What is Zone 2 Training?

For most people they are under the impression that they should go hard in every session. They get fixed on certain paces all the time because they think they will not improve and therefore neglect the easy days and even go too hard on easy days as a result. The most common thought is “if I train hard and fast I will get faster” but that is not the case and you need to be clever in your training and like many of the pros they train in zone 2 to get faster. We all know that well known saying “go slow to get fast”. If you keep training hard you with keep having bad training days and likely spend a long time each year on the sidelines.

What is zone 2 training? Zone 2 is steady training just coming above the easy zone, It’s not moderate or anything above. The main benefit form zone 2 heart rate or zone 2 power is that it builds aerobic base and endurance. By Improving aerobic capacity this improves your ability to maintain a faster pace for a longer period of time. Of course you still need to do the higher intensity efforts but zone 2 is the basis and foundation from which to begin to build your faster pace. If you have a strong aerobic capacity it will also allow you to recover quicker between those higher intensity efforts.  For example, with a better aerobic fitness, you will be able to perform intervals with a shorter rest in between and hit pace stronger.

Why is Zone 2 training important?

One of my coaches Mark Shepherd is very critical on me for my training and the majority of his training he gives me is all in zone 2. He stresses the importance of zone training every week. I also believe in this training; before Mark I went on studies on how to improve and the main finding was I was training too hard although I thought it was easy. I had my zones adjusted to my heart rate max and since that study in 2015, I have improved a lot from training in zone 2. So when Mark gave me my training I was no stranger to this. Of course lots of people think they are doing it right but I see it all the time on Strava and can tell it’s wrong. Zone 2 training should be a big bulk of your weekly training and for the benefits mentioned above it also leaves you feeling like you can go on for ever, fresh, recover and therefore really target your hard runs and not get fatigued, which of course will keep the injuries away. If the injuries stay away then to me that’s a major importance in any training, not only will you get consistent training which is the key, but if you get consistent training you are very likely to improve. If you keep over training and get injured you will just end up chasing your fitness and making excuses.  With zone 2 training you should be able to maintain a conversation very easily; I always like to focus on form as it’s easy to do whilst at this heart rate. What is there not to like about it? It’s a well-known method and your body needs to repair – you just cannot keep breaking your body down with hard training. I always point out to people even the best marathon runners in the world run slow miles.

How to work it out?

Firstly you need a watch and a heart rate monitor. You need to know your heart rate max and once you have that you can put your heart rate in many calculators online HERE or watch my YouTube videos HERE and you will get your zones from there. You do need to make sure the HR max is right, you can do tests like: 5k Time Trial, FTP test, coopers test, VO2 Max lab test and so on etc or even use a recent race result. Do not use your watch automatic/present zones as 9/10 times they are wrong zones. Once you know your heart rate max you can get your zones.  Don’t go by pace or mileage, I just go by time and follow the zone strictly. By sticking to lower heart rates, over time you will find that you are likely to increase your pace at the same heart rate output. This is due to increased aerobic efficiency – yes I had to walk up hills to start off with but that was a way my body was telling me I am pushing too hard. You may have to walk but in time it improves. When you become more efficient in time you will then be able to do more training hours at a lower heart rate. Check out old blog HERE about if Heart Rate training is worth it.

Why do people ignore this method?

People are simply not patient and they expect instant results and that won’t happen overnight. At least 2/4 of my runs a week are in zone 2. When I first did this training it was a few weeks before I saw my pace improve, but found I could train more and on the hard sessions go harder. Over the years the pace is sometimes at a pace which I was doing back in 2015 too hard. I have improved a lot from this but it takes times, it could be weeks or months to see improvement but you have to keep at it and your see the benefits. Stick with it and you will make improvements and of course with anything you will struggle to get quick results so why break your body and get injured when you can train smart?

