How to set up heart rate zones in Garmin Connect

Marathon training isn't going badly, but it isn't going great either. I don't have that sense that everyone else in the whole world seems to have, that I'm getting faster and stronger. Instead, I feel slower and tired -- even with 2-3 rest days per week.

I was scrolling through my training log from the spring to see when everything started to "click" during half marathon training. I think the moment was when I ran my first 5-mile tempo in 7:5x pace -- I rushed home after that run full of happiness, full of surprise that my training was actually working (duh! that's the point!).

Here are the facts about this training cycle:

  • I've spent weeks one through five building up to about 35-40mpw.
  • In the two months since Wisconsin, I ran just a little bit (10-20mpw).
  • In the month I was in Thailand, I ran just once or twice a week. 
  • In August I moved to farther south, to a place with lots of hills that have been brutal on my legs.
  • This week is a cutback week.
  • Next week, I'll start adding in some speedwork.

Basically, I know and understand why running feels hard. Still, there's this little voice in my head that is saying, "Is running actually hard right now, or are you just being a baby about it? Should you be pushing yourself more?

What I want is a more objective measure of effort. Enter: my heart rate monitor.

The first step was to take my resting heart rate and plug it into Garmin Connect. This video is a helpful how-to.


Then at the bottom, I entered my max heart rate. This site  has a calculator that shows the old 220-age formula alongside some of the newer formulas. Take your pick!

Once I entered my resting and max heart rate, Garmin filled in each of the heart rate targets, calculated the % of my HRR (heart rate reserve: the difference between my predicted maximum heart rate and my resting heart rate), and sent all the data to my watch.



Next, I took my HRM and watch out for a run and kept my eye on my heart rate while paying attention to my effort. I noticed I could be running and chilling all the way up to 149, but when I hit 150bpm, I started feeling like I was working.

Next, the goal is to figure out which zone each workout should be done in. 

Runner's World has an easy guide:

Workout Percent of Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)

  • Easy run and long run: 65-75%
  • Tempo run: 87-92%
  • Interval repeats: 95-100%

Race Distance

  • 5K: 95-97%
  • 10K: 92-94%
  • Half-marathon: 85-88%
  • Marathon: 80-85%

These percentages can be plugged in to the Garmin Connect website on the same screen. I tweaked mine a little so that they looked like this (basically consistent with the RW suggested ranges above):

  • Zone 1: 50-65%  (for rest between intervals)
  • Zone 2: 65-75% (for easy and long runs)
  • Zone 3: 75-80% (rarely used)
  • Zone 4: 80-90% (for tempo runs)
  • Zone 5: 90-100% (for intervals) 

Once you're set up in Garmin Connect, you can go to your watch and play around with the display. I messed with mine for a while because I wasn't sure what data I wanted to see. In the end, I realized I preferred to see my actual heart rate in real-time, and set up heart rate zone workouts for intervals. Here is a great how-to for setting up an interval workouts based on heart rate zones, so that your Garmin will beep angrily at you when you leave the intended heart rate zone:


I hope this will answer my questions about effort and also relieve some of the weird judgments I feel about specific paces and what I'm "supposed" to be hitting, what "should" feel easy, and so on. As my training progresses, faster paces will begin to feel easier, and I'll eventually be able to run faster in the same heart rate zone. 

If anyone has any experience with running with a heart rate monitor, please share!