D Benitez

You have joined a running club, have organized everything around your Saturday morning to go for your long runs, and you get an email sharing the “season” running plan, You open it and…… suddenly you learned that you need a PhD to understand at what speed you should run: conversation pace, threshold pace, interval pace, recovery pace, easy pace, marathon pace, 5K pace….. Do not panic! let’s understand what is going on:

1. Why do you run? What do you want to get out of running? These are the first two questions that you need to answer.

a. If your main focus is to change to an active lifestyle and meet new people in the club, then you should do most of your runs at a conversation pace (fast enough to feel the effort but still being able to chat with your fellow runners through the long run without losing your breath). You can stop reading this document right now! Go and enjoy your new lifestyle!

b. If your main focus is improving your performance, then you need to become familiar with the different paces, what they mean and what they are for you. To improve performance is not just about running, but running at the right pace so you work your body efficiently and maximize what you get from the effort you invest.

2. Why are there different running paces?

a. I use running paces and training zones interchangeably. Each training zone has a pace associated with it.
b. Your running performance is driven by a number of elements that you develop during specific training session

i. The speed at which oxygen “travels” thru your body and reaches the areas where it is required (VO2): Intervals / speedwork
ii. Your body’s capacity to deal with lactate residue created from endurance effort (Lactate Threshold): Tempo sessions
iii. Your body’s capacity to endure effort for a long time (ie 4 hrs): Long run
iv. Your capacity to recover from training efforts: Recovery runs
v. Running economy, running form, etc.

c. In order to improve your performance you need to run sessions i),ii),iii) and iv) at the right pace. If you run them too fast or too slow, you will not get the benefit from the time invested in your training.

3. How do we find the different running paces?

a. There are two methods that are commonly used: pace charts and heart rate training zone

i. Pace charts: through statistical analysis of thousands of runners, it is possible to establish your different paces when one of them is known. So, if you have run a 5K at your maximum capacity, you can use pace charts to establish the different training paces. Check https://www.mcmillanrunning.com/
ii. Heart Training Zones: based on your maximum heart rate it is possible to establish the heart rate range that you should have during a specific training session.

b. Does the above mean that I have to be measuring my speed or heart rate on every session I do?

i.No, but you should learn how it feels to run at each pace by monitoring your speed or heart rate thru a number of sessions

c. Is one method better than the other?

i. This is a 100% personal opinion
ii. If you are starting your running “career” your heart rate provides immediate feedback, you can feel if it is beating too fast!
iii. If you are not sure whether you are running too fast, you can stop and count your heart beats and get an instant comparison vs. your target beats per minute.
On Pace Charts: knowing how to use them is key for your training, but I consider them the second phase on your search for your proper running pace. There will be a follow up posting focusing on how to use pace charts to fine tune your training.

4. But everybody is talking about their running paces, what do I do with my heart rate?

a. Once you have established your training zone, go for a run and learn the speed range that you need to achieve it. For example, I know my recovery speed is below 8:30 min / miles, I know that at that speed I am in my recovery heart rate zone provided that I am running on a flat course.

REMEMBER that the key objective is finding “your right” pace for each training session

5. How do we establish the different heart training zones?

a. Training zones are usually defined as a % of MHR (maximum heart rate)
b. MHR can be established by performing a high effort test or it can be estimated based on statistical information.
c. I would only suggest a high effort test after you have discussed it with your doctor. Otherwise, the statistical method provides a good starting point for what we are trying to get done:

• You can calculate MHR as: MHR = 205 – (.5 x your age) (there are several other formulas equivalent to this that provide similar results)
• Use an online tool like http://runnersconnect.net/training/tools/heart-rate-calculator/

d. Once you have calculated your MHR, you can establish your “Training Zones”:

Recovery Runs: below 76% MHR
Long Runs : 74-84% MHR
Marathon Pace: 79-88% MHR
Lactate Threshold (Tempo Runs) LT: 85-92% MHR
VO2Max (Speedwork / Intervals) : 93-97% MHR

e. Example:

• Age: 44
• MHR: 183
• Recovery runs: Max 134 bpm (beats per minute)
• Long runs: between 135 – 154 bpm
• Marathon pace: between 145 – 161 bpm
• Lactate Threshold: between 156 – 168 bpm
• Interval: between 170 – 178 bpm

6. How do we use all this information?

a. If you have a heart rate monitor, use it during your runs.
b. If you do not, then you will have to stop for 15 seconds during some of your runs to monitor your heart rate manually. For example:

1. If you are doing long runs, stop after 3-4 miles, count your heart beats during 10 seconds and multiply by 6. It is that easy!!
2. If you are doing track work, count your beats per minute as soon as you finish one of the intervals.

c. Learn the relationship between your effort level, speed and heart rate.

As you learn about yourself and how your body responds to your training you will be able to adjust your pace. Your conditioning will improve and you will start running faster, focus on your heart rate as it will help you through this process.

1. Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas
2. Want Speed? Slow Down by Dr. Philip Maffetone
3. Trail Runner Nation (http://trailrunnernation.com/ ) podcast
And a lot of trial and error…