Why and when I assign pace based workouts

Last week, I wrote about why I (generally) assign effort based workouts.

Notice what I did? I hedged because there are definitely cases when I do assign workouts based on pace. These are infrequent but they do happen.

When do I assign these workouts?

There are primarily two times I will assign pace based workouts.

Goal pace workouts

Let’s suppose you’re trying to qualify for Boston. As much as you want to have a flexible goal to account for the weather or other uncontrollable factors, there is a hard number you have to hit to qualify.

As your goal race is nearing, you need to practice running that pace.

Goal pace workouts are critical in learning to feel the rhythm and mechanics that you will need if you are targeting a specific time.

As you’re doing these workouts, it’s important to simulate race day as much as you can. Try running at a similar time of day. Try matching your fueling strategy if you’re running a race long enough to require one. Wear similar shoes and gear to what you’re going to wear on race day. Try to run a route that is similar to the course you will be racing on.

You don’t need many of these workouts but it’s good to get at least a few in over the final 1-2 months.

When a runner is stuck in one gear

There are runners out there whose 10K/half marathon/marathon PRs are roughly along the lines of 56:00/2:00/4:00 or some similar combination. Essentially, they settle into a pace and that’s the pace they hold regardless of distance they are running.

To these people, what’s the difference between 10K effort, half marathon effort, or marathon effort? There is no difference.

That makes it hard to assign effort based workouts. They will end up running the same pace for the workout no matter what effort is assigned. Also, this is usually the pace they train at every day so you aren’t even getting any distinction between workout days and easy or long run days.

In this case, until the runner can reset their race paces and feel the different efforts, I’ll assign paces. Sometimes, it will be very specific (8:45 pace). Other times, it will be more vague (speed up by 15-20 seconds per mile) but the result is the same. They get out of the rut and change up their paces. Then, after a while, we can try some races and see if we can get a distinction between paces/efforts at different distances.

It’s important to note that, in this situation, I want the pace based workouts to be temporary. I want to see the runner transition to running at different efforts/paces at different distances and to be able to feel those efforts in training. How long that transition takes may vary but I do want to see it happen.

So don’t be afraid of running pace based workouts. Just know when they make sense and have a reason for them.

Photo credit: Day 6 by Olivia Malesco, on Flickr

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