On the heels of my last post about speed, I thought it may be a good idea to give you some pointers on what speed you should be running at based on your current fitness level. The good news is it's pretty easy to calculate and while you are at it, you can give yourself some great heart rate data too and it doesn't take rocket science to figure it out! If you have been running based on how you feel that day and you aren't training for anything in particular, that's fine, as long as you allow yourself enough recovery time in between runs and as long as you are not stacking interval workout on top of more intervals or intervals followed by tempo workouts or intervals + tempo + hill repeats + a long run thrown in there. Hmmmmm suddenly this training thing is getting more complicated. Basically, you need to think about what you are trying to achieve in your running and making sure your goals are in line with your current fitness level. For example, I recently spoke with an athlete that wants to qualify for the Boston marathon. Fantastic goal. At 38 years old he will have to run a sub 3:10:00 (there is no longer the 59 sec window!). Current marathon time: 4:05. While it is an admirable goal, it is not realistic to be able to drop 2+ minutes per mile off current pace for 26.2 miles within a year. Speed can be improved with proper training and if the goal is to qualify, make it a long range goal. Be patient, put the time in and plan to PR under a 4:05. If your current marathon time is within 10-15 minutes of the Boston qualifying time, you have a much better shot at qualifying this year if you have been running consistently for awhile and do not have any nagging injuries. If your goal is to improve times at a 5k, 10k or half marathon this year, consistent running still applies. Work on building mileage consistently at first to the 20-25 miles per week range. Then you can work in specific workouts to improve your speed. Why consistent running? It's the best thing you can do to improve your running economy. Want to be more efficient at running? Run more. Cross training is good and it has its place in the overall development of aerobic capacity, but if you want to be a good or a better runner, you must run.
Step one: run consistently
Step two: pick a race to field test. The distance doesn't matter, it could be a 5k, a 4 miler, a 10k. Run as fast a speed as you are able to maintain. "Ride the red line".
Step three: You have just found your threshold pace for that distance. You have also found your average threshold HR
Step four: figure out your pace ranges. Easy runs should be done 90 sec to 2 minutes per mile slower than your average race pace where you were in the red zone. If you ran a 5k or a 4 miler, that pace and heart rate becomes your short interval 5 k efforts (30 sec up to 400 meter repeats). Add 15-20 sec to that pace to figure out 10k effort pace (good for longer repeats (5 minute intervals up to miles). If you ran a 10k race, subtract 15-20 sec per mile to get your 5k pace for repeats.
Step five: train appropriately. No more than one interval workout per week for speed at 5k pace ranges. No more than one tempo effort run at 10k pace to half marathon race pace. All other run workouts must be in the easy range! Stay out of the "grey zone" at levels that are in between easy and race pace.
If you are not one for doing your own calculations, you can easily use an online calculator to figure out your pace ranges based on a recent race. Make sure its recent!!!! Last years 10k when you were in peak form at the end of the season is not appropriate, that is not your current fitness level! I like the McMillan running calculator but there is a lot of overwhelming information and paces on there. If you are using this calculator rather than figuring out your own pace ranges than stick with these:
Incidently, these are my current pace ranges based on my recent 10 mile brewery run. For speed workouts I use the "Long distance runners" guidelines as should you.
Another great pacing calculator is the Jack Daniels Vdot:
Personally I find the Vdot calculator to be a bit more on the conservative side so I prefer first to calculate my own using my field test method above and this typically correlates well with the McMillan calculator ranges for myself. My Vdot values are a little slower but if you have never done any kind of speed training, then I recommend starting with the Vdot values and progressing to the McMillan speeds. Either way you will improve your run speed and you will begin to see some frequent PR's at races while remaining injury free.
Now pick a race, test yourself and get training the right way!