Posted by: pointlenana | January 26, 2012

Training – Paces

Fundraising is going well – astonishingly well actually.  More on that in a future post.

I haven’t written much yet about training.  On the off chance someone is actually interested in what I do and why, I’m going to cover that in a few posts.  This time I’ll talk about training paces. 

Most runners out there tend to run the same pace all the time.  Some plod along, some do every run all out.  Neither is optimal for getting better or training to run for a long time.  In my training, I typically have 5 paces I train at.  My friend Paul, who will run his 3rd marathon with me in Boston, says that his training/running improved when he started running at different paces.  (Well, his wife Amy said that for sure.)  Each of the paces accomplishes different things, and together they have helped me be able to run harder for a longer time while not getting injured in the training.  People mistakenly think that the way to run a fast marathon is to run your fast marathon pace over and over and gradually increase the distance.  That tends to result in great success for a while and then injury long before the actual marathon. 

Before I talk about the 5 paces, I should say that this is all based on the guidance of Jack Daniels and Greg McMillan.  Jack Daniels has one classic book on training.  Greg McMillan (one of my personal heroes) is like the next generation beyond Jack Daniels – similar in a lot of ways with some subtle differences.  The 5 paces are more from the Jack Daniels program but I’m playing around with some variations from Greg McMillan.  For anyone just starting, the simple approach is plenty complex.

My 5 paces, from slowest to fastest:

Easy – The pace I spend the most time running at.  I can run at this pace for a long time, hours and hours.  Most of my runs are at easy pace.  For me this is roughly 9 minutes/mile.  For an elite marathoner, it might be 6:30 or even 6 minutes per mile.  It’s not hard, it’s easy to talk, there is no stress at all.  This is “fun” pace. 

Marathon pace – This is a little faster than easy.  I don’t run this pace in training all that much – maybe every few weeks or if I’m really pushing I might do a little of this every other week.  If easy is 9 min/mile for me, marathon pace is about 8 min/mile.  And it is the target pace I’ll run a marathon at.  The main purpose of running this pace in training is to get used to it.  Marathon pace feels easy for a while – if a marathon goes well the first half feels “easy” – and then after a while it gets hard and painful e.g. during the last ~6 miles in a marathon. 

Tempo pace – This is my favorite fast run.  Tempo pace is slightly slower than the point at which I go anaerobic.  I can keep up tempo pace for a while – 50 minutes even – but it’s fast and I feel like I’m going fast.  For me tempo pace is in the low 7’s – maybe 7:10/mile.  It’s not a stressful pace where after a couple minutes I feel out of breath, but it’s fast enough that after 20 minutes of running I am absolutely ready to slow down again.  The key is to stay aerobic though.  It’s about as fast as you can go for 20-45 minutes while still staying aerobic.  For marathon training, this is probably the most important pace – it pushes you so that over weeks of training marathon pace becomes relatively easier and yet it’s slow enough that you can put in meaningful amounts of time training at this pace. 

Interval pace – This is an anaerobic pace, about the pace that someone would run a fast 5K pace at.  For me, it’s about 6:40/mile.  It’s not that much faster than tempo – about 30 seconds in my case – but it feels much harder.  This is my least favorite pace.  I can do tempo pace happily (well, sort of) for about 30 minutes.  I do interval paces for 3-5 minute intervals and I’m relieved when the 3-5 minutes are over.  It often feels like I’d die if I had to run for another minute or two.

Strides – This is the fastest pace I run at, a not-quite-sprint.  I might do 8 strides at the end of an easy run – for about 100 yards accelerate smoothly until I’m running almost all out.  I’ve gotten down to 5:40 in some strides although typically I average closer to 6.  Each stride lasts about 20 seconds. 

Each pace has its purpose and a typical rest period for after an “interval” at that pace:

Easy – 80-90% of my miles each week are at easy pace and there is no rest associated with those easy miles.  These miles form the foundation to be able to run for a long time. 

Marathon – Again, I don’t run at this pace that often, but a few times each training cycle I might do a run that has 10-15 miles at marathon pace.  These miles are to get used to race pace.  There’s no rest pace with marathon. 

Tempo – Tempo pace increases your stamina over a longer period of time.  If a marathon is running 3 1/2 hours at marathon pace, tempo runs of 40-60 total minutes at a barely-aerobic pace help marathon pace (which is easily aerobic) become easier.  When I do intervals at tempo runs, I typically do 1 minute of rest (walking or running at easy pace) for every 5-6 minutes of tempo pace.  The idea is to rest a little while gradually getting the body more and more exhausted.

Intervals – Intervals are anaerobic, and in my mind are like doing pull-ups wearing a weight vest, harder than real life.  Once you take the weight vest off, a pull up seems easy.  Intervals increase the threshold at which you go anaerobic, in other words after doing intervals for a while you may be able to increase your tempo pace without going anaerobic.  Rest periods for interval pace is almost as long as the interval.  So an interval run might have some warmup and cooldown and in-between 5 rounds of 4 minutes at interval pace with 3 minutes of rest between intervals.  So 4 minutes of hard, 3 minutes of easy, and repeat that 5 times. 

Strides – These are mostly about form and teaching your body to be fast and efficient.  Because you care about efficiency, you want to be well-rested for each rep.  That means cycles of 20 seconds of strides with a minute or more of easy running or walking. 

For the scientifically-inclined, it’s more complicated than that.  But this is a reasonable approximation.  Basically, in my training I’m doing 5 things:

(Easy) Getting my body used to running lots and lots of miles

(Marathon) Getting used to the pace I want to race at

(Tempo) Increasing my endurance and ability to run faster for longer

(Interval) Increasing my aerobic capacity, so running faster and longer is less taxing.

(Strides) Learning to run efficiently and smoothly, to eliminate movements that waste energy. 

Training for a marathon means lots and lots of easy running (slower than marathon pace) plus a small amount of running at faster paces.  Instead of a series of ever-more-stressful runs at marathon pace, we get fit by running longer at easy pace (which is somewhat stressful but way less than longer and longer marathon pace runs) and adding in some shorter runs at faster paces.  Those two things together, plus a taper before the event, set us up to be able to run faster and longer on race day.  But until you’ve been through it it’s hard to believe it really works.

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