Running Down Your Dream

Monday, June 15, 2015 at 7:52 am

rdydWhen your training pace is too quick, your race pace can suffer.

I was warning down after a speed workout with my all-women’s team, Atlanta, and fell into step with a runner who’d just joined us. “I’m glad we get a chance to run together,” she said. “I want to get my race times down, so I’m trying to train faster.”

“How fast do you train now, for your regular running?” I asked.

“Seven-minute miles.”

The woman had races a recent 5K in 20 minutes – about six minutes, 27 seconds per mile. “I don’t think you need to train faster than a seven-minute pace,” I said. If anything, I thought she should train slower.

Why? How does pace (the number of minutes in which you run a mile) figure into the formula of injury-free training and successful racing?

Training too fast (along with running too many miles) is the most common mistake made by runners at all levels, writes Bob Glover in The New Competitive Runner’s Handbook (Penguin, 1988). “It happens with 90 percent of the people I coach,” says Jack Daniels, PhD, a sports scientist, former Olympic pentathlete, and coach of men’s and women’s tract and cross-country at the State University of New York at Cortland. “They say |We’re not training fast enough,’ I remind them that the purpose of training is to prepare to race fast – not to do fast workouts – and to do that you have to train at the right pace.”

Injury, burnout and poor races can result from training too fast. In searching for the right pace, it’s better to aim for something that feels too easy rather than too hard.


Daniels divides running into four intensities. The first, which should make up at least 80 percent of training at all levels, he calls easy running. “It’s your regular, everyday training-pace,” he says. (If you run just for fitness, not to race, you can run all your miles here.) “You shouldn’t feel breathless or tense, and should be able to have a conservation.”

If you take your pulse, the number of beats per minute should be between 60 and 75 percent of your maximum heart rate (220 minus your age). Running at less than 60 percent of maximum effort – besides doing little for the heart – may lead to poor mechanics. “You tend to bounce up and down, which can put stress on ankles and knees,” says Daniels.

Most coaches recommend doing easy running at a pace about two minutes slower than you race a 5K. That means my teammate should be training at roughly eight and a half minutes per mile. This is an approximate figure – everyone is different – but it’s nowhere near the seven-minute pace that she thought was too slow.

If you race, the reminding 20 percent of your training should consist of threshold-intensity running, intervals, and repetitions. A threshold-intensity run trains the body to work at close to race pace (15 to 20 seconds slower) for an extended period. Daniels suggests two techniques: a steady run of about 20 minutes (plus a warmup and cooldown at easy-running pace) or a series of “cruise intervals” in which you run hard but not all out for periods of five to seven minutes, interspersed with one-minute jogs or walk-rests. Training this way gets you used to running faster than normal for more than a few minutes.

Interval training gets the heart pumping at 95 to 98 percent of its maximum rate. “Contrary to what most people think, pushing beyond that level doesn’t do any more for the heart. All you’re doing is beating up your body,” says Daniels. Do your intervals at about your 5K race pace; each one should last three to five minutes and you should rest two to three minutes in between.

Repetition training best serves top competitors working on running form and maximum speed for a fast finishing kick. You run one-to two-minute intervals with a full recovery between each – “Enough so that you can run five seconds faster per quarter-mile than you 5K race pace,” says Daniels.

Runners train too fast for a number of reasons. One problem may be working out with other two train at a higher level. A common mistake is training at a pace keyed to what you’d like to race. For example, a 23-minute 5K runner (7:25-mile pace) who wants to run 20 minutes (6:27-mile pace) may do her “easy” running at an eight-minute pace. “All she’s doing is increasing her injury risk,” says Glover.

You may be tempted to increase your pace too quickly. “I recommend staying at the same intensity for at least three weeks before pushing it,” says Daniels, “and then only if you want to and if race results indicate you should.”

Categories: Uncategorized