Race Pace Relativity



Okay. This is very important so read it carefully. You’ll notice that I refer to race pace by time instead of distance. For example, I’ll say, “one-hour-race pace” instead of “10K-race pace.” From a physiological standpoint, if you run as hard as you can for one hour and I run as hard as I can for one hour, we will both exhibit very similar physiological responses. The main difference, of course, is the speed. You may run 10 miles in one hour whereas I may only run seven. In order to make all the training advice relative to runners of all abilities, I’ll present race pace by time so we are all on the same page.

I can’t express the importance of this point enough because you may read about a workout in a training plan that calls for five times one mile at 5K race pace with a 2 minute recovery jog between each. Now, that sounds fine but let’s look at this workout for two runners and you’ll see that this workout can be very, very different for each runner.

For example, if you are a 15-minute 5K runner, then your workout will be five times one mile in 4:50 per mile with 2 minutes recovery jog between. This will give a total of 24:10 of fast running. However, if you are a 30-minute 5K runner, then the workout will be five times one mile in 9:41 per mile with 2 minutes recovery jog between. This runner will now have nearly 50 minutes of hard running. See how different this workout can be when prescribed by race distance? Isn’t a workout where you run hard for 50 minutes different than a workout where you run hard for less than half that?

A better way to prescribe the workout would be five times five minutes at your 15-minute-race pace with two minutes recovery jog between. This way, both runners will get the exact same training stimulus. The speed and distance covered will be different but the overall amount of work completed will be the same. Note: Don’t worry about what your 15 minute race pace is, I’ve created an online calculator that I’ll talk about in a moment to calculate it for you.

Relating training to time-based race paces is how I’ll approach our discussion of training on this site so that all runners are getting the same training effects.


Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

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