Physiological Zone, Current Pace, Goal Pace

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25/07/2011 at 14:55

Physiological Zone, Current Pace, Goal Pace

Using 5k as an example

A common “training approach” for many beginners is to pick a target time and gradually add distance at that pace until race day where all that is required is to run a little extra at the pace you’ve been running in training and you have your PB.  A training plan might look like this (I shit you not!):

Run#1:  Warm-up || 1m @ 5k goal pace
Run#2:  Warm-up || 1.5m @ 5k goal pace
Run#3:  Warm-up || 2m @ 5k goal pace
Run#4:  Warm-up || 2.5m @ 5k goal pace
RACE:  3.1m @ 5k pace - BINGO

A more experienced runner would respond that this sort of training is unsustainable (they’d be right) and would suggest a more sensible model based on training pace being determined by current fitness, as opposed to a future utopian state.  This is because, they claim, current 5k pace is tied to a physiological zone (vo2 max,) the development of which is vital for performances at the 5k distance.   Due to this a goal pace is simply something that is useful in setting aspirations and to assist with pacing on race day.  Given the intensity, these reps are best broken up with recoveries.  So their suggestion would be more along these lines:

Run#1:  Warm-up || 6 * 800m @ current 5k pace
Run#2:  Warm-up || 5 * 1k @ current 5k pace
Run#3:  Warm-up || 4 * 1200m @ 1.5m @ current 5k pace
Run#4:  Warm-up || 3 * 1m @ current 5k pace
RACE:  3.1m

(Please note – this clearly isn’t the only training going on but an illustration).

Finally someone will come along and agree that VO2 max training is important but will point out that the equation 5k pace = VO2 max pace is fatally flawed because the association between vo2 max intensity and race pace is dependent  on your overall ability.  I.e.  if you run 5k in 22 minutes then your 5k pace is nowhere near vo2 max intensity, whereas if you run 5k in 15 minutes it is.  Therefore they will train at a couple of different intensities – at a speed between 8:00 and 15:00 race pace (use a calculator if not sure).  Their plan might look something like this:

Run#1:  Warm-up || 6 * 800m @ 15:00 race pace w / 3:30 recovery
Run#2:  Warm-up || 8 * 400m @ 8:00 race pace w / 2:00 recovery
Run#3:  Warm-up || 4 * 1200m @ 15:00 race pace w / 3:30 recovery
Run#4:  Warm-up || 5 * 600m @ 8:00 race pace w / 2:00 recovery
Run#5:  Warm-up || 3 * 1m @ @ 15:00 race pace w / 3:30 recovery
Run#6:  Warm-up || 4 * 800m @ 8:00 race pace w / 3:00 recovery
RACE:  3.1m

The important thing to note is that the move seems to be away from goal pace based running to running which develops phyisological zones more efficiently.  So does this mean goal pace running has no place?

25/07/2011 at 14:55

What follows for discussion are a couple of workout types that incorporate goal pace running without the crudity of the “beginner” method and which can also be used all year round as the overall intensity can be matched with the phase of training.  (It’s worth pointing out that many distinguished coaches feel that the vo2 max training described above is best used at certain stages of the season in controlled doses and is not particularly appropriate as a weekly workout all year round).

To serve as an example we’ll use a runner whose current 5k pace is 6:40 per mile (100 secs / 400m) and whose goal pace is 6:00 per mile (90 secs / 400m) (I’m not arguing the toss over the extra 9m for a true mile!).

1)       Aerobic Power workouts (a la Benson / Ray):  The point of an aerobic power workout is to combine goal pace running with fixed distance recoveries.  A good example of this is the following workout:
8 * (400m @ 90s w / 200m recovery run as quickly as possible).  The total workout distance is 4800m and the workout is progressed over time by running the 200m recovery as quickly as possible.  So, early season, the recovery can be jogged and late season it’s possible to be running the recoveries quite quickly – this has the benefit of naturally changing with your fitness as well as being likely to match the sort of training done at various times.  The non-negotiable in this workout is the rep pace and distance.

2)       5k Simulation workouts (Dellinger / Bowerman / Oregon):  The 5k simulation workouts are similar to the aerobic power workouts in that they integrate goal pace with uptempo recovery in a workout of 4800m distance.  However, the difference is that both the goal pace and recovery pace (I call this the float pace) are fixed and what changes is the mix of goal and float pace.  A very basic progression would be:
Run#1:  4 * (400m @ 90 || 800m float)
Run#4:  2 * (1200m @ 90 || 1200m float)
Run#6:  1200m @ 90 || 600m float || 1200m @ 90 || 600m float || 1200m @ 90
Float pace is suggested to be about 1:00 – 1:30 p / mile slower than goal 5k pace but is, in reality, very personal (and roughly fixed throughout the season).  By that I mean the runner in this example will run all his floats at the same pace.  Of course, the idea is that, over time, the goal pace gets closer and closer to your current 5k pace culminating on race day where the two meet.

An obvious variation of both of these workouts is one where you chop and change the ratio of goal pace to recovery and also try and progress the recovery pace at the same time.

