blog post 78

Want to Improve Your Pacing Skill? Try This Workout!

Recently my friend and fellow running coach (and distant relative, I can only assume) Jason Fitzgerald interviewed me for his Strength Running podcast. We had a fun conversation about pacing, which is the subject of my latest book, ON PACE: Discover How to Run Every Race at Your Real Limit. There was one moment, however, that caused me some chagrin, and that’s when Jason said that he advises runners to use shorter races as opportunities to work on pacing, and to participate in such events more frequently than they otherwise might for this express purpose.

Mind you, I was chagrined by this statement not because I didn’t agree with it but because I did. You see, I should have included the same advice in my book, but I didn’t think to, and now it’s too late. Oh, well. C’est la vie. This happens with all my books, so I’m not about to go jump off a bridge. The only way to avoid the pinch of regret I experience when I think of something else I should have included in a book that has already been printed would be to stop learning about the relevant subject the moment the book is completed, and frankly, I’d rather keep learning and live with the regret.

Thank goodness for this blog, though. In the spirit of “better late than never,” it gives me a forum to say the things I should have said before. Already I have used this post to pass along Jason’s tip on using short races as pacing practice, and I will now describe a workout that serves the same function in a different way, and is also not included in ON PACE. I call it the lock-in tempo. Intriguing name, no? Let’s have a look at it.

The defining quality of skillful pacing is consistency. While perfect consistency is neither possible nor desirable in race situations, it is generally case that the more evenly a runner distributes their effort over the course of a race, the sooner they reach the finish line. That’s because the relationship between intensity and fatigue is nonlinear, such that every time a runner strays above the highest intensity they can sustain for the full race distance, they hasten their body’s approach to exhaustion. Hence, pacing skill development is largely about learning to maintain a consistent effort when running. And that is the purpose of the lock-in tempo workout.

There are two versions, an introductory version for less skillful pacers and an advanced version for those who are already pretty decent at pacing. Let’s start with the introductory version. Step one is to set your device to automatically capture a time split every 0.1 mile or 100 meters—far more frequently than you normally would. Choose a flat route, warm up, and then accelerate to your lactate threshold pace, which is the fastest pace you could sustain for one hour in a race. Your goal is to cover every 0.1 or 100 meters in exactly the same amount of time for the entire tempo segment, which can last anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes. Of course, you are not allowed to look at your device except when it beeps to signal the completion of another segment. The less variation there is in your splits (and you should aim for accuracy to the tenth of a second, not merely to the second), the better you are at maintaining a consistent pace by feel.

The advanced version is the same in every way except that the run is performed on a route with rolling hills. Although in a race you would not want to maintain a perfectly steady pace on such a route, attempting to do so in training offers a great test of pace control. If you happen to own a run power meter, you can instead try to maintain a steady power output over rolling hills, which is closer to how you would execute a race.

I doubt this is the last new pacing skill development workout I will devise. Variation is the point, after all, because like other skills, pacing skill improves most rapidly when you challenge it in novel ways. But while you wait for me to concoct another new run format to try, pick up a copy of ON PACE, which, although it doesn’t contain everything, does include a wide variety of pacing skill development workouts and other methods that will help you become a better pacer.

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