PodcastTrees and DLake

Why you should (and should not) run in the grey zone, with Mike Trees

Everything you need to know about training in the dreaded grey zone

Listen below or on your favorite podcast player

Purgatory in catholic/christian religious circles is the in between place right after you die. You’re not alive but you’re also not in the afterlife. You’re mildly suffering in a hybrid limbo state of purgatory.

If you’re training for a run or endurance event this place is also called the GREY ZONE!

Most coaches preach to not stay in the grey zone (which is between aerobic and anaerobic heart rate zones on a 5 zone heart rate model)

If you follow the 80/20 rule you know that 8 out of 10 runs should be easy like very easy and 2 of those 10 should be hard… like very hard.

So where then do grey zone runs fit that are in between easy and hard?

We’ll attempt to answer that and clear up the confusion of grey zone on this episode.

What You Will Learn

  • What the grey zone is
  • How to stay out of it
  • When the best time is to be in this zone is
  • A fun story of how I thought I was in the grey zone but I really wasn’t
  • And much more

Episode Highlights and Timestamps

[02:47] Grey Zone Definition

[04:06] Why should we stay out of the grey zone?

[08:18] When is it okay to be in the grey zone?

[14:40] The real problem with the grey zone

[14:56] Daren’s z4/z5 overtraining issues

[20:14] Inigi Samelan on z2 training

[21:02] Mixing up z2 heart rate training

Notable Quotables



This episode is brought to you by NRG – Coaching which is Mike Trees’ coaching service. Mike coaches beginners to pros and all levels in between.

No one is too fast and no one too slow. They just want a desire to learn and improve.

They focus on 1,500m to marathon running and triathlon training.

NRG Coaching is constantly overbooked, so Instagram and this new podcast venture gives Mike and the rest of his NRG coaching team a way to reach out to more people.

Contact mike and his team NRG-COACHING.com for more info


Like what you’re hearing? Want to train and live consistently to do dope shit with your health and fitness? Sign for our newsletter “Three Thing Thursday”. We’ll put three perfectly created and curated things in your inbox. This will be regular motivation from tips, tricks, tools, tactics, and skills. And…. they all revolve around being a better human in endurance sports and wellness.

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Original Music Used Here

Full Transcript Below (or download pdf here)

[00:00:00] Daren: Purgatory in Catholic slash Christian religious circles is the in between place right after you die. You’re not alive, but you’re also not in the afterlife. You’re mildly suffering in a hybrid limbo state of purgatory. 

[00:00:15] Daren: If you’re training for a run or endurance event, this place is also called for grey zone.

[00:00:20] Daren: Find out why you should stay out of the gray zone and when you should be in it, on this episode of Trees and DLake. 

[00:00:29] Daren: What is up welcome to trees and D like a podcast series by Mike trees.

[00:00:33] Daren: And you’re a truly Daren DLake creates in this series. Our goal is to educate and entertain smart and committed runners. A bit more on that from my trees. 

[00:00:41] Mike: And the aim of this podcast is to give in a lighthearted, amusing and entertaining way, hints and tips to help your run better and enjoy your sporting life more. So let’s see how we can go with that. 

[00:00:54] Daren: Mike’s being pretty modest. He has over 50 years of running and doing triathlons under his belt. And if you’re wondering about me, I’ve been in the endurance sport game for about twenty-five years now done a sub three hour marathon and completed an iron man triathlon in 10 hours.

[00:01:10] Daren: We appreciate all the help and support that we can get. So if you can please share out this episode to someone that that would like this, oh, quick language warning. In some rare instances, we might use some bad words. So apologies in advance for that. Most coaches preach to not stay in the gray zone, which is between aerobic and anaerobic heart rate zones on a five zone heart rate model.

[00:01:31] Daren: And if you follow the 80 20 rule that eight out of 10 runs should be easy, like very easy. And two out of those 10 should be hard, like extremely hard. So where then do gray zone runs fit that are in between easy and hard. We’ll attempt to answer that and clear up the confusion of gray zone on this episode, what you’ll learn, what the gray zone is, how to stay out of it.

