by John Potter

Those at the club who’ve known me for a while will have heard me opining that the main reason runners get injured is that they push themselves too hard, too often.  IMHO something like 80% of your training should be done at a comfortable pace.  This can be different for different runners (mine is a 35% slow down from race day), however I still say that many are not slowing down enough!  I claim, paradoxically, that if you want to become a faster runner then you need to start by slowing down!  And I offer the following pacing challenge to everyone to learn more about their own pace…

In the picture are two workout analyses of me running the Markeaton parkrun (5km).  The one on the left is a recent race I did there where I tried my absolute hardest and raced pretty well (18:39).  The one on the right is my attempt from yesterday to pace 24:00 – it’s not good pacing!  In the past I have paced club members to achieve PBs at different parkruns and I have done a much better job.  Nobody was trying to secure 24 minutes yesterday, which is lucky because I wasn’t a very helpful marker – the 3rd km is way too fast and my 5th is too slow – I was slowing down trying to hit 24 minutes whilst everyone around me was in a race finish and hence speeding up.  So, a runner using me to pace might have been demotivated in the 3rd and 4th km and hence not then achieved the 24 minutes they were still capable of.  So, how do you pace more effectively?

If the course is flat and someone wants you run a 24-min 5km for them, it’s pretty simple, you run 4:48 kilometres, job done!  If the course isn’t flat, you need to use a run where you know you went well and basically try to achieve the same profile of relative speeds on each km.  Let’s go through my 2 runs above….

Kilometre 1 – when racing, I ran 3:33, which is (3+33/60) / (18+39/60) = 19% of my total time.  So, for 24 minutes, I need to run the first km in 19% of 24:00, which is 4.56 (4 minutes, 34 seconds).  My pacing was 4:47, I’ve gone off a little too slow.
Kilometre 2 – when racing, I ran 3:55, which is (3+55/60) / (18+39/60) = 21% of my total time.  So, for 24 minutes, I need to run the second km in 21% of 24:00, which is 5.04 (5 minutes, 2 seconds).  My pacing was 4:55, this is OK.
Kilometre 3 – when racing, I ran 3:45, which is (3+45/60) / (18+39/60) = 20.11% of my total time.  So, for 24 minutes, I need to run the third km in 20.11% of 24:00, which is 4.83 (4 minutes, 50 seconds).  My pacing was 4:35, way too fast and easily enough to smash the motivation of the person I’m trying to help!
Kilometre 4 – when racing, I ran 4:08, which is (4+8/60) / (18+39/60) = 22.16% of my total time.  So, for 24 minutes, I need to run the fourth km in 22.16% of 24:00, which is 5.32 (5 minutes, 19 seconds).  My pacing was 5:00, too fast again.
Kilometre 5 – when racing, I ran 3:34 pace, which is (3+34/60) / (18+39/60) = 19.12% of my total time.  So, for 24 minutes, I need to run the last 0.9 km in 19.12% of 24:00, which is 4.59 (4 minutes, 35 seconds) pace.  My pacing was 4:52, too slow.

Now, I’m being a bit hard on myself here because pacing well is actually quite hard to do but it’s a brilliant thing to try because:
– it gives you a different challenge on a day when you’re not going full pelt,
– it means that you start to learn a bit more about your own running gears and get a feel for how fast you are going,
– you will hopefully get to help the person you are pacing, which is rewarding in itself.

Pacing someone doesn’t mean that you run alongside them giving encouragement (though this is also a nice thing to do).  It means you work out exactly how fast you need to run each km and you stick to it as accurately as possible, giving them a perfect moving target; a ghost Super Mario Kart or that red line that moves along the swimming pool on the tele.

Give it a go – knock a few minutes off your best run and see how well you can pace it – it’s a learning experience for any runner.  And if you’ve got a friend that you can help to his/her PB, even better!

BTW If anyone wants to have a go at this and just needs a bit of help with the maths, give me a shout.