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What is The Black Hole of Zone 3 and why do you need to avoid it?
Bill had been stuck in a rut with his training. In the last few years, he’d found it harder and harder to improve his race times. This left him feeling really unmotivated to train.
This, in turn, resulted in him being less consistent with his training. So his fitness decreased further. Creating a vicious cycle.
The reason Bill hadn’t been seeing progress with his training is that he’d fallen into The Black Hole of Zone 3.
The Black Hole of Zone 3
If you have 5 training zones, zone 3 would be the middle one. It’s often described as “comfortably hard”. This is why many runners find their zone 2 runs end up in zone 3 – because they want to feel like they’re doing something.
Running your endurance and long runs in zone 3 is a problem for 2 reasons.
1️⃣ You get too much energy from the glycolytic system (rather than the oxidative). Meaning less aerobic base development.
2️⃣ You end up a little too tired all week. So you can’t hit zone 5 on your sprint intervals and hill repeats.
So your slow runs are too fast and your fast runs are too slow. They’re all getting pulled into The Black Hole of Zone 3.
You can find out more details about these energy systems in my Running Fundamentals course.
To fix this problem, we needed to determine custom training zones for heart rate and pace for Bill.
You can do this by doing a 20-minute time trial. Then take the average HR and average pace for that 20-minute time trial and enter it into the calculator on my website (it’s part of the Running Fundamentals Course).
When Bill did the 20-minute test his average HR was 150bpm and his average pace was 05:44 min/km (9:30min/mile). So his zone 2 HR was 120 to 145 and his zone 2 pace was 06:55 to 07:45 min/km (about 11-12 min/miles).
Now Bill had to do all of his endurance runs and long runs in that zone 2 HR (between 120 and 145). In his words…
I’ve come to discover that in the past I’ve been doing my workouts at the wrong pace and heart rate. By sticking to the prescribed pace and HR my runs have become more effective and I’ve begun to look forward to speed work.
Now we’ve got Bill’s custom HR and Pace zones calibrated correctly and he’s starting to feel the improvements in his endurance and speed. The long runs are slowly getting easier and he can hit higher top speeds on his fast intervals.
We’ll need to repeat this 20-minute test every 3 months or so. As Bill’s fitness improves, his HR zones will stay about the same, but his pace zones will get faster.
When we started working together a few months ago, Bill felt disheartened by his lack of progress and unmotivated to train consistently.
Now he’s avoiding The Black Hole of Zone 3 and he’s getting fitter and faster. More importantly, he’s enjoying his training again and he’s motivated to get out there and pound some pavement.
He’s currently gearing up to lead the half marathon clinic with his running club and take his 2024 season by storm. We’re excited to see how it goes Bill!
If you’re stuck in a rut with your training, we can help! Just click the button below to book a free call.