A year of running 2016 March in review

March turned into a disaster. I was meant to get another 2-3 weeks of decent training in before a final easy week going into April 3rd’s Bournemouth Bay half marathon. But things just collapsed. Continue reading “A year of running 2016 March in review”

Pace-based training – part 3

In part 2 of this series I detailed how Frank Horwill created a 5-tier system where you train at the paces of races two faster than your chosen event to build speed, and two slower to build endurance and support. Here I’ll explain what this means in practice as well as discussing some of the pro’s and cons of this approach.

My plan for 5K training over the summer has me training to improve speed by working at 1500m and 3000m paces; and building endurance support by working at the paces for 10,000m and half marathon. In practical terms here’s what it means. Over at Greg McMillan’s website, I’ve used his calculator to get a list of equivalent paces for a 5K time of 19-mins.

Paces for 19min00 5K

Bearing in mind that the 1,500m pace is a 3min22/km pace and the half marathon pace is 4min10/km – that’s a range of 48-secs in which I’ll be working. It’s broad enough to help me build endurance for the speeds I can already run at, and fast enough for when I’m ready to move up to the next level.

The fact is that if I’m racing 5K on pace then it’s unlikely I’m actually going to be more than 10 secs either side of that. If I come to hills or it’s windy then of course I’m going to speed up or slow down which this training range allows for.

I should point out at this stage, that this isn’t to say that I won’t ever train at speeds outside this range. I’ll still do recovery runs and easy runs at slower paces, and I’ll maintain leg speed through strides that don’t create damage or take away from any other training. But on my quality days, the 5-tier training system is going to be my guide.


In terms of positives, I can give you at least four pluses to pace-based training:

Firstly, it’s easy to know what you should be doing. A lot of modern training lingo is about “building VO2max” and “running tempos at lactate threshold“. These physiological markers are hard to identify – almost impossible without scientific equipment. What we do know is that for a typical 4hr marathonner, their lactate threshold falls between 10K pace and 1/2 marathon. And here’s the thing … next time you run a 10K or 1/2 marathon you’re not going to run it at lactate threshold pace, it’s going to be at one of the specific race paces – so what was the point of training at LT when you could have been working specifically?

Secondly, it helps you understand what your race pace feels like. This means when you get to race day, you don’t go off too fast or too slow. Your legs have become accustomed to what they should be running.

Thirdly, training at specific paces helps your body to become efficient at them. A while back I was doing some training aiming for 7min25/mile. I did six miles which were 7min26.7, 27.5, 27.0, 25.6, 27.8, 26.1 – the avg. cadence was 166 and stride length was 1.30m for each of them !! Almost metronomic. It obviously helped to have my GPS watch to glance at but actually a lot of that accuracy was from feel.

Finally, it avoids the troubles of heart-rate training that I wrote about previously. Racing is done for times not heart-rates. They have their place as information about how our training is evolving but they are not the be-all or end-all of how well we run.


Unfortunately there are downsides to pace-based training.

One issue is getting pace right when conditions are hilly or windy. If you’re scheduled to run 8min/mile pace and it’s blowing a gale, then you’re going to struggle to hit that pace (or work harder than you should) into the headwind while when it’s on your back you’ll probably go too fast. It’s not disastrous as the point of this training is about working at roughly the right paces. It’s there to stop you running way too fast or way too slow. The more experience you have with pace-based training, the easier it becomes to identify what the right intensity is in bad conditions.

The other issue is that as you get fitter you can obviously race faster. But you don’t want to be changing your paces every week or essentially you’re just training faster and faster which is what we’re trying to avoid! This is best avoided by writing a long term plan where the paces are revised every 4-6 weeks and during this period you work at that pace either to extend distance run or shorten recoveries. As your goal race approaches you then commit to your goal race-pace in the last block of training and bring together all the gains you’ve made.


The real beauty of this training though is that it starts helping you build efficiency for a range of paces and therefore you know what your next step will be.

Training is all about building cycles on cycles. If I’m currently training for a marathon at 8min/mile pace then my faster work is being done at a half marathon equivalent pace of 7min35 and a 10K pace of 7min10. If I’m successful when I run my marathon then on the next cycle my new marathon training pace becomes my ½MP 7min35, and my ½MP becomes the previous 10K pace of 7min10. And having already done a cycle of work that included those paces, I know I have the foundations in place to build on.

Like many runners, for many years I had the misguided idea that to run faster, building more speed was the only answer. It wasn’t until I discovered the 5-Tier training system that I began to understand the benefit of working on endurance at paces just below my race pace, or working on speed by running just a little faster. Working at specific paces that are close to my race pace has given a focus to my training that’s beginning to pay big dividends to my races. I have Frank Horwill to thank for that!

Pace-based training – part 2

In part 1 I began with the question “If you’re going do 10×1-min intervals in training to break your 5K parkrun PB how fast should you run them?” Today I’ll lead you to the answer to that question.

Have you ever looked at the list of track running events at the Olympics?

100m – 200m – 400m – 800m – 1500m – 3000m – 5000m – 10,000m

Add in the half marathon (21.1K) and marathon (42.2K) and you’ve got a nice sequence of races that essentially double or halve in length as you step up or down. Continue reading “Pace-based training – part 2”

Sometimes you’ve just got to say …

Bear with me while I divert back to my youth, I’ll come to the running bit in a minute. As a teenager I loved watching John Hughes comedies like The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; Planes Trains and Automobiles – I guess I just wanted to be happy. I also loved anything violent such as Mad Max, The Terminator or Rollerball – which helped me get rid of my suppressed anger.  But back in the happy zone, one comedy that had me in stitches was Risky Business. Continue reading “Sometimes you’ve just got to say …”

Rethinking long runs

My worst ever training run was in preparation for a twenty mile race. In the preceding weekends I’d been doing runs of 13-17 miles lasting 2-3 hours. Some weekends I couldn’t train due to family commitments and in the week I usually just did some runs lasting around 30-mins. It was a typical cold, miserable English winter but training was going ok.

One particular Sunday I’d planned to cover the full twenty miles. This was my first mistake – believing that to be able to run a twenty mile race you need to already have covered the distance in training. It’s not terrible to have done so, but as I wrote previously in training isn’t linear, it’s synergistic, your body will always be capable of more than you believe.
Continue reading “Rethinking long runs”