The Talk Test: The World’s Greatest Training Tool


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. Things like “Too fast” or “Pick it up” are about all you can get out during speed workouts.

Here are my Lucky 7 Speed and Stamina Workouts for the Marathon.

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.

Now here’s how you can learn to run by feel – Calibrating Your Inner GPS.

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

Learn more about the key principles of Training the McMillan Way.


Remove the guesswork from training to achieve your best performance with McMillan Running Training Plans.

For every distance between 800 meters and the marathon, these scientifically-based training plans include your McMillan Calculator training paces integrated, coach’s notes, and access to our prehab routines. Plus, the plans are delivered on a runner-friendly training log platform. Learn more.

Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine.  A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

Read Greg’s Bio




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