One of the key differences between the two workouts is that the 5k simulation workouts are for most not a full on quality session and can therefore have additions made according to the time of the season.  E.g.  adding a few MP miles during base.

25/07/2011 at 14:56

Assuming you were to adopt these types of workouts the challenge then becomes integrating them into all the other workouts you do, in particular the vo2 max workouts later in the training schedule.   Clearly the longer term your goal the easier it is to plan a realistic build up which covers all of the bases in a progressive and manageable manner.  Anyway, they are very flexible workouts and you can hours of fun mapping your path from current 5k pace to your goal 5k pace if you are dullard like me.

Other Distances

This concept can be extended to 10k pace workouts (where the total simulation mileage would be 6m) as well as 800 and 1500m (workout volumes = race distances also).  For longer distances the simulation workouts become a little more awkward and would make more sense if the workout distance was shorter than race distance.  E.g. for a HM, you may aim for an hour’s run with portions at goal pace.

Finally, remember that these goal pace based workouts are not designed to eliminate the need for training according to physiological zones (according to current pace) but rather to complement them.  Anyway, just some ideas to spice things up a little bit – like a long-married couple doing it in the kitchen.

Hey, wake up.

25/07/2011 at 15:36

Questions (I'm just about still awake):

Does the aerobic power workout progress your fitness faster than the simulation workout since there is more volume at goal pace per session?

Persuming that is the case could one combine both types of workout into a schedule (not a weekly one obviously but once a month perhaps)?

Also for people who have never done floats before, do you have a nice standard explanation of them in one or two setences? Similar to strides = what fast people do before races. How should it feel to the runner so they can judge the intensity?

25/07/2011 at 15:39
My only question would be about the choice of goal pace, I know personally I pick far too ambitious goals so is there an upper limit to an effective goal pace before it becomes pointless?
25/07/2011 at 15:59
One of the problems with Half Marathon and slower paces is that they feel fairly easy until you've been running them for a while. This can easily lead to inappropriate training paces.


A good trick for race pace simulation suggested by Daniels is to include goal-paced running towards the end of a longer run. This way, you get a good idea of how a certain pace will feel once you're fatigued. A good example of a Daniels session (using intensity rather than pace, but the intent is the same) is:

2 miles easy; 5 x 5-6 mins @ threshold with 1 minute rest; 1 hour easy; 15-20 minutes @ threshold; 2 miles easy

Progressive runs can also help. Using myself as an example, my low aerobic HR is 135bmp and my HM intensity HR is about 175 bpm. A workout I tried recently was to start running at 135 bpm, and to increase the intensity by 5bpm every mile until I reached 175 @ mile 9 and maintained for 2 miles. At this point HMP feels a lot different than it does after just a two-mile warm up.

Regarding half marathon pace, including short sections of 400-800 metres in easy runs can be useful for goal pace practice, particularly for uphills and downhills. The training effect will be more useful for improving judgement and biomechanics than developing particular evergy systems, and thanks to the short amount of time spent at HM pace will not be too stressful or fatiguing.

25/07/2011 at 16:21

I have to second Blf's question, and combine it with the duration of your overall plan.  How do you choose your goal pace, and having chosen it how do you plan for how long it might take you to get there?

Can I choose a very ambitious goal pace for a 5k but plan to take 3 years to get there?  Or must I reign in my ambitions and always look at a 12-20 week plan?  The intensity of an ambitious 5k pace would be very high...

Are there any guidelines?  For instance, again using 5k, could I expect that (given a good base already) a 12 week plan would transform my present 3k pace into my 5k pace?

Or, should I just see how it's going.  My difficulty with this is that I might be six weeks into pushing too hard before something lets me know, in a bad way...

26/07/2011 at 16:21

Curly - typically it would, partly due to the overall volume and the intensity of the recovery.  It's definitely feasible to combine both into a schedule.

The idea of a float is typically to maintain relaxation and turnover without forcing it, which in a shortish quality workout would likely be faster than easy pace.   As you can see a verbal explanation is next to useless so in this case the best thing to do is to run it at a set, predetermined float pace. 

Simon - agree on the quality late on in a run.  It's good to simulate your race pace at certain points of a training run that reflect the race distance where that distance is too long for a simulation over the distance.  E.g.  for a 10m race 2.5m easy || 2.5m RP || 2.5m steady || 2.5m RP is a tough but doable session that has you running race pace late on in a run.  It's quite a good idea to distinguish between goal pace and current race pace before the workout so you are clear what you're trying to achieve.  You can also mix it up so the above might become  2.5m easy || 2.5m current race pace || 2.5m steady || 2.5m goal race pace.

Ratzer / BLF.  With regards to goal setting the best starting point is to compare your improvement over previous years at a particular distance.  If you knocked 2 minutes off in 2009 and 1 minute in 2010, then it's reasonably obvious what a realistic baseline should be for 2011. You can then apply some qualitative factors such as mileage etc. 

