Running Pace Training: How to Improve Running Economy.Jun 01, 2023
Using purposeful running pace training we can improve your running economy (the efficiency of our running so we can run longer/faster without it feeling as hard).
*Warning* I am about to go nerdy former science teacher on you for a minute.
Two Truths: We need the energy to move us forward as we run. As we know energy can not be created or destroyed, just transformed.
Potential Energy → Kinetic Energy
Some of that energy comes from stored “potential energy.” I think of the loading part of the stance phase (above) as taking all the potential energy from gravitational potential energy and ground reaction forces and storing them in your body. Then in the propelling/rebounding part of the stance phase, we can use that stored energy to move forward. We expanded more on this in that aforementioned email. We can improve the efficiency of this system by improving our efficiency as we load, stabilize and propel. Aka. being a bit more purposeful with our strength training.
Chemical Energy → Kinetic Energy
Some of that energy comes from “chemical energy,” aka our metabolism, our muscles using calories to move us forward (technically chemical energy is also potential energy but stored in the form of chemical bonds) . We can improve the efficiency of this system by purposeful pacing of our running, and conditioning and by becoming stronger overall (strength training). I’m going to expand on the purposeful pacing of our running in just a minute. While the Women’s Running Academy has a heavy focus on the purposeful strength training bit we also build in the metabolic efficiency piece to maximize your gains. We do this by purposefully pacing our running using 3 main types of paces: easy, tempo, and track.
3 main types of paces:
Easy pace is more of a feel than a pace (think calm, relaxed conversation pace) but generally is around 2 minutes per mile slower than your 10k pace. Roughly 2 to 3 out of 10 on Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).
We want to do the majority of our running at this pace for a solid aerobic base. Physiologically this improves the efficiency of your cardiovascular system by improving the way the body transports oxygen to the muscles, increasing red blood cell production, and the size of the mitochondria (the part of the cell that does the transformation of energy mentioned above). We want 70-80% of our running to be at this pace so that we can maximize the above benefits of efficiency AND save our bodies for the purposeful intensity of the other two “key runs.”
Tempo pace is at or around your lactate threshold. This is roughly your 10k pace. Roughly 6 to 7 RPE. Running at this pace trains the metabolic efficiency of the muscles themselves and builds their capacity to continue running at harder efforts. We want to dose this specifically. We don’t want to run at a tempo pace all the time (a lot of people do this! But don’t fall for the trap).
Once per week, or so, we want to build in some tempo running sandwiched between some easy running starting with just a mile or two at a time. It might look like 1 mile easy, followed by 1 mile at your 10k pace, and finished with 1 mile easy. Increasing the tempo duration up to 3 - 4 miles, or adding in other intervals over time. I also like to add in some race pace finish (an open-faced sandwich if you will) to some longer distance training. There you go the first two-thirds (ish) of a run easy and then finish at your race pace. This is a great way to train your muscles to work hard when they are already tired.
With a good aerobic base, I’ll usually add these once per week.
You don’t have to run them on the track, but these are our track workout-type paces and durations. This pace is around what you could sustain for 1 mile at most (not an all-out sprint) but varies based on distance. You’ll go faster for 400m intervals than you will for 800m or 1200m. Roughly 8 to 9 RPE.
Running at these paces pushes you to your VO2 max (the absolute highest amount of oxygen your body can use in a set amount of time). Training there for short intervals like in a track workout helps increase the volume your heart can pump per beat. If the easy pace improves the efficiency of your engine (cardiovascular system) these workouts improve the horsepower. They are also a great way to work on speed, turnover, and power in your stride!
A track workout might look like this: run easy for 10 minutes, then complete 4 x 800 meters at your VO2 max pace, with 400 meters of easy running (or walking in between), then finish with 10 minutes of easy running. If you aren’t on a track these can easily be adapted to run for time making the 800-meter interval 3 minutes, and then 3-4 minutes of recovery.
I usually add these in alternating weeks with tempo for those that are newer to this type of running or are in a volume-building phase. For my runners who have a strong aerobic base and are going for performance, I might include some weeks with both track and tempo training sessions.
Want to start training with purpose?
In the Women’s Running Academy Mentorship, there are running training programs included for every goal (base building, maintenance, and race performance*) that include purposeful dosing of these purposeful paces. Also, using a time trial or a recent race time I can give you those specific paces. You are also welcome to just go by RPE.
*on race performance because I’m going to discourage training for a large race like a marathon or half marathon where your race/peak mileage would be during the 12 weeks of the Women't Running Academy Mentorship. The Mentorship is much more suited for a base-building running season and would be ideal for someone who is simply wanting to build a better foundation overall or prep for a race at least 12 weeks out. However, all the race plans are still included to help you with those big future goals!*
Trying to peak in your mileage while also building strength is A LOT on the body and will likely lead to diminishing returns in both places - your running performance and ability to get the most out of your strength workouts…. Which is the opposite of my goal for you during the Mentorship!
I create this plan for you at the start AND through the mentorship lessons I will walk you through the logic behind my running training programs and provide you with the formula I use to put them together (and all the templates you could ever need) so that you are empowered to train for your goals for years to come.
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