Group of friends running in the morning.
(Photo: Getty Images)

The Talk Test: The World’s Easiest Training Tool

The easiest way to monitor your pace and effort has been around for decades—and it doesn't require any gadgets.

Group of friends running in the morning.

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Today, there are many ways to monitor and evaluate the quality of your training. Any number of devices are available to give you real-time feedback on your pace, cadence, heart rate and calories burned.

But you don’t need to spend a lot of money on gadgets or have a PhD in physiology to effectively gauge your training. In fact, you already have one of the best ways to gauge your training—the Talk Test. It’s been around since the first running boom and here’s how it works.

As you train, you simply use your ability to talk to gauge your effort. For Endurance Zone workouts—recovery runs, easy runs and long runs—your breathing should be under control and you should be able to carry on a conversation with your training partner. That’s why this has long been called “conversational pace.” Sure, you may breathe heavier on uphills but for the most part, you should be able to chat away.

Stamina Zone includes workouts include Steady State Runs, Tempo Runs and Tempo Intervals. These “up tempo” efforts are great at improving your lactate threshold but are a bit like goldie locks workouts. Run too slow and you don’t get maximum benefits, but run them too fast and you’ll bump into the Speed Zone. Using the talk test, Stamina Zone workouts are that perfect in between where you won’t be able to talk for long but you also shouldn’t be huffing and puffing. The Talk Test teaches that you are in the Stamina Zone when you can speak in short sentences like “This pace feels right on” or “Careful, I think we’re going a little too fast right now.”

The Speed Zone does involve lots of huffing and puffing so with the Talk Test, you can now only speak 1-2 words during each fast repeat, especially as you get to the last few repetitions. Phrases like “Too fast” or “Pick it up” are about all you can get out during speed workouts.

By the final training zone, the Sprint Zone, all you can muster are grunts, moans and the occasional “aack.” For most runners, “silence is golden” fits these very fast workouts, where any communication is reserved for the recovery jogs between sprints.

As a coach, I find the Talk Test to be a great way for runners new and old to connect with pace, heart rate and effort. And, it’s a great tool to use during adverse conditions like when it’s hot/humid or windy. In these conditions, it’s easy for pace to lag but that doesn’t mean you aren’t getting in a good workout. The Talk Test removes the pressure to hit a pace and keeps your training dialed in so you get in your best workout no matter the conditions.

As you march into your next segment of training, remember that the Talk Test is always powered on, linked up and activated ready to help you run your best.

The Talk Test Zones

Endurance Zone: Carry on a full conversation

Stamina Zone: Speak in 1-2 sentences

Speed Zone: Speak 1-2 words but definitely not a lot of talking

Sprint Zone: Grunts, moans, aack


About The Author:

Greg McMillan, M.S. provides training plans and online coaching for runners of all abilities through his website Outside Magazine calls his McMillan Running Calculator the “Best Running Calculator” and his latest book, YOU (Only Faster), continues to receive rave reviews from runners and coaches.

From PodiumRunner Lead Photo: Getty Images

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