[00:01:54] Daren: The best time to be in this zone. A fun story of how I thought I was in the gray zone, but I actually wasn’t and much more let’s jump into the chat with Mike trees and me

[00:02:08] Daren: warm-up complete. Alright, Mike, we’re jumping right into this, the gray zone, better known as . If you’re on the five zone, heart rate system. Tell me about the gray zone. Please define it because I think a lot of people in the world runner’s world other runners, new runners, everyone has their own definition.

[00:02:28] Daren: Please define what you think is the gray zone. 

[00:02:31] Mike: So yeah, my understanding of the gray zone and how I define it with my athletes that I work with is it’s an Arabic run. And it’s not hard. It’s not easy. It’s Sydney. And it’s the sort of zone that most beginners drift into you running along an easy fields, too easy.

[00:02:52] Mike: So you need to go a little bit harder, but hard. You start to build up black thick and it just, everything aches and hurts too much. So they dropped down and the gray zone is just this zone that they think they’re pushing, but they keep going, or this feels good. And then when they finished that, that was good.

[00:03:06] Mike: I’ve got a really good sweat yet, and it’s just not quite hard enough and it’s not quite easy enough on a scale of. One to 10 it’s probably somewhere around about a seven out of 10 for effort and easy runs should really be three to five. Maybe even five to seven. And again, you see here’s me changing my definitions already.

[00:03:27] Mike: It’s so hard to define. That’s why people can drift into it so much. And so what I say is just to make sure you don’t drift into that. No, no man’s land that zone. We shouldn’t go into make the easy, really easy and the hard, really hard and never the Twain can meet. And therefore you’re making sure you’re keeping out of that zone as you, you start to understand and feel your own body.

[00:03:50] Daren: So tell me about why. We should stay out of it. And I know everyone has different objectives what are we optimizing for is a big question. And I, whenever someone comes to me, they’re like, coach me on this. I’m like what are we doing? No. I’m not just give you random advice. Like I need to know what you want, what your objective.

[00:04:06] Daren: So a pro runner. Great. It’s different than a brand new runner it’s gray zone. And then the distance is a pro 5k runner is different than a brand new running on what’s run a marathon or 

[00:04:16] Mike: an Ironman, even simply a gray zone is just an area you shouldn’t be going to in that training. If that certain intensity is specified by the code.

[00:04:25] Mike: Then it’s not the gray zone. So that’s probably a simpler way of saying it. If you’re going for an easy run, you’ve got to keep it easy. If you drift and go too fast, that’s going the Dre zone. If you’re going for hard run and you just can’t maintain it and drop down a bit slower and slower, that’s the gray zone.

[00:04:41] Mike: But. If you’re training for a marathon and your coach says run at that sort of seven out of 10 intensity, then it’s not a gray zone because it’s been specified as an area to go to. Some might clear it up a little bit. So I like athletes generally to be training very easy, 80% of the time or hard, 20% of the time.

[00:05:01] Mike: And if you go hard, you need that 80% easy to read. And what they get wrong is they think by going a little bit harder and easy run, it’ll benefit them more. So breaking down again, to get faster, you need your aerobic development, you need your anaerobic efficiency development. You need some speed work for legs B, which we call neuro muscular development.

[00:05:24] Mike: And you need a little bit of. Strength work, certainly conditioning for simple elements. So I like to keep it simple as that. So for simple elements to get faster now, the easy running people think they’re going faster and easier and we’ll make them quicker. It’s so far removed from race pace. They really don’t understand if I say that your easy run is six minutes per kilometer, but your race pace is Formance per Calita.

[00:05:49] Mike: Running it for. Kilometer is not actually going to help you run any quicker because there’s no newer muscular development and the muscles aren’t getting used. 

[00:05:57] Daren: Sorry. Just need to clear that out for you Americans out there, that’s about eight and a half, nine minutes per mile, or six 50 to seven minute miles.

[00:06:06] Daren: So just letting you know. Alright, sorry. Keep going. 

[00:06:08] Mike: Okay. The numbers that they, the actual times, aren’t specifics, it’s just the distance from race pace. So say we do back in miles then and you’re doing an easy run. It’s meant to be. I will say 10 minutes per mile, but you drift up to eight minutes per mile, but your race pace is seven minutes per mile.