It might be useful to use your basic speed as a floor.  So, for 800m if your 400m time is 60 seconds and current 800m time is 2:15, the maximum possible improvement is going to be about 7 seconds unless you improve your basic speed.  Equally you can use the 4 second rule to extrapolate a floor performance over longer distances.  

4 Sec Rule Calc

So if you are currently converting at 6 secs then perhaps your goal could be 5 seconds etc. 

Ratzer - as an aside, with a 3 year goal you do need to understand early on whether at some point it will be necessary to spend a lot of time working on basic speed or whether your goal just requires you to work on your ability to convert basic speed.

I wouldn't worry too much about the negative consequences of pushing too hard because your goal is wrong.  These workouts aren't taxing to start with and are pretty short but will give enough feedback to let you know whether your goal is too tough.    

Personally, I think the first thing is to schedule the period of the goal race and this would be done in conjunction with the training phases planned.  So, if you allowed 6 months from start of base to peak then you'd be looking at choosing a goal in 6 months time.  That actual goal is affected by so many factors that it's impossible to come up with a formula, but as experience increases it does get easier to set accurate goals. Sorry it's so vague.  If anyone is going through this process it would be interesting to use it as an example. 

26/07/2011 at 16:50

W.r.t. goal pace, my feeling is that these sort of sessions can be used in a "continuous improvement" sense, rather than necessarily looking at some specific, long-term goal.  (The longer term and more challenging the goal, the less realistic it is that you will be able to use the goal pace in the sessions.)  After all, in the real world many runners don't have such well defined individual targets, and maybe just want to "get faster". 

I know I have had times when I've thought of the "next level" being the fitness I would need to run twice the distance for the same pace, or in other words run a marathon at my HM pace or a 10k at my 5,000m pace, and so on.  When you visualise such a thing it gives you the willies cos you know how fecked you felt after PB'ing at the shorter distance, but when you get there you look back and it feels like a big achievement. 

So I think this strikes a nice balance when considering whether a "target" pace can feasibly be used for the work-out.  Let's say your current pb's are 35:00 for 10k and 16:51 for 5k (McMillan would be so pleased with you!) but you'd like to go sub-34. This seems like a reasonable "mid-term" target because target race pace is marginally slower than current 5k pace.  Clearly, trying to do the sessions at an aspirational pace of 30:00 is unrealistic, even if you have lofty yet admirable ambitions to get to that level "some day".

Edited: 26/07/2011 at 16:53
27/07/2011 at 12:52

Phil - that is very nice re: target setting I like that a lot. Quite often I pick one goal that seems tough but doable (say sub 20 5k) and then McMillan to find out the in line times for longer distances and try to apply the improvement up, but your way is slightly more long term and very satisfying!

Oh and McMillan loves me currently:
21:03 5k and 73:08 10 mile (versus 73:16 for his prediction)

Moraghan - how do you define the float pace in advance then (sorry not being difficult just wondering)? Or do you just do a trial and error on them?

ALD
27/07/2011 at 14:55

Phil I completely agree, as that's the way I look at my goals. I'm yet to run a 5km below 17.55 but my 10km PB is 36.15 and unfortunately I haven't managed to find a 5km to run this summer yet. There is a series of monthly 5kms in Derby over the winter which I'll hopefully bring it more in line. I'm always mindful during a 10km though that when I hit 5km in around 18mins, theroetically I'm almost running 2 back to back 5km PBs to break 36mins, which is my aim for this year. Psychologically I think it would be easier to push on if my 5km PB was lower into the 17s so I know I have more buffer, if that makes sense.

I prefer to use aerobic power type workouts, with a float, close to race event to simulate race conditions. Apart from that I think the general consesus of training should be focused on developing the attributes that put you in a position to run a faster race. For example, sticking to current race fitness until around 6-8 weeks prior to peak race then based upon that, or a tune up race, pick a realistic target for that race and start to integrate some race pace reps. Start with a decent enough interval to allow full completion of a session then gradually work the recovery up from a walk/jog to a float around easy/steady pace. I don't really see any reason to start with a short rep, I think if you can't run a decent rep length at target pace 6-8 weeks before the race you've picked an unrealstic goal.

 Edited to clarify this is probably best suited for races 5km upwards. I haven't any experience training for shorter distances, but I'd imagine another stretegy would work best as your PB might be 1-2 seconds, not a minute or so.

Edited: 27/07/2011 at 14:58
28/07/2011 at 11:15

I think, certainly for shorter races, a good confidence builder could be to run a partial time trial at expected goal pace one week before the event. The percentage of race distance you run would decrease as the distance increases. For example, for 1500 metres, you could do 1200 @ race pace; for 5k, you would run 3k @ race pace.

Possibly as the distance increase, the time trial should also be a litle further away from race day. So, for example, at two weeks out you could do a 5k test for a 10k or a 10k test for an HM. These could also serve as good final quality sessions.

This is mainly conjecture, since I've only tried this out for a 1 mile race quite a while ago. It's probably more useful for those (like me) that are a bit unsure of what there goal pace should be for an upcoming event and don't want to under/over do it.


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