Thanks for visiting our Blog. Find out more at or contact us at

Friday, 16 March 2012

Running Paces Explained

Contributed by Jason Finlen

Jack Daniels Training for Dummies
I was asked the other day about pacing during training runs and what it all meant. The actual question went something like “but if I’m running slower than what I can actually run then how do I get faster?”.  On the surface this seems logical right?, I can run faster so why shouldn’t I?  But how fast can they “actually” run? Perception V’s reality perhaps?  What are they training for at the time when they think they can go faster? Maybe they mean they can run longer when they say faster…like my wife when she says "OK" but really means "I dare you to". Or maybe they don’t understand what they are training for? I also get asked about aerobic and anaerobic training, base and endurance training and VO2 Max and VDOT. What the hell do they all mean and where do you start?

This is not a complete guide, in fact it’s not enough to train others and nowhere near enough to coach others. It is enough to be trained and nothing more. But hopefully it will shed some light as to why it is important to stick to the paces you are prescribed

Sub systems
The first thing to grasp is the fact that each different pace of running is designed to train a different sub system or to create a different muscle, nerve or even mental adaptation.

Think of a decathlete and their training and the 10 different track and field events. They need to train each event (subsystem) in order to be the best overall. Some decathletes are good runners whilst others are better at the javelin throw or shot-put. They need to balance their time between each event in order to get the best overall score or the best way to compete against their rivals. Ultimately though it is not about being the best or strongest in one discipline but in the ten overall.

Take this analogy one step further, those that are good at the 100 meters tend to also excel at the long jump as both require explosive short term speed.  But they tend to have to work hard at their weakness in discus and shot-put where strength play a much bigger role. The Javelin throw sits in the middle where brute strength is no good without speed.  The athletes either train at what they are good at or work on their weaknesses and this choice, rather than just the technique, usually decides the winner in modern day Olympics where training tends to be more equal across nations.

So imagine you’re running to be the same way. You have sub systems and each need to be trained to compete well. The choice needs to be made to train at what you are good at or work on your weaknesses and this is an art form. How to train the subsystems however, is a science. Your chosen event will also dictate how much time is required to be spent at each subsystem as well as your natural disposition. 

There are five running subsystems that we need to discuss.

Technically this is called base training or E2A or low heart rate. Ignore that, it’s easy running. It’s what the majority of your time running is spent doing including warm-ups, long runs and recovery runs. It’s easy, comfortable pace running and its builds the foundation for all running.  It creates specific muscle adaption for running in a low stress environment, teaches your body to better utilise fat as a fuel source and increases the body’s ability to carry oxygen through your blood. You should be able to hold a conversation whilst running at this pace.  Its that Easy!

Marathon Pace
Unlike the name suggest this is not just for marathoners. It is an uncomfortable pace that is much a mental challenge as it is a physical challenge.  Runs exercising this subsystem allow the body get use to running with mental discomfort.  

Threshold is about improving endurance. Marathoners live and breathe this whilst half marathoners should become friendly with this intensity. It still has benefit for short distances as well but not at the frequency or duration as the longer runners. This intensity is uncomfortably hard but the feeling is that your legs are giving way before your lungs. The idea is to be able to keep below a pace so you can run long interval distances but slow enough as to not max out your heart and lung capacity. It’s the dead leg feeling your chasing.

This is all about heart and lungs! This pace is all about making your heart and lungs work and work hard. It’s done using intervals so that we reduce the tired or dead leg feeling and replace it with a lack of oxygen. Heart and lung capacity helps in every sport that involves moving around and life in general. It’s a very specific pace however and not flat out. It’s a very fine balance of optimal result with minimal stress, a very fine balance. For most runners who move from random training to a formal schedule will generally gain the most benefit from training in this zone.  But it’s also the zone that has to be finely balanced with ample recovery as well.

Repetition is all about technique efficiency. The more efficient every runner is the better they will be over every distance. It is not associated with V02Max and is not designed to increase any capacity or tolerance. Its very fast, light, efficient running with long breaks to allow full recovery. Its designed to make you feel more comfortable at faster paces and to develop the nerve patterns (proprioception) for good, efficient running technique.. It can also be used at the end of workouts to help feel that fast efficient running even when tired and to open up the stride..  

Let’s conclude by going back to our decathlete analogy. The guy that needs to work on his javelin throw will still benefit if he does nothing more than sprint training. His extra speed gained from sprinting will help with the javelin throw but was that his best time spent training when he really needed to improve his javelin throw? Just like the marathon runner that spends the majority of his time training at interval pace. Sure he will become faster at the marathon from this training but is this the best spend of his time training?

Understanding the different running subsystem’s is essential in order to be trained in these subsystems otherwise you don’t know what the feeling is you’re chasing and miss the point of the training session. You also don’t understand what feedback your coach requires. There is no point telling your coach you could have gone faster at last night’s interval session. Of course you could go faster...could you have gone longer at threshold pace? Training repetition for example and deciding to cut the rest time down as you’re short on time doesn’t make sense when you’re chasing efficiency and minimal stress. Running threshold sessions and reducing the distance or time spent running is a wasted set when you’re trying to get your legs to feel dead and heavy.    

Easy, Marathon and Threshold Pace are the most common paces that people get wrong.  They typically run Easy at too slow a pace and Threshold too fast and don’t effectively get the adaptation they are seeking.  A lot of runners don’t run at Marathon (or true Threshold) so don’t ‘teach’ their body to run at their goal event pace.

Those like me, which have limited time to train, want to maximise the benefits for the event they want to compete in. Less junk runs, more quality sessions.

No comments:

Post a Comment