[00:06:27] Mike: You’re so far ahead of easy running that it’s not going to give you that easy development. It’s just going to make you tired and more tired than you meant to be. But you’re still a minute off race pace. So you’re not getting the neuromuscular development and the race, pace training for the muscles that you meant to be getting.

[00:06:43] Mike: So you’re not, you’re in no man’s land, you’re in the gray area, the gray zone. And so this is where people need to understand an easy run is for cappelary development, for the mitochondria development, and just to develop the aerobic system, aerobic capacity and going quicker, doesn’t help you go quicker in a race.

[00:07:01] Mike: That’s what they need to understand and learn at the same time. If you go too quick in your easy runs, you’re going to be a little bit tired, a little bit jaded, not quite on your A-game. So therefore your hard runs aren’t as hard as the meant to be the harder ones. If you’re meant to race at seven minute per mile, or we’ll say four minutes per kilometer, and you can’t do that because you’re too tired.

[00:07:21] Mike: Cause your easy runs a little bit hard and you’re. At eight minutes per mile, you’ve then drifted back down into the gray zone. So it’s not quick enough to get you the race, pace development, the efficiencies that you’re meant to be going for to help buffer the lactic buildup. You’re not getting into the development you’re meant to be getting because it’s too easy.

[00:07:41] Mike: So therefore your hard runs are too easy. Your easy runs are too hard. You’re in no man’s land. You’re in the gray. 

[00:07:49] Daren: It’s so subjective. And like you said, and I love that it’s like, if your coach tells you to get into it, then there’s no more grades on it anymore. And that’s the zone you’re supposed to be in.

[00:07:57] Daren: So I’m I call it purgatory it’s it’s when you die, are you going to heaven or hell? So we’ve talked about what it actually is. We’ve talked about why you should stay out of it or when you should go into it. But give me more about when it’s okay to go into when that coach says, go into it.

[00:08:13] Daren: And a bit of how long is, okay. How many days I know it’s really. Let’s say this is Joe blow. That’s never ran a marathon before and they want to jump into running a marathon and they, their beginner let’s use that as a, as an example 

[00:08:27] Mike: Let’s complicate a little bit because when we say it’s okay to go in the gray zone, we’re not really what we’re doing is we’re saying work at a certain intensity.

[00:08:35] Mike: So if we define that as the intensity, you need to go, it’s not the gray zone because the gray zone is drifting into this zone that you shouldn’t be in. It’s drifting down to it or drifting up. But if the code specifies that you need to be running at around about threshold or just below threshold where you’re not really building up much lactic acid, but it’s a niggling pain.

[00:08:56] Mike: That’s what we would call the gray zone on an easy run. It’s really your marathon pace. Say you’re doing a marathon, that’s your race pace. So you need to run in inverted commas. Some people call the gray zone because that’s actually. But again, making it more complicated. I don’t think of it as a gray zone because it’s a zone that I specify you need to be in to get the pace and the neuro muscular development and the stamina for running the marathon.

[00:09:23] Mike: So it’s okay to run it. It said that you shouldn’t run in it too hard because it’s still probably classified as part of your 20% hard. It’s still hard because you’re not running that fast, but you’d be in there for quite a while. If you’re running a marathon and I need to get you. Zone three work, which could be called the gray zone.

[00:09:45] Mike: You’re probably in there for an hour. And although it’s not a really intense session, you’re in there for an hour, so it’s not really an easy session. So it would still be classified as your 20% hard and therefore it’s okay. So for people who are running. I would say 10 Ks, five Ks. They probably don’t need to train much in zone three or the gray zone, but if you’re doing half marathons and ultras, you probably need not too much alters, but marathons.

[00:10:13] Mike: You need to be getting up there because it’s probably your race pace. And so that’s when I would specify that you need to join their. 

[00:10:22] Daren: Break

[00:10:26] Daren: this episode is brought to you by energy coaching, which is Mike tree’s, coaching service, Mike and his team of coaches work with beginners to pros and all levels in between. No one is too fast and no one is too slow. They just want to desire to learn and improve. They focus on 1500 meter races to marathon running and triathlon training energy coaching is constantly overbooked.

[00:10:45] Daren: So Instagram and this new podcast, venture trees. Gives Mike and the rest of his energy coaching team, a way to reach out to more people and help them contact Mike and his team@thelettersinrg-coaching.com or go to the link in the show notes.

