Coach Mike Mead

March 2012

Pace Yourself to Faster Times

There are many approaches to running faster in races. There is speed endurance, tempo runs, intervals, and fartlek just to name a few. These days the trend is to do a mix of the fore-mentioned to work on various speed phases all at once.

However, if you are new to running or have a propensity for repetitiveness, perhaps an old school approach may be right for you at this point in your development. The workouts I found most beneficial during my early years of developing as a runner was pace workouts.

Those of us who have raced for any given period know that most serious racing involves surging. That is, you get out fast then slow down a little. Depending on the distance raced, this speeding up and slowing down will go on until the final sprint for the finish line.

I always liked doing pace work to get a feel for what an ideal race could play out. The downside to this type of training is it does not prepare you to surge, or for the tough spots in every race. I do believe pace work does help in being a more consistent runner when it comes to training and racing.

The biggest deficiency that I see with young or inexperienced runners these days is their inability to hold a fast pace for very long. Most get out fast, but fade quickly depending on their strength or weakness of their base.

My favorite pace workout was doing repeat 400’s. During my post-college days training on my own, I would usually run 12-14, 400’s in about 72 seconds with 45 seconds rest in-between each 400. Back then, I could race a 5K in 14:50 to 15:10 on a consistent basis. I also did 800 and mile repeats at 5K race pace when I was training for 10K’s.

I focused on being as consistent as possible in running each repeat in the same time so that my body could get that feel of being able to run longer at the same pace. The days when I was running was the early years of chronograph watches. Most of us didn’t have a watch to time our runs. Many times, you had to get a real feel for pacing because you may not had a coach or stop watch to time a workout. It became natural to run a certain workout knowing pretty close how fast you were running. This was important when it came to racing in track.

The great thing about distance racing on a track is you can work on pace. If you are off on one lap, you can make up some time on the next one to stay on pace. In a road race you do not have that luxury unless you are marathon racing, then mile splits are appropriate. In high school, I was mainly a two-miler – eight laps. Running repeat 400’s was a good fit for me when I trained for the event.

So, how is your pace? How long can you hold your race pace? These are viable questions to consider if you are trying to improve your racing ability. If you are trying to improve your pace, you need to consider such a workout of this nature once a week.

Be sure to start out simple if you are a beginner, like 4 x 400’s with a 1:1 rest ratio. If it takes two minutes, rest two minutes. If you are trying to improve your 5K time, work up to doing 12 to 16 x 400’s at your goal pace. Also, work at cutting your rest time to half the time you run each 400. For example, if you run a 400 in 90 seconds (6:00 mile pace), then rest for 45 seconds.

Do the pacing workout for 6-8 weeks before your next big race. By doing this type of training will help you get a better feel for your goal pace, run more efficient, and make you a stronger runner.

Lastly, if you are working on finishing strength, work at running the last 25 percent of your workout progressively faster so that your body becomes more accustomed when you put it out on the road for your next race.

Good luck!