Threshhold Shmeshhold: the training zone confusion of a middle-aged woman


As I have decided to grab life by the hair and give it a good hard yank this year, my husband, who has started to refer to himself as Beloved Husband (BH from now on then, snigger) ‘suggested’ that if I wanted to get any real effects out of training so that I’m not just lumbering about or flollopping along on my bike ( I maintain that I have never, ever flollopped except maybe on the sofa), I ‘might like’ to work out my Maximum Heart Rate and calculate my training zones. By using the right zone for the right training session I can train more methodically and improve not only my endurance but also my speed and therefore, my overall performance. Yeah, right.

Now, being fully frank, I normally do just lumber along. My argument being that I’m actually lapping anyone sitting on a couch and anyway, I’m completely rubbish, so why would I bother with anything more sophisticated than just ‘getting out there’ as a training method. I have regularly commented that I could take any amount of EPO to improve my performance without having to overdo this training nonsense and I’d never be tested since I’d only come half way up any finish list anyway. I’ve taken Evening Primrose Oil by the way and it doesn’t work.

BH rolled his eyes, signed me up for Strava and printed me out an MHR test from some geeky cycling site he pores over avidly as if it were porn – I think it is his porn judging by the leering grin he has when he reads it, weirdo.

Anyway, back to the test. Yesterday, I set up the turbo trainer and jumped on my bike and did the following, which is designed to find my maximum heart rate (before black out of course). You need to have a smart watch with a heart rate monitor to do this test. The usual sports watches will do, or I think you could even use an Apple Sports watch.

The Test:

10 Minutes easy warm up

10 minutes hard effort at a consistent time trial effort with the last minute being increased effort and last 30 seconds being sprint effort.

After that you cool down with 10 minutes easy cycling rather than stop.

Once you know what your maximum heart rate is, you can work out your training zones. Just for extra confusion, I should point out that this test is for the cycling MHR, the MHR for running is different and has to be done when running and you will find that it is higher. There is a traditional and easy way to work out your MHR, which is to use 220 minus your age, however, its generally accepted to be quite a clumsy calculation. So then you move to these ridiculous tests to establish how hard you can push yourself before you collapse in convulsions.

The Training Zones are:

Zone 1 – Easy/Recovery Zone: Heart rate should be between 65-70% MHR – perceived effort rating 3-4 – easy to talk

Zone 2 – Aerobic Zone: Heart rate should be 75-85% MHR – perceived effort rating 5-6 still able to talk sentences.

Zone 3 – Threshold Zone: Heart rate should be 88-92% MHR – perceived effort rating 7-8 maybe throw out the odd word.

Zone 4 – VO2 Max Zone: Heart rate should be 95-100% MHR – perceived effort rating 9+ talking not an option!

Depending upon the distance or race type you are aiming for, it may be that you need to spend more time in your aerobic zone; for example for marathon races, cycling sportives or other endurance events which are longer and overall slower, interspersing those sessions with sessions in the threshold zone to help you develop your overall speed. Whereas, if you are training for shorter distances that are generally at a faster pace such as 5k races or cycling TT races you may well spend more time in the threshold and even VO2 Max zones. In all cases, after a heavy session you will likely change to the recovery zone the next time which will allow you to exercise and ‘flush out’ muscle toxins such as lactic acid and recover.

So there you have it, or not in my case. I have to say that when I run I feel like I’m in the VO2 max zone all the time. I have no clue how on earth I’m expected to get into the lower zones when I’m running. Walk? Use roller skates?

Although I was a sprinter at school, being Generation X with umpteen years of horse riding and other sports behind me, I’m in that level of folks who are weekend warriors and mass participants of sports to achieve and do something for themselves. For me, because I’m on the slower side, it almost feels ‘wrong’ for me to train more like BH and some of my friends who really are going to challenge for age group placings and medals and I have pushed myself backwards and talked myself out of methodical and developmental training for events because of that – no matter whether its swimming or cycling. I’m ashamed of how truly awful I am.

I met Mark Foster a couple of weekends ago at the Triathlon Show at Excel. I asked him for tips to reinvigorate a sickened mojo. He took a couple of minutes to think about it. His view is that an individual should never, ever think lowly of themselves. No, we aren’t all going to be an Ian Thorpe, or Chrissie Wellington, or Becky Adlington. BUT you can be the best version of you. Thats who you should aim to be. Your best You – the Hero of Your Own Life ( ooh, where did I hear that before???). I’d forgotten that, wallowing in my lack of confidence lately.

Anyway, my MHR results. After doing the 10 minutes of what I had perceived as ‘Really Going For It’ my MHR turned out to be 165 bpm. Then I went out and did a little 2 mile run loop. I thought I was going to die. I didn’t look at my watch because I didn’t want to see that I was running at roughly the same pace as an asthmatic chicken. I came back and copied BH by instantly checking my stats and see them in glorious technicolour on my new Strava page. It was my fastest 2 mile run – eh? AND my MHR was 185 bpm! BH studied my results. He said I should warm up for Park Run in future and that my usual walk from the car park to the start, moaning because I don’t want to take my jacket off and checking my laces doesn’t count as a warm up. It was apparently clear that I had not, after all, been ‘really going for it’ on the bike as it would be unusual to have such a difference on run and bike MHR.  So, now, I have to get back on the bike and do it all again. And this time I have to TRY….


4 thoughts on “Threshhold Shmeshhold: the training zone confusion of a middle-aged woman

  1. ladyn0ttingham December 28, 2017 / 9:52 pm

    You sound like me. Just… all of this… except that I don’t cycle. It is nice to know I’m not the only mid-packer with an overachieving spouse out there trying to do her best and being confused by it!

    • ordinary2extreme January 1, 2018 / 9:13 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment. Its so tough to juggle life and try to accomplish some things for yourself and not to feel a bit intimidated. I’m going to try to write a bit more this year and hope you can follow and comment. Hope I can share some useful tips when I discover/find them too. Happy New Year and here is to a 2018 that we can enjoy and achieve and debunk some of the mystery!

      • ladyn0ttingham January 9, 2018 / 7:41 pm

        Yes! Post more. I’d love to be in your network. People like us need a network.

      • ordinary2extreme January 11, 2018 / 12:21 pm

        Thanks again! Yes, the plan is to post more this year. Would love to get feed back on future posts so I can improve content.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s