[00:11:08] Daren: And back to the show, let’s go into the science a bit also what’s the downsides of actually training in the marathon pace zone, the gray zone, because that’s not really a great there’s this cortisol that gets that your body produces, which is stressful. Just free radicals, all these other things that can happen, that can wreak havoc on your recovery, on your fitness and your health, your general health.

[00:11:31] Daren: So would you say that some of these experts are right in, there’s a way to train more around that? the MAF the iMac, whatever it is. 

[00:11:43] Mike: So MF is pretty much a zone two maximum aerobic, nearly all the time with a little bit of hard work at the end to get ready for race fitness. So again, I need to clarify that when you’re talking about this free radical damage is the production of cortisol, the fight and flight syndrome and the immune response it depressed immune system or.

[00:12:11] Mike: That happens a little bit in zone three, but it happens more in zone four. So actually the damage you’re getting is much greater in zone four. So this is what people need to understand so far in zone five. That’s really when you’re doing the damage to the body. And so actually in terms of long-term health, if that’s what you’re after longevity and lack of free radical damage and just enjoying a real healthy life.

[00:12:35] Mike: It’s better to do zone two and zone three zone two zone four or five, but people want to raise quickly. So they’re balancing up this health demand and also their desire to improve their race times. So actually that’s what you’re talking about, that free radical damage and the response to the effects on the body is worse in zone four and five than.

[00:13:01] Mike: So yeah, I would say that it’s not that bad to go there. It’s just not as efficient to go there. Most of the time it’s much better scientifically shown it’s much better to go easy or hard if it helps you on you don’t need to go past seven to really. So zone two is great. Strength work. And a few legs drives to get a bit of leg speed in there.

[00:13:21] Mike: And you’ll have a great healthy lifestyle. If you want to race quicker, you need to go into zone four, zone five. But that there’s been some people suggest that it puts extra stress on the heart, and lots of people will come up with different problems. But I think it’s, as long as you’re not going there too often, It’s like anything it’s balanced.

[00:13:42] Mike: It won’t do any damage. Again I look at it in life. If I am eating a super healthy diet, a hundred percent of the time. That’s great, but it’s boring. So I like 20% of the time I’ll have a donut, I’ll have a cake. I will have. Some fries or whatever, but only 20% of the time, because I think it’s not really going to cause that much damage the body’s amazing at recovering and repairing itself.

[00:14:06] Mike: So as long as I’m keeping it that 80% of the time I’m eating well and just slipping 20% of the time. It’s fine. Same with the training. 80% of the time is all aerobic in the right zone. 20% in that higher zone is okay. So it’s okay to have a little bit damage. The body can repair and recover, but the gray zone, it doesn’t do as much damage as zone four and zone five.

[00:14:27] Mike: But it just, in that the whole time you’re in ma mediocrity you’re not recovering and you’re not going hard. That’s the real problem with the gray zone. It’s not hard enough and it’s not easy enough. 

[00:14:40] Daren: Got you. All right. So let’s talk about the, where the real damage happens with the free radicals, because I’ve got a really cool story where I, most of the year I’d say 90% of the year, not even 80% of the year, I’m trained in Z two Z one.

[00:14:55] Daren: I’m doing. A lactate or anaerobic ATP, sprints it’s not even a lactic and I’m like, I’m not even in Z five like I’m just, it’s sprint work. It’s strength and conditioning, weight training, and a whole lot he wants to, and then I might about. 12 weeks out from way race.

[00:15:15] Daren: I’ll start doing VO two max work, which is zone four, which is very much known for it, but I’m out of that very quickly, very long recovery. So my body flushes out the lactate and I don’t build it up. And then I get back into it and then four to six weeks out from my race, which I’m in right now, I then properly am building up lactate hay, and I’m in Z for sliding into Z five at the end of the intervals at the end of the sets And because of that, I’m actually I thought that was the three.

[00:15:41] Daren: I thought that was the gray zone as we spoke about earlier. And I actually I’m having issues with my sleep. I’m getting enough sleep, but I’m waking up in the middle of night, multiple times having to P quote unquote air quotes. Even though I don’t actually have to pee a little bit comes out and I’ve read up on this and that’s definitely a cortisol.