My conclusion is it is a big topic and this is a quick simple blog about this; I have written many in depth blogs in the past and YouTube Videos so check them out. I train like this, my athletes do and I have many friends doing this training who have all gone to do well whether it’s a PB or a medal. I believe in this and when I look back over the years I have improved so much and continue to improve. The medals I have won are due to training smart and not over training. Thanks for reading and what do you think about zone 2 training?

Check out my YOUTUTBE video on this subject HERE

Your race was cancelled? Stay Calm, stay positive -tips to keep your training going.

There is something at the moment on the news and around the world that we can’t escape – that of course is the Coronavirus. This virus has caused chaos around the world, with countries struggling to control this and some countries even going into a lockdown. Many events so far have been cancelled, clubs postponing training until further notice and so on. It is tough times and a situation none of us expected or have gone through in our lives. So I have written a blog on how to safely keep fit and motivated and what you can do if you’re in lockdown and can’t leave the house to maintain some sort of fitness.

As an athlete and Interim Head Coach for Canterbury Harriers I share your frustration with all your training and plans up in the air; please note that no training is a waste. Being part of clubs has changed my life and helped my health and wellbeing and mentally, I have made lots of friends too, so it will be hard for a lot of us through this difficult time.

Firstly we must listen to guidelines set by the government so that this can pass quickly. It’s important to stay calm, stay positive and keep moving forward – we can beat this together. If you are struggling for motivation just do something even if it’s just for 10 minutes – such as a short run. If you’re not feeling it after 10 minutes stop, but it’s likely you will stay out much longer whatever you do.

Like many of you my targets, goals and season plans are now all up in the air, training was going well getting ready for my first important race in May and then the virus struck. It’s ok to feel disappointment about races being cancelled and goals not achieved, but we are all in this together.

Safety is so important so I will do what I have to do to stay well and safe. So with races being cancelled, parkrun cancelled, clubs runs cancelled etc  I therefore had to change my training up as it would be too early to peak for the European Sprint Triathlon Championships in August and not knowing if that will go ahead. Don’t think your training has gone to waste because your race was cancelled. No training is a waste, firstly by training you’re looking after your health and wellbeing (both physical and mental) boosting your immune system and keeping fit. So it’s important to keep training if it’s safe outside alone or indoors.

The pools and leisure centres have now closed in the UK. So how can you maintain your swim fitness? Well the problem is unless you have your own pool, it will be a tough one, so you could work more on another area such as running and cycling and focusing more on that. I started swimming in 2012 and have really swam consistently since with only a few weeks off from it each year from my end of season break, so like many of you it looks like long periods of not swimming is on the cards. However a lot of swim training is also done in the gym where you can also do this at home. Swimmers call this land base training; you can do a lot at home, even if you don’t have any equipment. If you already go to the gym you will likely being doing some of these exercises below to make you stronger and keep injuries to the minimal.

So things like Press Ups, Sit Ups, V Sit Ups, Planks, Side Planks, Jumping Lunges, Dead Bug, Tread the Needle,  Alkeanas, Glute Bridge, Shoulder Wall Slides will help you for your core and swimming. If you have a resistance band you can do Dead Bugs with a band and that will help your core and give your arms some resistance. You could add Squats; now don’t overdo it but you can produce a circuit such as Press Ups, Sit Ups and Planks x10 reps of each and then do 3 sets and maybe add Squats, Sit Ups, Dead Bug in the same format. There is plenty of strength videos online that will keep you strong and with some small cardio workout. Just make sure when searching the internet you look at the right form and copy it as you don’t want to get injured and the workout must be what you think will help you. So not going to the gym isn’t bad at all, for runners and cyclists you could even add a few more things in like Squats, Clams and Scissors. You can Google these and find them on YouTube.

The above can be done without weights and if you have got weights you can use weights for some. So you can see there is a lot you can do without equipment. This will help with your strength and some fitness.

What about running? Well this very much depends if you are allowed out your home-  the UK government has put in restrictions that you can exercise once a day outside your home such as a run alone or with a family member from your household.  If you have a treadmill then you can pretty much do all your runs on the treadmill no problem. If you are allowed out the house then you can go running and you do your own session but maintaining a safe distance from the public.

