"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Flavors of running #2

When you do a typical training run, you do a remarkable balancing act between pace and effort - and you do it without thinking.

You could run at even pace. This makes every mile harder than the one before it. It's the most efficient way to do races, but it's also the most difficult to do well; in my best 5 mile, I ran exactly 5:06 each mile, but I had not planned to do that and every mile I was sure I would not make it to the next mile marker.

Alternatively, you could run at even effort. This means you would slow every mile and, if you truly felt that after 4 miles or 10 miles you felt exactly as you did after running one, how slow would you have to go? Trying to run at constant effort is key to difficult trail races, where hills and varying terrain make a constant pace impractical.

What people actually do is to run just a bit slower every mile, with the effort level increasing a bit each mile. When the perceived effort reaches a certain level, one decides one is done for the day. Once one has gone past being a beginning runner, this becomes almost instinctive; one has a favorite course (or courses) and runs it in about the same amount of time each day, making allowances for changes in weather, again without thinking about it. [Those who use heart rate monitors will note that their heart rate creeps upward even as their pace slows during long runs.]

Theresa, who was introduced in #1 in this series, ran 10 miles in 80 minutes daily and ran a marathon also at 8 minutes per mile. She didn't do these at exactly even pace. Because of the natural tendency to slow, she actually started the marathon faster than her usual run and ended it at a slower pace. At the 10 mile mark, she probably ran the fastest 10 miles she'd ever run and still had 16 miles to go. That people have the seemingly innate ability to do this is nothing short of remarkable.
The next post will start to deal with the basic questions of: How far should I run? How fast should I run? How do I measure improvement?


Mike Russell said...

Improvement is tough to measure outside of time over the same course in the same conditions. I am assuming you will throw in a little discussion about heart rate and even VO2 max testing. I look forward to your next post...

Colin Gardner-Springer said...

Interesting post.

I often bring my Garmin on training runs without referring to it at the time. Downloading the data afterwards almost invariably shows that my pace was nearly constant throughout.

Perhaps I'm an outlier, or perhaps this comes from trying to train myself to run even-paced races. Still, I'm not sure I agree with your statement that most people tend to slow through the course of a training run.

I'd be interested in hearing what others see.

SteveQ said...

Colin, you make a good point. Most of the people I know who run extremely even splits check their watches frequently, but some people do have a knack for doing it without. At the time I wrote it, I was thinking of ultrarunners; all but one slow continuously - that exception being Yiannis Kouros, who holds all the records!