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  • Writer's picturecoachmk

One Pace to Rule Them All...

Some of you may have seen my post in the Facebook Group on Wednesday discussing my first real tempo training run in years.  It is called a 'fluctuator', and this is what my run entailed:

Mile 1: 13:30 Mile 2: 8:30 Mile 3: 7:20 Mile 4: 8:30 Mile 5: 7:20 Mile 6: 9:00 Mile 7: 15:00

Miles 1 and 7 were slated to be at 140. Why the jump between Miles 1 and 2?  Did I lose fitness between miles 1 and 7?  Where is my speed???!?!  WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?????

Most (coachless, unloved) runners will go through their lives fixated on the wrong paces, mainly because (coachless, unloved) runners tend to group themselves by (a) pace. Just one pace.  That arbitrary figure may be the sole basis for a runner's identity and most will 'race' a variety of distances...all at the same pace. "I am an 8-minute miler" and "I'm training for a 3:30 marathon/1:45 half" are used interchangeably.  

This is totally normal, we want to know where we belong.  It's only a problem when we use that number to make ourselves feel bad ("Why are all of my marathon finish times over 5 hours since I'm an 8-minute miler??") or demand linear progression where none can reasonably be expected ("I've been running for 15 years, how am I STILL an 8-minute miler????)    Most of you have been doing this lately, looking at the wrong paces and feeling bad about yourselves.  I want to unpack this logic a bit, show you what I'm looking at when I look at your runs.  

Several of you have asked me when I was planning to start speedwork again, and my answer has been vague and annoying ("when my body lets me know it's ready").  Last Saturday, my body said, 'it's time." Check out the attached image, 6263.  That's a screenshot of my easy run with ladder pickups last Saturday.  That was a BIG day for me.

Look at the heart rate chart- my pickups started at 5k pace (7:18) and increased 15 seconds each time. Here's what jumps out:

  • My heart rate rose and dropped quickly; for weeks those darned pickups would send my heart rate through the roof and KEEP IT THERE, forcing me to walk. 

  • I used the same pace, 4.5, in between each pickup.  Though the amount of effort required increased a touch each time, all were in the same zone.

  • Only the final pickup (6:00 pace), nearly 80 minutes into my workout, pushed my heart rate into the red zone.

All of these are signs I had been watching for, signs that my cardio conditioning is where it needs to be for speedwork to be effective.  YAY!  LET"S DOOOO THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now, what does this have to do with my easy pace?  Absolutely nothing.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, pace at easy efforts is totally meaningless. My easy pace that Saturday was 13:30, but that tells you nothing about me or my progress. 

Now, look at the other image, that's my SUPERAMAZING long treadmill run today.  

40 minutes  140 bpm (4mph, or 15:00)

1 miles @ 7:30

1 mile @ 7:18

1 mile @ 7:04

5 minutes @ 8:30

10 minutes @ 140 (4mph)

10 minutes @120 (at 3.5, really effin' slow)

URMAHGURRR, my pace at 140 is slower!!!!!!  What happened, did I lose fitness???  DID I LOSE MY SPEED?!?!?!?!?!  Nope.  Last Saturday, I got 8 hours of sleep before that long run.  Last night I got 2.5 hours. Sleep is food and I was STARVING.  

To recap, do you think of me as a 13:30 runner?  I don't, my last race, a half, was 8:28. My easy treadmill pace at 140 hasn't changed much, does that mean I'm not progressing?  Nope, I ran a 5k in 22:38 in October, and today I mixed an even faster 5k (21:52) into my long run. My easy pace tells you nothing about me or my progress, and I promise yours tells me nothing about you or yours.  Its just what we have to do right now.  Trust the process, I promise all those people that are passing you today are coachless, unloved amateurs and will eat your dust on race day. 

That number, your easy pace at 140, CAN HAVE predictive abilities, and CAN BE important, but not in the context you've been using.  We can discuss it later if you wish.  For now, please stop fixating on pace.  When it's time to fixate on pace I will tell you.  And for the love of all things holy- if you must fixate on pace USE YOUR LAP BUTTON.  If you need assurance that you are progressing, ask me to give you proof.  If you've been updating Training Peaks regularly AND logging your heart rate, then Imma make it rain BEAUTIFUL DATA all over you.

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