What Heart Rate Percentage to Run a Race at

by Paul
(Dublin, Ireland)

I have been following your programs starting with beginners program 3, then 10k and am presently doing the half marathon training program.
I haven't competed in a race yet.

I try to go by 'perceived effort' as well as my heart rate monitor, but do not really have enough experience to tell my pace by feel alone - some days my runs just feel easier, and other days they hurt like hell!!

So I tend to try to stick to the target heart rate zones more than anything - just working at the higher end of the zone on the days I feel better.

Anyway - my question is, when I do compete in my first race, what heart rate zone should I 'race' at? If I were to guess I would start in zone 2.5 for first 10k, then build up to zone 3 and finish last mile or so in zone 4?

Also, I assume that an intensity strategy would vary between different race distances?

I guess that with experience I will figure this out for myself, but I just don't want to end up spoiling my first race by going too hard, or being disappointing with a time below what I am capable off. So any general rule of thumb would really be appreciated.

Answer by Dominique:

Hi Paul,
Thanks for your question. Great to see that you are doing my running programs! First Beginners Running Program 3, then the 10k Running Program and now the Half Marathon Running Program!!

You don't know how happy it makes me to see that I can help people go from running only a few minutes to running a half marathon!

About running races... running by heart rate is a good strategy for your running workouts, but hardly ever works when you do a race. The excitement of the race is often enough to make your heart rate a little faster than usual. I warn for this on my heart rate monitor training-page.

In races it is generally best to run even or negative splits, i.e. run each and every kilometer at the same pace, or even start off a little bit slower to then run faster towards the end.

That is so tough. It is so easy to go out too fast when you are trained and fit and feeling well. So it requires a lot of discipline and learning how fast you are going. Which gets better with experience.

In general for a half marathon, you will want to run at a comfortably hard pace. Not at tempo pace, that's the pace you can maintain for an hour, it needs to be somewhat slower. To get a reasonable estimate of your race pace you can follow a few different strategies.

First of all, could you find one or a few "tune-up" races before you run your big race? You are training for a half marathon now.

If that is your goal race, see if you can get into a 5k and/or a 10k race and use these as test races. You'll get used to the excitement of a race and your race times will give you a reasonable idea about your goal time for your half marathon as well. Simply use my Race Conversion Calculator to plug in one race to get an approximate time for another race.

Secondly, by now, you might have done some easy runs and tempo runs, maybe even intervals. You probably have a rough idea how fast you can do these training sessions. That can help you get a proxy for your half marathon pace using the . The page explains this further.

Then thirdly, if there are no convenient tune-up races available, try to do a few
goal pace sessions. They can also help give you a good idea about your abilities.

So whatever it takes, get a rough idea about what your abilities are. Then when it comes to race day, especially if you want to do a longer race like a half marathon, start of easily and control that pace.

For more race advice, check out my page about running races.

Hope this helps and get racing soon. It is a fun part of running! And thanks so much for using my website, once again, it's a joy and privilege to have people from all over the world use this site to start their running and get fit. Well done!

Kind regards,

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