Since I started running I have read numerous books, watched videos on Youtube and browsed the four corners of the internet to try and figure out what paces I should run at in any given training session. The idea that we can all throw our trainers on, walk out the door and run everything at our goal race pace seems great but anybody who has tried running significant milage knows that this is just not possible. Running all your runs at one pace is also a very ineffective means of training and most people training this way will eventually hit a plateau in their fitness.
Ive spent the last 3 years trialling different pacing strategies for training and believe I have found the best and most effective system for predicting training paces. Please note that every runner is different and whilst this system works great for me it may not work best for everyone.
The VDOT system
The VDOT system was created by world famous running coach “Jack Daniels” and allows the calculation of a recent race time and distance to produce an estimated VO2 max. This VO2 max is then converted to produce a V-dot-O2max score. The score can then be used against a chart to see predicted race times and estimated training paces.
I think the system is brilliant and what I find attractive and unique about it is that it can be applied to any runner. Using online calculators you can produce an accurate and up to date system of paces. Whilst this system is very specific to the marathon, given that Jack Daniel’s was predominately a marathon coach, I have found it to be effective across various distances.
Here you can find a link to the official Jack Daniels VDOT calculator. Remember to get the most accurate prediction you need to use a recent race time. If you have not run a recent race then you can run a 10km time trial and use the time from that to produce your score.
Now that you have been introduced to the system and hopefully used the calculator to see what your estimated race times and training paces are, lets have a look at each of the training paces individually. We’ll look at each pace, its intensity and its purpose as well as some examples sessions for each one.
Variety: Easy pace running refers to warm-ups, cool-downs , recovery runs, recovery running within a workout and generally long runs.
Intensity: Generally in the range of 59-74% of VO2max or 65-79% of your HRmax. In general, Easy running is running at a comfortable, conversational pace, which certainly may vary daily, depending on how you are feeling. You may be up to 20 seconds slower or faster than the specified pace on a given day.
Purpose: Running at your Easy pace promotes physiological benefits that build a solid base from which higher-intensity training can be performed. The heart muscle is strengthened, muscles receive increased blood supplies and increase their ability to process oxygen delivered through the cardiovascular system.
Variety: Steady run or long repeats (e.g. 2 x 4 miles at marathon pace)
Intensity: Generally in the range 75-84% of VO2max or 80-90% of your HRmax.
Purpose: Used to experience race pace conditions for those training for a marathon or simply as an alternative to Easy pace running for beginners on long run days.
Variety: Steady, prolonged or tempo runs or intermittent runs, also called cruise intervals.
Intensity: Generally in the range of 83-88% of VO2max or 88-92% of HRmax. Threshold pace is comfortably hard running for either a steady 3-4 miles (or 5 to 6km) or repeated runs of 5 to 15 minutes each, with 1 to 3 minutes of rest between the runs.
Purpose: To improve endurance.
Variety: VO2max Intervals (see below).
Intensity: Generally in the range of 95-100% of VO2max or 98-100% of HRmax. Intervals are “hard” but not all-out running by any means. Usually at a pace that you could maintain for about 10-15 minutes in a serious race. Intervals are best if they involve runs of 3 to 5 minutes each (800m and 1000m workbouts are typical), with jog recoveries of similar duration (not necessarily, equal distance); relative to the runs they follow. If a workout calls for “hard” runs, then go by feel and imagine 5k race pace, as the intensity of each run.
Purpose: Stress your aerobic power (VO2max). It takes about two minutes for you to gear up to functioning at VO2max so the ideal duration of an “Interval” is 3-5 minutes each. The reason not to go past 5-minutes is to prevent anaerobic involvement, which can result in blood-lactate build-up.
Variety: Pace reps and strides.
Intensity: Reps are fast, but not necessarily “hard,” because work bouts are relatively short and are followed by relatively long recovery bouts. Recoveries are to be long enough that each run feels no more difficult than the previous run, because the purpose of Reps is to improve speed and economy and you can not get faster (nor more economical) if you are not running relaxed. If it takes 3 minutes recovery between Rep 400s, then that is what is needed. Reducing rest time between individual work bouts does not make for a better workout, in fact it probably makes for a worse workout because the short rests could increase the stress and lead to poor economy. Think of Reps as similar to current 1500 or mile race pace.
Purpose: To improve your speed and economy.
Overall I think this is a fantastic system for calculating your training paces. In my own experiences I have found the race predictions to be very accurate as long as you remember that you need to use a recent VDOT calculation. Remember that your race predictions are only based on you carrying out the relevant amount of training. Don’t expect to run a 10km race and then run the equivalent marathon time the following week according to your VDOT score. Training for the marathon and half marathon require long periods of specific training.
Remember I am not a professional running coach and my posts here a merely a matter of opinion. I have tried and tested these methods and they have worked very well for me. Not every runner will be the same and what works for one runner could be completely different for the other. Trial and error is the key to finding out what works best for you.
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