Last updated on April 27th, 2021

How hurting my back made me realize I need zone 2 training

I hurt my back, again, 2 weeks ago right before I left for Mexico. The last time I tweaked my back was at OCRWC in October. It’s a running “joke” around here that I am always injured and my back is no exception to that.

My back ends up tweaked roughly every 6 months. I’m unable to sit (very painful) and must spend as much time as possible lying on the floor. So as I write this, I am lying on my living room floor propped up on my elbows in front of my laptop.

Normally after a few days I start getting back to normal, but this time around it’s lingering a lot longer than I wish it to. Since being back from Mexico I’ve seen my chiropractor twice, which included deep tissue massage, acupuncture and adjustments.

With the Spartan Ultra Beast now less than 6 weeks away, the timing couldn’t be worse. I missed the last two weeks of running and strength training and I know I can’t sit around doing nothing, so I’ve made some adjustments to my plan.

I’ve abandoned the Run Keeper running plan I was following, since the major increase in mileage is what got me hurt in the first place and I’ve created a new schedule that will be much lower impact. I’ll be focusing a lot more on zone 2 training to build my aerobic base, which I’ve greatly neglected.

Training zones range from 0 (sedentary) to 5-6 (nearing maximum intensity). Most people spend a lot of their time in zone 0 and then spend small periods of time trying to go all out in zone 3-6, neglecting zone 1 and zone 2.

I’m totally guilty of this. I spent over a year being very inactive with Post Concussion Syndrome, and decided to start running again without building a base. I went from 0 km of mileage in a week to 10 km of mileage without much issue. Then I took some time off and came back with 30 km of mileage in one week and BOOM…my back seized up.

I’ve never been a runner. It’s the weakest part of OCR for me. And I took the wrong approach to training by just signing up for a Run Keeper program that didn’t meet my needs. Hopefully that won’t derail me from completing the Ultra Beast.

While high intensity training has its benefits, there are very specific benefits that we OCR endurance athletes can get from zone 1 and 2 that we can’t get anywhere else. Zone 2 work improves the efficiency of higher intensity work and should not be skipped.

The goal of zone 2 training is to exercise at a pace that keeps your heart rate just below the aerobic threshold so you don’t cross over into lactic acid. This is about 65% of your maximum heart rate. Using the ‘Maffetone Method’ my aerobic threshold is 147 bpm.

This means for a warm up I should be working at around 127-137 bpm for 10-15 minutes, followed by hovering around 137-147 bpm during my exercise time. My cool down would then be around 127-137 bpm, with decreasing intensity.

My zone 2 training plan

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I will be heading out for a 60-75 minute run (or walk/run depending how my back is doing), keeping my heart rate around 137-147 bpm. Today I went out for 5km walk/run to test my back and my average heart rate was 118 bpm. However, I apparently jumped to a max heart rate of 187 at one point.

I’ll also be incorporating walking on the treadmill at max incline or using the Stairmaster to mimic the hills at the Ultra Beast on these days.

I will be removing the back-to-back run that was part of my old training plan to avoid future injury and will replace that with a long bike ride on Saturdays (1.5-2 hours) and a long, slow run on Sundays (90 + minutes) staying in zone 2.

I won’t be doing any high intensity training before the Ultra Beast because my base isn’t up to par and I do not need another injury derailing the rest of my OCR season. This training plan isn’t 100% ideal for the Ultra Beast. I know I should be doing more mileage, but it is what it is and I will have to make do with the cards I have been dealt with.


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  • Melissa Boufounos

    Melissa Boufounos is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist who specializes in sports nutrition. She helps competitive athletes simplify their fuelling plans with flexible eating strategies so they can maximize their performance potential without counting calories, tracking macros or giving up their favourite foods.

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