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.