[00:15:58] Daren: I have this kind of like jittery feeling like I drank caffeine before I went to. And I’m needing, I’m realizing that after certain workouts in particular, when I do long, fast temple runs at about 10 K effort, a little bit slower than the 10 K effort. But really long with short. Those are the worst for me, my body, it takes me proper 72 hours to recover.

[00:16:20] Daren: Whereas today I did a three K pace workout six hundreds, four hundreds, really fast, fast recovery. I can recover on this 36 hours, 48 hours. I’m good. But that tempo run. Holy shit. That thing like. It just wreaks havoc on me. And as you told me before that’s the most damage it will do.

[00:16:40] Daren: It’s quote unquote, unhealthy. But if I want to get faster, I’m going to give up a bit of my health for speed. And the minute racing has done, I’m going to go right back in as proper recover. So this isn’t something I’m staying in, but I do appreciate you telling me about, that’s not C3.

[00:16:56] Daren: That’s actually C4, C5. 

[00:17:01] Mike: Yeah. The thing is to get quicker. We need to build up the aerobic engine, make it bigger. We need to buffer the buildup of lactate so that the lactate will get into the muscles and in the bloodstream. And it will slow down the ability to get oxygen to the their muscles, the muscles.

[00:17:19] Mike: So that’s why we do some quicker. And to develop an efficiency and hopefully we can work at a faster pace building up less lactate. That’s the aim, but also innovate. We need to have lactate tolerance so that more of the shorter races, the long ones, and really, I would say 5k and a little bit up to 10 K, but it’s 15 threes and fives.

[00:17:41] Mike: And this tolerance, this is where the real damage is done. What you’re doing is you’re building. Large amounts of luck, take this what you were doing at the end of the session. So while you really damaging you doing the hard work, you fatiguing the muscles over times. You’re tired from that there’s muscle fatigue in there.

[00:17:56] Mike: You’ve worked the lactic threshold system and towards the end, you’re really pushing the max maximum heart rate. And you’re trying to keep moving with large amounts of lactate in the blood. Which is quite painful and everything wants to slow down their arms that want to drive. And that builds at this tolerance that if you can keep moving at the end of the race with large amounts of lactic, which is super important to win track races and race at the end it gets you faster times, but it’s very hard to do.

[00:18:24] Mike: And he does a lot of damage to the body. So combining that with all the other work over the hour, you’ve you basically run yourself into. And so you need time to recover. It’s super great training, but just a little bit, not too much. And this is where people get wrong as you, you realize, and you’re on the edge is you’re getting up and peeing all night.

[00:18:42] Mike: The cortisol levels are through the roof. The adrenaline’s just constantly pumping, but boy, do those sessions feel really good just after you finished you’re on this high for the next couple of. Oh, yeah, I’m on it right now. Right now. You don’t want, if you do in the evening, it’s the worst for me. I have to do them in the morning because if you do in the evening, you just don’t sleep.

[00:19:00] Mike: I used to go swimming at nine o’clock at night when I was racing professionally nine, till 10, I couldn’t sleep til one. I was just buzzing constantly. And it wasn’t the greatest, so yeah, they feel great for while you get this real runners high but you crash afterwards, you crash and burn. And so you’ve just got to make sure that I would even say a lot of these.

[00:19:20] Mike: Peter Steven sealer says maybe even it’s 90 10 is 90% easy and 10% Hardy that when you’re pushing that hard, maybe the 80 20 rule doesn’t quite work it’s even as you’re finding, maybe it’s even too tough for that. You might be, need to drop down to a 90 10 regime if you’re pushing that hard.

[00:19:41] Daren: Yeah, I appreciate that. You did want to talk about an ag Similan to end this off. Oh, Samuel 

[00:19:48] Mike: basically he coaches at podcatcher and it was more the fact that he was saying. Zone two is where you need to be. And he was saying that you need to be there for about an hour three, four times a week.

[00:20:05] Mike: And that’s through his experiments and he’s coached and take it way more experienced than Pikachu for people who don’t know is due to France winner one of the best in the world. And he was going through his blood pressure profiles, comparing with other people. And in a recent podcast, he was asked how much training you should do in zone two.

