and how often you should do them…

Watch the video here.

Training To Heart Rate 

Most watches or products use a very simple measure to predict heart rate max, which we covered how to calculate above. (220 minus your age)

As we get older your max heart rate decreases, the more active you have been, and the higher the fitness level that you have maintained throughout your life, the slower your heart rate max will decrease. 

For this reason, we’ve never been huge fans of training off of a calculated maximum value. But this method can work and it is a better way of controlling intensity than having no control. 

Coach Parry’s Recommendation For Training To Heart Rate

What we find much more useful, particularly when you start getting to a point where you are starting to take your training seriously and your fitness gains are getting a little bit harder to come by… then it is much better to peg your heart rate training on your THRESHOLD HEART RATE. 

On that note, let’s cover what threshold heart rate is, how to calculate it and how to use it…

EVERYTHING You Need To Know About Threshold Heart Rate

The gist of threshold heart rate is that it is the highest intensity that you can sustain for an extended period (35-40min).

At Coach Parry, we prefer to use threshold heart rate as opposed to calculated maximum heart rate.

Essentially, when we use calculated maximum heart rate, there are so many different variances that make it unreliable.  

When you don’t have a true, reliable max heart rate reading, you’re not going to get true variables when putting it into your prescription.

When using threshold heart rate, it is more relevant and specific to you as an individual.

Now that we know what threshold heart rate is and why we at Coach Parry prefer it, let’s have a look at how we would test you outside a lab to get your specific threshold heart rate…

How To Get Your Threshold Heart Rate

You need to warm up well and then run a time trial effort, all-out for 35 to 40 minutes. This will give you a good indication of what your threshold heart rate would be.

The reason for this is depicted in the graph below.

As you can see above, you need a little bit of time for your heart rate to climb and get up to a steady effort/ state (warm-up), and then you will be able to sustain a threshold for 35-40min.

In the 35 to 40 mins, we will see the heart rate plateau and where your heart rate is quite stable. That will be your average heart rate which is a good estimation of your heart rate threshold.  

Anything longer than 45min, we generally will start to see a drop off in heart rate, due to you not being able to sustain the threshold for longer than 40min.  Anything shorter and you are able to maintain too high a Heart Rate for the duration. 

Once calculated correctly as explained above, you would then use your heart rate threshold to determine your different zones based on percentage calculations of that threshold heart rate. 

The accuracy of this measurement is absolutely vital. 

The preferred or more accurate measurement device to measure your heart rate is to use a chest belt. This is because it is a more stable and accurate reading compared to wrist devices, where readings tend to fluctuate.

What does this all mean to your training… let’s find out.

How To Train Using Threshold Heart Rate

In the graph above, the grey line represents heart rate and how it increases over time as the intensity increases.

We can see the different zones we train are represented by Z2, Z4, and Z5.

Z2 Heart Rate: Based on the threshold value that you determined, we would look at 80-85% as the upper limit of your zone 2 heart rate. This is where all of your easy runs and your long runs get done from a heart rate point of view. 

On the graph, if you were to look at the second green line in your zone 2, that would be the upper limit of your zone 2. Whether you’re training in the upper limit or the lower limit of your zone 2 heart rate for your easy runs, physiologically you will be getting the EXACT same benefit.

So, whether you are training in the upper limit of zone two or the lower limit you are still gaining the same benefits. 

By training in the upper end… it is more taxing on your body, so the eccentric load that you are putting into your legs on a run at the upper limit is going to be higher than if you were training at the lower end of that zone. It will be more costly on the body and will require a longer recovery time. 

In this video sports scientists, Shona Hendricks and Devlin Eyden walk you through exactly how to train using threshold heart rate and how much training should be done in each zone…

Check it out here!

This is exactly how to keep your heart rate down while running… 


With a passion for high performance sport – Lindsey Parry is one of South Africa’s most widely recognised coaches. Having led a team to the London, Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, the Gold Coast & Birmingham, and coached both triathletes and runners onto podiums of some of the world’s most illustrious races, Lindsey has a unique ability to understand what it takes to succeed at any level and thrives on coaching, motivating and inspiring others to do the same – whether it’s on the track, on stage or behind a mic.

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