Target Pace TrainingHow to Hit Your Target Pace
February 29,2012 12:00 PM
A target pace is an average running pace associated with an event time goal. If your event goal is to run a 3:45 marathon, your target pace is 8:35 per mile. If your goal is to run a 39:59 10K, your target pace is 6:26 per mile. And so forth.
Whenever you have an event time goal, your entire training program should be focused toward achieving the ability to sustain your target pace in that event. This doesn't mean you should always run at your target pace, of course. But it does mean you should include some target-pace running in your weekly training throughout your training program and do a fairly large amount of training at or near your target pace in the final weeks before your event.
In addition, the rest of your training--that is, your workouts at slower and faster pace levels -- should support your objective of achieving the ability to sustain your target pace.
The reason target pace training is so important is that the body adapts very strictly to the specific exercise demands that are placed on it. One ramification of this principle of specificity is that your body will adapt well to running at your target pace if you regularly train at your target pace. It will achieve greater metabolic and neuromuscular efficiency and better fatigue resistance at this pace. And on a psychological level, you will also find it to be more comfortable.
Before you can train at your target pace you must, of course, choose a target pace, which means you must choose a goal time for your event.
In my experience, most runners are pretty good at selecting appropriate goal times. There's no need to complicate the process with a lot of pseudo science. If you've raced previously at the distance of your goal event, these performances will obviously provide a solid foundation for goal setting.
Once you have established a target pace, it's time to integrate target pace training into your training plan. How you do so depends on the distance of your goal event. If you're training for a short race such as a 5K, your target pace training should take the form of short intervals in the early weeks of training. Your target pace intervals should become gradually longer as your fitness improves.
Here's an example of a target pace interval workout progression for a 5K runner in a 16-week training plan:
|Weeks 1-4||10-20 x 200 meters @ target pace 30-second jogging recoveries|
|Weeks 5-8||6-12 x 400 meters @ target pace|
|Weeks 9-12||4-8 x 800 meters @ target pace|
(week 16 is an easy, "taper" week)
|4-5 x 1K @ target pace 3-min. jogging recoveries|
If you're training for an intermediate distance event (10K to half-marathon), your target pace training should take the form of longer intervals that become progressively longer as you build fitness. Here's an example of a target pace interval workout progression for a 10K runner in a 16-week training plan:
|Weeks 1-4||4-5 x 1K @ target pace 3-min. jogging recoveries|
|Weeks 5-8||3-4 x 2K @ target pace 3-min. jogging recoveries|
|Weeks 9-12||3-4 x 3K @ target pace 3-min. jogging recoveries|
|Weeks 13-15||2 x 4K @ target pace 3-min. jogging recoveries|
If you're training for a marathon, it's best to integrate your target pace training into your long runs. In the early weeks of training, scatter a few marathon target pace segments lasting a few minutes apiece into one long run every other week. As your long runs become longer, make the marathon-pace segments longer, too (1-2 miles). During the final weeks of training, do marathon target pace segments that are as long as 5K apiece. Also, do one or two moderately long runs (10-15 miles) entirely at this pace.
What about the rest of your training? At the beginning of the training cycle, your training focus should be low-intensity "aerobic support" training (long, slow distance) and high-intensity "anaerobic" training (very short intervals done faster than race pace.) In other words, you should start by training the extremes. This will build a foundation for improvements in your target pace running ability.
As the training cycle unfolds, the average pace of your aerobic support training should move gradually upward toward your target pace. Your foundation and endurance workouts should get faster, tempo workouts should be introduced, and so forth.
Meanwhile, the average pace of your anaerobic training should move gradually downward toward your target pace. Your anaerobic intervals should become incrementally longer and slower. In the peak phase, your aerobic support and neuromuscular training should converge in a zone surrounding race intensity. Naturally, your long endurance workouts can be done only so fast, but the idea is to do them at a very challenging pace for the duration.
As your aerobic and anaerobic training paces move toward convergence, the amount of target pace training you do should increase as demonstrated in the tables above. And that's the recipe for achieving your goal time in your next race!