[00:20:21] Mike: And he was saying, the ideal actually is if you have the time four to five hours a week, but most people don’t have the times the three to four is going to get you there. You should be looking at being there for about an hour time. What I want to say is it’s great. And people that reading this.

[00:20:37] Mike: And our time is still a lot for running. You’re still gonna get overuse injuries. So if you’re going to be doing an hour time of training four or five times a week, you need to be introducing cross training into it. So when you’re building up this aerobic system, look at other avenues, it could be the rowing machine.

[00:20:54] Mike: It could be the stepper, the ergo it could be cycling, it could be swimming. I definitely am a big advocate of mixing up what you’re doing in zone two. When you’re training. Because that will reduce the chance of injury. Reducing the chance of injury keeps consistency in the training and the more consistent you are overtime, the better the results.

[00:21:16] Daren: We have gone over a lot. Honestly, the gray zone we could go on forever. The rabbit hole gets real deep. It gets really complicated. We didn’t even talk about Krebs cycle. We didn’t even talk about a Bible. What is the sodium bicarbonate buffer? I know you talked about buffering a bit. We went over to finding the gray zone today.

[00:21:33] Daren: Why. When you should go into it, how long, how it’s super subjective and my kind of how I thought I was in a gray zone, but it was more . We’d love to talk about this more in the future. Let us know, hit us up on Instagram. Mike@run.energy, all the letters and meet D lake creates a hit up the show notes.

[00:21:53] Daren: So you can email. And let us know if you want to hear more about this. This could be part of a series on gray zone and I’m Norwegian the Norwegian model on lactate threshold. Won’t even go into that field, like Google those, if you want to know more about that stuff Mike, you got anything else to add?

[00:22:08] Mike: No, I just, I it’s just classic. It’s great that you mistook the gray zone for zone three and four and five in the sense that this is the problem. Most people learn this terminology, but then they don’t apply it and they misuse it. So they think they’re doing one kind of training when they’re doing something else.

[00:22:24] Mike: So this is why I’m concentrating to simplify it, get them used to this feeling and understand the feeling. Which is why we’ve got to keep hammering the message out because there still will be a lot of people who come away from this podcast thinking they understand it, but still go out too fast because they really don’t know how easy an easy run is.

[00:22:44] Daren: Let’s go welcome to the show. I’m your host, Dan RESO tips and tactics. You could train like a pro there’s gas to help you with fascinating. You could go your upcoming season. And you, once you agree, indoor sports, the metaphor, life metaphor, baby eating, clean, seagrass asleep all the time. Master a lot.

[00:23:08] Daren: Don’t master a little, just stay in the middle don’t master road or mastered, just be a master of some

[00:23:17] Daren: is the health and fitness internet too much, sometimes too many conflicting articles and videos that confuse you on how to train a deep, or you don’t have time to just read and watch everything about, I don’t know. Trends on carb, cycling for trail running. Don’t worry. We’ll take care of all that for you.

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[00:24:21] Daren: No one can make more of, so we appreciate you taking precious time out of your day to listen to. Our goal is to show the world how to live better. The running, cycling, and triathlon, the episode, and many others have a transcription go to the show notes description to find out more. This was produced in Sydney, Australia, and I’d like to acknowledge the Gadigal of the Euro nation, where the traditional custodians of this land.

[00:24:43] Daren: I pay my respects to the elders past present and future. I recognize the continuing connections to the land waters and culture. These lands were stolen and sovereignty was never ceded. If you liked this episode again, we’d highly appreciate it. If you go on whatever app you listen to. And make sure to follow DLA creates podcast we’re on Spotify, apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Amazon , and a bunch of others.

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[00:25:21] Daren: We’re also on the socials. Mainly Instagram, you can hit up Mike trees at the letters. Are you in.in RG, or you can hit me up on instagram@dlakecreates.com or just wherever you can find us. It’s fun. If you need any transcripts, you enter podcasting or let’s say you just are big into accessibility. Please use the company that we use.

[00:25:40] Daren: Speech docs. You can check them out@speechdocs.com. Don’t worry. If you didn’t get all that, there’s a link in the show notes description. Thank you again so much for listening.