If you only run with your club then you might need some sessions. Good sessions I like are mile reps 3×1 mile rep with 3 minutes recovery between the reps and a warm up and warm down either side, easy runs and long runs will get you through too, but I am sure you know what sessions you can do. If you don’t have a treadmill and not allowed out the house but can get into the garden perhaps you can run up and down your garden? If it’s to small what about doing drills and working on your running form? Good drills I like are high knees, A steps, heel flicks, strides; these will help your form a lot but of course your running fitness won’t be the same.

It’s important your training does not go stale so just because you’re not training with others or racing you can change your training up. If you want to do easy runs, time on feet is a good way to train. You could increase you runs by 6-9 minutes each week for three weeks and then hold for three weeks so for example if you start from 60 minutes then go 1 hour 6 minutes, 1 hour 12 minutes, 1 hour 18 minutes and hold that 1:18 for two weeks. Then have a recovery week cutting back to 60 minute runs or less. Easy runs should be easy and don’t worry about pace – the slower the better makes you more efficient and faster in the long run.

A rough guide on heart rate zones is around 60% of your heart rate max no higher – any higher you’re over training into different zones such as going in to threshold zone. Easy runs in theory should give you fresh legs not sore at all the following day and you can then run hard. If you don’t know your heart rate max, zone 2 is the right zone, it might feel slow but your body adapts and pace will come down my coach Mark Sheperd always stresses the importance of zone2 training. When you do have a recovery week keep the intensity the same but reps low. For example if you normally do 6x1k reps then cut that down to 3 to 4 reps. If you want to stay connected with people which is so important, you could have mini competitions with friends via Strava for example, that can help with motivation.

Lastly cycling – this can be done easily indoors with your bike/exercise bike. Your bike will need a turbo trainer or rollers – you can pick them up cheap now and you can do training just like you would outdoors, there are plenty of programs you can follow and even virtual rides will keep motivation and even hook up with friends and training buddies online for some friendly competition.

That’s how you can still train but you need to keep motivated.  There are a few things you can do.   A simple option is to have a recovery week, use this time to think about what you want to achieve and focus on in the coming months. There is nothing worse than pounding your body all year round and then only resting once you’re broken.

Remember that somebody believes in you. This somebody could be a coach, manager, trainer, fellow athlete or loved one. They will have the belief in your ability that you currently may not have. There is no harm in asking them for reassurances.

Think in positive ways at all times. Positivity can be developed by assessing training each day and competition sessions. Assess your own positivity through forms of achievement through technique, practice and movement. Thinking positively leads to better mind and body balance. Positive thinking enables the neural pathways within the mind to operate with clarity and purpose.

Understand that it can be done. Embark on each task as a champion by having a clear and defined plan. Achieve your task step by step. Do not take on a big task and expect to complete it quickly. Have patience and believe in yourself.

Stay in control of the controllable. Maintaining the controllable builds self-confidence because it provides you with a sense of focus and directive. Remember that you can never control what others are thinking/doing but you can control what you are achieving. There are a range of variables within running that can lead to performers losing sight of the controllable. External factors/influences will only hinder performance and must be beaten.

Recall previous success. A mantra that I use is related to distance travelled. Think about previous successes that you have had. What did that feel like? How were your emotions during this time? Further, how confident did that make you feel? Recall is a positive mechanism to enable one to re-build confidence as it associates with belief.

Set short-term goals. Most athletes suffer from low self-confidence because they allow the issue(s) to prolong and as a consequence fail to deal with problems head on. To overcome these issues, set short-term goals that will enable the flow of confidence (no matter how small) to start. Through constantly achieving your short-term goals you will build your levels of self-confidence like a snowball growing bigger. Short-term goals should be related to processes that can be achieved.

