Runners: New GPS devices can help sharpen your training

Back in my days as a high school runner I used to wish that there were speedometers for runners, so I could know exactly how fast I was running at any given time.

Now, more than 15 years later, these devices exist in the form of wearable GPS devices for runners, manufactured by companies including Timex and Garmin.

I got my hands on a Timex Speed + Distance as soon as it hit the market, and recently upgraded to a Garmin Forerunner 301, which has some amazing advanced mapping and analysis features, plus a built-in heart rate monitor.

Most recently, I teamed up with Training Peaks to develop new ways to use GPS technology that could well revolutionize how runners train.

Specifically, we created something called the Pace Zone Index (PZI), a table that, when used in conjunction with a GPS device, helps runners of every fitness level do each of their running workouts at just the right intensity level.

In addition, I designed a set of 5K and 10K training plans (with plans for longer races to come) that are completely based on the PZI system. By determining your current PZI and selecting the right level of 5K or 10K training plan, you can train in the most customized and precise way possible, virtually eliminating waste and error from your program.

Here's how it works:

To determine your current PZI, you simply go to the table on TrainingPeaks and find the PZI number associated with a recent 5K or 10K race result, or do a 3K time trial and find the PZI number corresponding to this result.

The columns to the right of your current PZI ranking (from 50 to 0) represent your 10 pace zones, including six target training pace ranges and four "gray zones," which are pace ranges that you should generally avoid in training.

These pace zones are hardly arbitrary. On the contrary, they are based on the pioneering work of the great exercise physiologist and running coach Jack Daniels, Ph.D., who gathered mountains of data from scores of runners and used it to determine the most effective training paces for runners of every level.

Here's a quick summary of the 10 zones:

Pace Zone 1 -- Gray Zone 1: Anything between standing still and a very slow jog; too easy to qualify as exercise.

Pace Zone 2 -- Low Aerobic: An easy jog, appropriate for warming up, cooling down, recovery runs, and floats between hard intervals.

Pace Zone 3 -- Moderate Aerobic: A comfortable jog, appropriate for base-building runs and most long runs.

Pace Zone 4 -- High Aerobic: Corresponds roughly to marathon race pace for those who are more than capable of "merely" finishing a marathon; appropriate for tougher base-building runs and long runs.

Pace Zone 5 -- Gray Zone 2: Too fast for prolonged running, too slow for tempo runs.

Pace Zone 6 -- Threshold: Corresponds to roughly between 10K and half-marathon race pace; appropriate for tempo runs.

Pace Zone 7 -- Gray Zone 3: Too fast for tempo runs, too slow for intervals.

Pace Zone 8 -- VO2max: Corresponds to the fastest running pace you can maintain for 6 to 8 minutes; appropriate for short interval/short rest workouts and long interval/long rest workouts.

Pace Zone 9 -- Gray Zone 4: Too fast for either of the above-mentioned interval formats, too slow for short interval/long rest workouts.

Pace Zone 10 -- Speed: Any pace between one-mile race pace and a full sprint; precise pace depends on workout format; appropriate for short interval/long rest workouts and "strides."

Once you know your current PZI (I say "current" because your PZI score will gradually improve as you gain fitness), familiarize yourself with the corresponding target training pace zones and the workouts they belong in, treat yourself to a new GPS device, and hit the roads!

Actually, you can use the PZI in an approximate way by taking splits on a stopwatch while running on a measured course, but using a GPS device keeps you on track literally stride by stride, sort of like using your car speedometer to obey the speed limit.

If you're interested in purchasing one of my PZI-based "Cutting-Edge Runner" training plans, go to www.trainingpeaks.com/cuttingedge.

Soon you will even be able to download these entire plans onto a Garmin Forerunner 301.

I sure wish I could have trained this way 15 years ago!



Matt Fitzgerald coaches runners and triathletes and is the author of "Triathlete Magazine's Complete Triathlon Book" and "Runner's World Guide to Cross-Training."

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