[\ˌper-ə-pə-ˈte-tik\]: wandering from place to place
When I first returned to running, I found that I really only had, at most, three different paces: “very slow”, “comfortably difficult”, and “very hard”. I seldom made use of my “slow” and “hard” paces, seeing as to how the former was an uncomfortably (or, even, unnaturally) slow speed and the latter was so fast as to be unmaintainable for distances greater than 400 meters. Put them together and they are ideal for a good interval workout, but they remained entirely unhelpful for a basic training regiment. So for all practicable purposes, my training speed was primarily limited to one moderately difficult pace––a pace at which I not only ran every workout, but also, as it happens, served as my first “race pace”.
I have found this experience to be quite common among both beginner and intermediate runners. Every day one heads out the door for, say, a 4 mile run and attempts to either tie or beat one’s previous time. For beginners, this tactic often has immediate results. One notices that one’s times actually do start getting faster and after a few months, a few minutes may have even been shaved off a 5k or 10k time. But what ends up happening is that one suddenly hits a training plateau and one just can’t seem to get any faster.
When I first started training for a marathon, I was confronted with an odd inclusion in my weekly workouts: “race pace”. You mean I shouldn’t just go out and run every workout at the same pace? What do you mean that all runs, except for one a week, should be done at an easy pace, i.e., a pace 45-90 seconds slower than race pace? If I plan on running my marathon fast, why wouldn’t I also run my long runs fast?
These burning questions really inspired me to begin researching the science behind training for a given race and the principle thing that I learned during this time is that most runners are actually training at a pace that is much too fast for their running needs. The results of this training flaw are many: (1) one hits a plateau in which one experiences few PR gains; (2) any attempt to increase daily (or weekly) mileage results in major fatigue; (3) one learns first-hand just how debilitating an over-training injury can be, a discovery which ultimately results in a loss of past fitness gains.
Some time after this “Running 101” lesson, I picked up what many consider to be the layman’s Running Bible: Jack Daniels’ Daniels’ Running Formula (2nd. edition). Throughout the book Daniels really reiterates the above point and places an important emphases on what he calls “E-pace” (yes, you guessed it: “E” is for “Easy”). This pace goes by many other names: “conversational pace”, “comfortably easy pace”, “maintenance pace”, etc. Whatever name one happens to favor, the idea remains the same: namely, running at a moderate pace for the majority of one’s runs enables one to make large gains when paired with either speed work or increased mileage.
According to Daniel’s prescription (and that of most other running “authorities”), this is the pace at which one should complete the majority of one’s workouts. Further, when one is attempting to increase one’s weekly milage base, virtually all of one’s runs should be done within this training zone. The benefits to this method of training ought not be underestimated. Easy runs (59% to 79% of VO2 Max; or 65% to 79% HRmax) allow one to develop an injury free base, while also strengthening the heart, increasing the blood supplied to muscles, and conditioning the muscular system to more effectively manage oxygen delivered through the cardiovascular system.
Just what is your E-pace? In his book, Daniels provides a proven, and yet very easy, system based around what he calles the VDOT. When I first encountered this system I realized that I probably needed to make my “comfortable pace” even a little more comfortable. I was aware of the problem of training too fast, yet I was still doing it!
For Daniels’ system, all one has to do is find one’s most recent competition and the time in which this competition was completed. Daniels, then, provides a list of equivalent race times for other events (assuming proper training for those events). So, for instance, my 5k time after my marathon recovery is right around 19:30. This gives me a VDOT value of 51 and translates into a 5:44 mile time, 1:30:02 Half-Marathon, and 3:07:39 Marathon––to name a few. But what about paces? According to Daniels’ tables, my E-pace should be approximately 8:24 mi/pace.
Just to help drive in the point that you probably are running to fast, let’s look at a few more 5k times associated with their respective E-pace:
I imagine that you are getting the point now. It was a realization that I have really had to accept and work into my training. And now I can honestly say that the past few months have served as a much better training period than I have ever experienced.
Anyway, should you go out and buy the book? It is a really good one for your running library, but I am certainly not going to tell you to go buy it. The main point to gather from all of the above is that it is probably a good idea to slow your ass down. Enjoy the run––after all, that is what it is all about.
(Photo credit: Michael Loke)