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To assess the distribution of exercise intensity in long-distance recreational athletes (LDRs) preparing for a marathon and to test the hypothesis that individual perception of effort could provide training responses similar to those provided by standardized training methodologies.


Seven LDRs (age 36.5 ± 3.8 y) were followed during a 5-mo training period culminating with a city marathon. Heart rate at 2.0 and 4.0 mmol/L and maximal heart rate were used to establish 3 intensity training zones. Internal training load (TL) was assessed by training zones and TRIMPi methods. These were compared with the session-rating-of-perceived-exertion (RPE) method.


Total time spent in zone 1 was higher than in zones 2 and 3 (76.3% ± 6.4%, 17.3% ± 5.8%, and 6.3% ± 0.9%, respectively; P = .000 for both, ES = 0.98, ES = 0.99). TL quantified by session-RPE provided the same result. The comparison between session-RPE and training-zones-based methods showed no significant difference at the lowest intensity (P = .07, ES = 0.25). A significant correlation was observed between TL RPE and TL TRIMPi at both individual and group levels (r = .79, P < .001). There was a significant correlation between total time spent in zone 1 and the improvement at the running speed of 2 mmol/L (r = .88, P < .001). A negative correlation was found between running speed at 2 mmol/L and the time needed to complete the marathon (r = –.83, P < .001).


These findings suggest that in recreational LDRs most of the training time is spent at low intensity and that this is associated with improved performances. Session-RPE is an easy-to-use training method that provides responses similar to those obtained with standardized training methodologies.

Manzi, Volterrani, and Iellamo are with the San Raffaele Pisana Scientific Inst for Hospitalization and Care, Rome, Italy. Bovenzi and Castagna are with the University of Rome II, Rome, Italy. Salimei is with the University of Rome II, Rome, Italy.

Address author correspondence to Ferdinando Iellamo at iellamo@med.uniroma2.