Running in the grey zone

Running in the grey zone and (Not) sticking to the plan

We all know this: yesterday you’ve done your tempo work so you’re supposed to do your recovery run today. Your coach has put your workout in Trainingpeaks: 45 minutes in zone 1-2. However, that is NOT what you do. You’re going of way to fast. You are not sticking to your training plan. You’re just going with the flow. You are running in the grey zone.

Often when you are doing that, ‘going with the flow’, your run still feels easy, but an uptempo type of easy. You are definitely not running at marathon or half marathon pace. You’re somewhere in between marathon pace and easy pace.

Meet the grey zone: it’s that zone that still ‘feels easy’, but is actually too fast. It’s that pace where you think other people look at you and say to each other: “that’s a good runner, look at how fast and so easy!” (they are not actually saying that, most people don’t have a clue about running pace). Of all the types of training you can do, running in the Grey zone is the least useful: it is to fast for recovery, it is too slow to be considered tempo work, it is also too fast to be fresh enough the next day when you do have to do real tempo work. Your heart rate is too high to properly train your aerobic base, and too low for anaerobic training.

Aerobic base

Whether you are training for a 5k or a marathon it is important to log lots of easy miles: running with low heart rate, in heart rate zone one or two. These wrongly caled ‘junk miles’ are there to train your aerobic base and make you more efficient as a runner. Do these types of runs a lot and running will become easier. You will find that over time your pace will increase, while your heart rate will remain the same. Eventually this results in faster racing times.

It is not surprising that as a rule of thumb when training for a marathon about 80% of your running consists of easy runs. So when you see these runs in your training calendar, know that these workouts have a purpose, and it is important to follow up on them, and not go showing off in the gray zone.

The grey zone and the morale of the army inside

However, sometimes you just don’t feel like it. It happens. I have that too. It shouldn’t happen every time, as that will be detrimental to your overall training quality, and you will pay the price on race day. But every once in a while it is perfectly fine to just go with the flow, even when you are in the midst of training for a marathon. These ‘break out runs’ as I call them are to suit the morale inside. I always imagine some sort of army inside my body that starts complaining, and every now and then I have to throw them a bone. I’ll work things out with my coach later. Generally she agrees though… just not too much of this.

Running can be a demanding sport. Especially when you are training for a race. It controls at what time we eat, so I can go out running not too late, it controls what I do the night before (nothing, as I have a long run tomorrow), it controls where I go on holiday (is my destination a nice place to run? no? I won’t go). It controls what time I go to bed. And as it controls my life, it also controls a large part of my girlfriends life, and that of my children (and they don’t run).

Sometimes you have to escape the pressure of the training plan. Don’t worry if you just want to pick up the pace and go for that grey zone, the one that feels so easy but is too fast. It is ok if you want tofeel like Kipchoge every once in a while.

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