Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Thu, 28 Feb 2002 11:23:46 -0500

On Pace


The recent Jack Farrell, same-run-every-day mini-series (RC 398 and 399) brought in lots of mail. Some runners wrote to comment on the California high school coach's conclusions, while others asked how his distances and paces could translate for them.

First responder to the Farrell plan was George Beinhorn. We had teamed up for several years on the Runner's World staff.

George left the magazine in the mid-1970s and never returned to fulltime sports journalism. But he never stopped running, and never lost his fascination with the sport's practical-technical side.

He wrote that he's still "refining my understanding of training. If it ever becomes my fate to train hard again -- which is not likely to happen in this life -- I'll run high mileage, mostly at aerobic training pace.

"I'll train for endurance-endurance-endurance, and I'll race short distances frequently. I'll never run faster than tempo pace in training."

This led George to talk about what "tempo" pace is. "Dr. Jack Daniels defines it as five miles at half-marathon race pace. I don't think most runners, even young runners, could get away with doing that every day. Jack Farrell's term 'comfortably hard' seems to me to be at the lower end of tempo pace."

George asked what I thought the right comfort-zone pace might be. My response:

I never heard the term "tempo runs" until 10 or 15 years ago, and always thought it a fuzzy term. Don't all runs have a tempo, since this is another word for pace or speed?

My definition of "LSD" pace, from the time I first wrote about it more than 30 years ago, has been runs of one or more minutes per mile slower than current racing ability for the same distance. Refining that now, I'd say that adding one minute puts you at the dividing line between a moderate and a hard pace. Adding two minutes takes you to the line between moderate and easy.

Ideal everyday pace probably lies between plus-one and plus-two minutes. Students in my college running class support this estimate.

I tell them to run comfortably, not too fast or too slow. Don't worry about time, but just let what happens happen. Their pace naturally settles at about 1-1/2 minutes per mile slower than their top speed.

I'm guessing that was my everyday pace in the years when I raced often and hard, but it's only a guess. I quit checking pace in the late 1960s, and just let it find itself naturally most of the time.

Only one solid piece of evidence compares my paces between daily running and racing. This comes from my first marathon, Boston 1967.

My longest run before that race was 20 miles. I ran on a measured course in Des Moines and averaged exactly 8:00 miles.

Not knowing what awaited me in the unexplored black hole beyond 20 miles, I just hoped to hold that eight-minute pace for the extra distance. But it wasn't even close.

My marathon pace was a shocking 6:29 per mile -- or almost precisely 1-1/2 minutes faster than I'd trained. This was an early lesson on how much raceday magic can improve pace.

The raceday effect on extending distance can also be dramatic. That will be next week's topic in this space.

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