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Speed Work: Do I use my actual paces or equivalent?

A number of loyal HMM followers have posted an interesting question that is not entirely addressed in the book. When approaching speed work, should I use my equivalent speed work or my actual speed work? This is a very relevant question to consider. Since our speed is in the beginning of the training plan, we don’t want it to be too fast or we will overcook ourselves before making it to the starting line. On the other hand, we don’t want to train too slow and not add get enough training stimulus.

 

What will happen most of the time is a person may have some shorter races under their belt, maybe even some marathons. For their next race, they have a set goal- say qualify for Boston or break four hours. So, what they will do is plug that goal time into a calculator and then just take down the training paces based on that time. What will happen from time to time is that the paces for the speed work won’t line up with what they have actually run. What should they do?

 

Like I said above, you really need to balance training too hard with not training hard enough. You also have to be consider what the goal of the speed work is for a marathon training segment. Our goal during the marathon is getting in work that’s faster than marathon pace, not necessarily getting faster in the 5k/10k distances. Along with that, you should really consider if running the faster of the paces may feel fine now, but will it dig a hole that’s too deep to get out of when the training gets into higher volume, longer tempos, and longer long runs? What’s unfortunate is you may not find that answer out until it’s too late.

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When should I use the faster of the two paces?

Ok to use:

  1. You have one through a marathon training segment before
  2. You recover well
  3. Aren’t taking big jump in training

 

If you can check two of the three off from this list, then I think you will be ok going with the faster of the two pace options (actual versus equivalent). For the most part, I feel like this will fit more advanced runners who can be a little more aggressive. However, don’t be afraid to dial back if you get a few weeks in and aren’t responding well. It’s better to adjust now and avoid burnout.

Not Ok

  1. You have struggled with overtraining in the past
  2. Don’t recover well from speed
  3. Are trying to make a big jump in training

 

If this is describing you, I say take the conservative approach and give yourself a better chance at success. This is especially true if you are a beginner at the marathon and venturing into uncharted territory.

 

The best thing to do, is look at your numbers and then look at your schedule. If the schedule is already looking daunting to you, then don’t make it harder than it already is. If you’ve been through a few before, and know what your body needs, then be a little more aggressive. As with all things, monitor how you are feeling and make sure your general recovery strategies are in place. Set yourself up for the best possible opportunity for success when it matters- race day!

Recent Question: Can’t hit speed work at longer distances… HELP!

A couple days ago a reader dropped me note and had an interesting question.

Donald is doing his speed work based on his 5k time. We should point out that the he stated that it was based off a time he has run, not a “wishful thinking time” as Don said. The problem was though, that as the repeat distance increased from 400 meters to 600 meters and above, he could no longer hit the 5k pace. So the question is, what gives?

You know me, there’s never a simple answer, but I’ll try to break down my thoughts on this as short as I can.

First:

The very first point I’d like to make is that this is why I don’t usually prescribe 5k pace training during the marathon. Here’s why, Don stated he’s a pretty new runner. So my guess is that he ran that 5k PR even earlier and probably wasn’t training as much as he is now. I know it seems counterintuitive, but think of this way- when training for that 5k, let’s say he was running 20ish miles per week and probably running a few days per week. Within that week, he was probably doing a speed workout a week and a moderate length long run. Needless to say, he was fairly fresh when he ran that. Now, he’s probably running 40+ miles per week with two workouts and a long run in the week. You may have heard me say that speed is relative and this is exactly what I am talking about. Doing a bunch of work at 5k pace is important for 5k to 10k races, but 5k pace for a marathon isn’t as big of a deal. Doing the speedwork at 10k pace is plenty fast for 95% of the people we work with.

Second:

The second part to this has to do with some hard physiology. 5k paced training is designed to be pretty close to VO2max, just slightly under. The time we can run at our VO2max varies based on our ability. A world class 5k runner can run close to 2 miles at their VO2max. A newer runner, probably more like 3 minutes. So given this, it makes sense that Dons workouts would start falling apart as the repeat distance increases. 400’s for Don would be about 1:42. 600’s would be 2:33 and 800’s would be 3:24. Seeing this, it now makes sense that Don’s workouts start falling apart after the 600 distance repeats. He simply has reached the max amount of time that he can sustain that pace. The farther he runs, the worse the workout will be. In this case, he reaches pretty close to VO2max in the first couple repeats, and then he’s literally maxed out so that each following repeat will simply be slower and slower. The longer the repeat, the worst it will be.

Conclusion:

So, my recommendation is for marathon training, keep speed at 10k pace OR only do 5k workouts that will keep each repeats under that three minute range for beginners and around 5-6 minutes for more advanced runners. Other than that, please know that you will get what you need from doing the work at 10k pace. The marathon isn’t about working on overall speed, but rather the speed necessary to run your best marathon. To increase your overall speed, I recommend doing a separate training segment where you can work on all paces from 10k down to 5k and even mile race pace!

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