Note: I write a weekly Q&A as well as a weekly training tip for NikeRunning.com. I’m going to take the best from that series and share it here on Tuesdays. I hope you find this useful and after a few months of this we’ll have a nice repository of introductory articles on basic elements of distance training (i.e. threshold running, easy days, long runs, etc.)
The following was posted on 01.30.09 here.
Hi Coach Jay,
I have a hard time telling how easy my easy run should actually be. If I run 7:30 miles for an 8k (sorry I don’t have a better gauge than this), would an easy run be 8:30 or 9:00 minute miles?
Thanks so much for your help,
Great question, Paulette and no doubt many other readers have wondered the same thing, especially since I’m often advocating easy runs here on the Inside Nike Running blog. To answer your question, I would like to share a story about how the term “easy” fits into elite athlete’s training.
I work with an athlete who has a 5,000m PR of 15:15…which is especially impressive considering that she is hoping to run faster this spring. She’s recovering from an injury and has read the term “easy” on her training documents five to six days a week for the past two months. For an elite athlete, seeing that term—especially in the month of January, when she typically is running “hard” or “steady” 4 times a week—is somewhat disconcerting. How can I make sure that she will truly run easy so that her injury can fully heals? I simply ask her the same thing my college coach asked my teammates and I, “Can you talk in full paragraphs when you’re running easy?” If the answer is no, then it’s not easy; if the answer is yes then you are running easy.
The great thing about this definition of easy running is that it allows for the pace of your easy days to speed up when you gain fitness. That’s probably the biggest reason I can get an elite athlete to buy into this. They inevitably check their watches, even on the easy days, and after 2-3 weeks of this approach, especially when coming off an injury or resuming training after a break, the pace for their easy day is 5-10 seconds a mile faster than before.
Back to your specific question. My advice? Just run with a partner and carry on a conversation, then end the run with a timed mile, still at the conversational pace, to see where you are at. Also, be willing to run this pace several times a week, or be willing to run a progression run where you start at this pace, then accelerate throughout the run. But regardless of your 5k PR, the simple fact is that you should be able to converse freely when you’re running easy.
Runner’s World praises the glories of the Pacing Run and its effect on raising the lactic acid threshold. However, I’m not really clear about how to do this. I’m a runner that only rarely runs for an hour at a time. From what I understand, the Pacing Run is supposed to be run at a pace I would feel comfortable running for an hour. How can running at a pace that I would be comfortable at for an hour (in my case around 9 minutes/mile) for 15-20 minutes help to enhance any kind of endurance? Usually I have an average pace of about 8:20/per mile, so a pace of 9:00/per mile really isn’t “comfortably hard.” However, I couldn’t keep a pace of 7:45 for an hour and I’m having trouble keeping it for the recommended twenty minutes. What am I not understanding? How can I increase my lactic acid threshold? What does running a Pacing Run really mean for me? Is it the 15-20 minute at 7:45 pace, or 20 minute at a pace that is slower than what I usually run when I run an easy five miles?
Thanks for the help,
I’m going to answer your question, yet I’m not going to try to figure out what Runner’s World means by Pacing Runs for the simple reason that we can all “feel” our lactate threshold if we just take the time to learn.
First point, which you are the expert on, is the pace you the feel comfortable at for an hour of running. In relation to the question above on running easy, if you’re certain that you’re running easy when you run 9:00 pace for an hour then 20 minutes at 7:45 pace is probably realistic. However, my guess is that your true easy pace—a pace you could comfortably run for 60 minutes—is closer to 10:00. I could be wrong, yet it really doesn’t matter if you’ll follow the plan below, which will get you within 10 seconds a mile of what your true threshold pace is. I don’t have space here to go into threshold running in detail, but as I said in two previous Q&A’s, threshold running is the best long term tool a runner has to improve their aerobic metabolism and improve their PRs year after year.
Okay, so what do you need to do? Simple, run a 5k race and run even splits or slightly negative splits (i.e. run the last mile slightly faster than the first two). If you go out too hard and your first mile is your fastest mile of the 5k then the data from this experiment—your race time—is basically worthless. But once you run a 5k race with even splits or slightly negative splits then you have a baseline. Your lactate threshold is going to be slower than your 5k race pace…but the tricky question is how much slower? To find out, you could spend $150-$300 to get tested on a treadmill, with cool gas analyzers and uncool finger or ear lobe pricks to draw blood to test your lactate levels, yet my $0 version will get you close and the only cost is being patient enough to give this 4-6 weeks. Alright, so let’s say you run 25:00 for your 5k, which would be 8:00 per 1,600m. Roughly a week after the race, once your feeling well, you would simply run a 5k time trial on a 400m track, which will be 12.5 laps, and run 1:30 slower per 1,600m, or 9:30 pace (2:22-2:23 per lap). This pace is slower than your lactate threshold, yet it’s likely not “easy.” Simply repeat this workout every week and speed up 5-10 second a mile until you get to a point where you’re really working to run the pace, yet you’re also running controlled. The key is to be mindful of your breathing: are you breathing as hard as you can or are you breathing heavily, but not uncontrollably? Dr. David Martin has a fantastic graph in his book “Better Training for Distance Runners” (with Peter Coe) where he shows how the breathing pattern for an athlete changes at lactate threshold pace; the problem is that it takes most athletes a couple of years of training to learn this sensation – you have to feel it and it takes a lot of trial and error (with most of the errors occurring on the side of running too hard, running past your lactate threshold). However, if you can stand doing a weekly 5k time trial you will eventually find a pace that is slightly easier than your 5k race pace, yet much more challenging than your normal easy day pace.
I hope this is helpful Aaron and feel free to write in again as this issue of threshold training is difficult to explain, but you only need to feel a bona fide threshold run once to properly run that pace for the rest of your training days.