The world Situation is bad however, exercise wise it’s not all bad, you have lots of options with what you can do now that facilities are closed.  I believe it’s important to keep smiling, keep positive in order to move forward as we can beat this but most importantly stay safe. Motivation might be tough but I hope the tips help, setting small goals each week and taking each day as it comes in this climate is a good way to go. I will be posting videos to help with training on my YouTube Channel link HERE please check it out and subscribe.

Such a scary moment….

Saturday 4th of August evening and I am out with a friend enjoying a bike ride. I am 25 miles into our long bike ride on the outskirts of Canterbury in quiet country roads. I go round a bend and look up to my horror to see a car take the corner very wide, it was going to hit me head on. The only thing I could do was quickly turn my bike while going around 20mph to avoid the car. I managed to avoid the car but I went flying and so did my bike, with my bike going the other side of the road. I then slowly got up to find the driver of the car decided to drive round me and carry on why I was still on the floor.

Some nice guy came to help me and check I was alright. I seemed to have got away with nothing broken but my hip was badly bruised and cut and I was covered with cuts around my body. The bike handle bars were the wrong way round and my friend was able to sort this at the accident scene. No other damage to the bike apart from scratches and a minor dent. I think I was very lucky to not break any bones but also very lucky as it could have been worse.

The following day I woke up in pain and bruises, the pain was more to do with the cuts. As a mental aspect I didn’t want to get back on the bike after this. I definitely wasn’t myself. The cut on my hip was the biggest problem as it was just taking a while to heal. I was able to go to the gym a few days later but struggled with doing my strength stuff on the floor on that side and felt stiff. I started feeling better during the week and went for a run and then a bike ride later that week. The run felt fine but the bike wasn’t very comfy and I seemed to be getting pain on my opposite hip. I woke up the next day with a sore hip but was able to still train. Anyway I couldn’t swim until 10 days after the accident as my hip was cut and wasn’t healing and I couldn’t risk an infection.

So I am very lucky to have come away from this with just some bruises. Mentally this has affected me in a way that I don’t feel safe cycling and wanted to not cycle again. So I made sure I got out on the road a few days later to overcome this fear. Since the accident it took me the best part of a week to get over this, knowing that fact that people are like that and drive off.

Two weeks after the accident, with training limited I was getting my head round to keep focused and not be disheartened by this. Training wasn’t ideal and on the positive side if I had come off worse my season would have been over and I would of missed the European Championships. When my training hasn’t gone well I have been looking at how far I have come and what I have achieved to keep me positive. I was hoping to get out more on the bike but because of the problems and my bike needing a refit I was limited. This changes my triathlon targets for the Channel Tri in a few weeks time to just go out and enjoy and not race it.

So two weeks after the accident I was back racing at the London Aquathlon. A race that is in its third year and a race I look forward to as it’s in the Olympic pool and its not every day you can race there where so many Olympic greats achieved successes. I helped out at the event starting the 3 waves off and chatting to competitors during and after the race. It was nice to see the race numbers had increased significantly and had also attracted other GB athletes.

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I decided not to push hard because of my training and also to experiment with my running.  So I decided to just swim to a point where I wasn’t feeling tired and maintain speed. I always find it harder swimming in a pool when you don’t tumble turn. I  started the race and gave some advice to people and was first to start in wave 1.

 

I got over taken in the pool by two people; I am not keen on racing in the pool as I always find I am slower. I came out into transition with another GB age group athlete. Being a pool race we were not allowed to run until we got outside. As soon as we got outside I started to run past the person in front and I was in the lead. I tried a different strategy by not going out as fast on the first mile and aim to get quicker.

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I didn’t get it right and was too slow at the first mile, oh well never mind. As I was running round I was encouraging people around the course. I came back first in my wave but second overall. I was pretty happy with it, considering my lack of training.

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After the race I got to chat to a few people who did the race and it was such a lovely vibe and getting to meet new people. Also a special well done to fellow Asics Frontrunner team member Becca for finishing her first ever aquathlon.

