Most people that are training for an event or to get faster have an understanding that there are different types of sessions to develop performance (see my article on avoiding “Junk Miles”). By developing performance – I mean to get faster, building speed and endurance to get you to the finish line in the fastest time possible.
If we break the different types of running down into speed work (acknowledging that this can take on many forms), tempo runs, base miles (recovery runs) and long slow runs – all should have very different speeds, all are vital to performance with very distinct purposes. For a long time my marathon PB was hovering around 2:55, and I had a few attempts to break 1:20 in the Half Marathon without managing it (slightly frustratingly I managed a 1:20:00 on the nose – just one more second was needed). During this time my training mileage was consistent and so was the speed. I was always running somewhere between 4 and 4:35/km. I very rarely ran quicker unless it was in a race and I virtually never ran slower. I did plenty of slaving away to hold on to speeds around 4:30/km when I was really tired – running slower was a key to running faster!!!
I started to read more and more about running, planning programmes, and I was lucky enough to chat to some very experienced and outstanding runners. A consistent message was shining through – every run should have a purpose, every run should be run at different speeds, and the majority of the mileage should be done quite slowly. Endurance expert David Sutherland talks in his book “Elite Long Distance Running” that 20-30% of your mileage should be run at race pace or faster, with the remainder run at recovery speeds. Running slowly allows you to continue building endurance and generate aerobic development, but most importantly allowing your body to recover and grow stronger from the 20-30% of runs that push the envelope, tax the system and develop performance. Your body needs rest. Some of this rest can be active. And allowing your body to rest is when your fitness improves. The hard training stimulates the change, and then the change happens when you rest, recover and adapt from the hard training sessions.
And so I started to run my recovery runs at 4:45 to 5min/k pace and then started to ask more of myself in speed sessions. Speed sessions take on many different forms and therefore are done at different speeds. Some of my sessions are listed below:
I also push myself harder in tempo runs. Most of these are about 10k distances but I have at times pushed them up towards 10 mile tempos. These are the sessions I find really hard. Always on tired legs from the volume of training, the speed may be down on rep sessions, but the build up over the longer distances is genuinely tough.
And that is when I discovered this Runners World Training Pace Calculator
It is such a useful tool to establish your training speeds. If you are not doing it already it should start the realisation process that runs should be done at different speeds. And if you are like me it will probably tell you to push it a bit harder in the fast sessions, and ease off the throttle in the recovery runs. If you are motivated by getting faster – I would urge you to try it!