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So I am now 9 week’s away from the European Championships and I am hoping to get in some consistent training and hopefully be ready for the race.

Busy month of races

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The past month has been a busy month race wise.

First up was on the 25th of March which was the Tri Spirits Hole park 5k challenge. I had won the race last year and I wanted to analyse my progress from the previous year and try and beat my time and the course record I set.

It was a gloomy day and I felt so tired as we had been looking after my sister’s dog for the week which took its toll with a lack of sleep. I knew I was going to struggle that morning as my heart rate was quite high. Anyway the course is a challenging off road course and this year it was very muddy; last year it was sunny and dry.

I decided to run the first mile hard and see how it went. I had a few people sticking to me at the start but then they fell back. Being muddy favours me as I love cross country and I am a strong cross country runner.  I had no one near me but I decided to still push hard, falling over in the mud in the process. I finished the race is a comfortable 1st place, and with a new course record of 20:40 and therefore beating my last time of over 40 seconds on a muddier course.  I was really happy with it and it was a huge confidence boost.

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Less than a week later it was the Folkestone 10 mile road race on Good Friday. A race I have never done before, but is flat and a fast course. I was in great shape and with Fleet Half Marathon cancelled a few weeks prior I was sure I could get a PB and push near to the sub 1 hour mark. One target I am working towards.

I started my warm up and it started to rain and it appeared the wind was quite strong against me. Some 700 people had entered this race with many using this as marathon prep.  The race started and I wanted to hold back on pace and not overdo it. I was aiming for negative splits, my first mile was 6.05, but then after that it got slower and tough against the wind. Another 4 miles battling the wind and I was nowhere near a PB. I then turned around on the 5 mile part and headed back. By this point I was over a minute away from getting a PB and the rain had got worse, I was soaked.

I then decided to try going faster the second half and with the wind with me I started at 5:50 per mile and went quicker per mile. The last mile was tough but I kept going and managed to finish in 1:00:13. I was over the moon with the time and I managed to set 5 mile and 5k PB’s on the way back.

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The next race the following week was the Basildon Aquathlon. This was my first aquathlon for the year and my preparation for the world championships was under the way. I came down with a head cold that week and I was very nervous. On race day the weather was awful which made the off road course so muddy, it was also a 400m pool swim which I don’t like as I am slower in the pool as I do not tumble turn. However I have been practising. I entered transition and because it was muddy on the course I had to wear trails. This made me really nervous as I have never worn trails in an aquathlon. The race started and I entered the pool. I felt comfortable in the swim but the last 200 metres I was struggling to breath due to having this cold. I entered transition and it was hard to get my trails, but good job I practiced before the race.

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I got on the run and felt good, although the trails were making me slide around the paths. When I got onto the grass and hills, I made-up a lot of time and was very wise to wear them. The course was muddy and it was such a hard run. I kept pushing, overtaking people.

I raced home in 2nd place; although the time was slightly slower due to the run course being wet and muddy. I was very happy, my swim was a few seconds better and I had the fastest run split. My work towards a successful world championships race has now begun.

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Next up was the Asics Fleet Half Marathon that was postponed and rearrange due to the snow a month later. I didn’t really want to do it because of the timing. My wife was running it too. The weather was a bit cold and overcast. I just wanted to beat my current PB of 1:23:20, so I started off at a slow pace for the first 3 miles. I then built into it working on getting quicker and maintaining the speed. I was running with another guy for most of it and with the tail wind we decided to swap who took the lead along the course to try and keep the wind off us. I managed to get quicker and we raced home in 1:19:29. I was over the moon as this is a target I thought was unrealistic and therefore took just under 4 minutes off my last PB and 22nd place. This was a distance I have struggled in the past. I was also very proud to see my wife finish as she struggled with an ankle and calf problem.

 

Looking back at all these races, I am able now to push harder in training and work towards a great World Championships.

 

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