by My Finish Line
If training for a 2hr Half Marathon, (which roughly translates into 9min miles), is it best to prepare at that pace or quicker for shorter distances, or slower than that pace for longer distances? Furthermore, on race day, what pacing strategy should be adopted – run quicker than your allocated pace for as long as possible, or withhold energy at a slower pace and then finish as quickly as you can? We have all been there and can identify with this quandry!
GPS data has revolutionised pacing – to a certain extent on a logistical level it has nullified the need for a stopwatch and a coach on the side of a track or road; you as an athlete can stick to a tempo merely by looking at your watch. The benefits of this technology is huge for training – you can stick to training plans with much more precision, as well as manipulate your own training in order to gather the best chance of you achieving your goals. Pacing has been a controversial part of racing for decades, as well as the concept of how athletes should approach their race; so if you feel confused and contradicted about how you should run, don’t worry – elite athletes and their coaches since the 1950s have been arguing the same and they still have yet to come to a mutual conclusion 60 years later.
And on the subject of controversies, the recent World Athletics Championship saw Sifan Hassan from the Netherlands win both the women’s 1500m and 10,000m titles. The variables that contributed towards this remarkable achievement are many – including her obvious association to the Nike Oregon Project which may be a cause for some to view the results with a retrospective assessment further down the line; however to have one athlete dominate in a speed-based middle distance event as well as an endurance-based event poses many questions when it comes to pacing. It certainly blurs the line between what many have historically thought have a separation between “endurance” and “speed”.
The truth is, you need both; and despite the fact that this has been a known factor in elite track for a long time, the best way of planning training is still disputed.
To answer the question above, we will use the 2hr Half Marathon as our standard example. Running quicker than your 9min mile pace for shorter distances is a positive strategy in order to acclimatise your body to the speed necessary to perform. One suggestion would be to train to run 5 or 6 miles at 8:30min mile pace, and maybe even set yourself the target of ‘how far can I run at 8min/mile?’ to provide variation and motivation. The benefit of doing this is that if you become accustomed to run at a quicker pace for longer, a regression to running slower on raceday in order to achieve your target becomes easier. The good news is that you can do this at the same time as getting the longer, slower miles in, as there are benefits to your aerobic energy systems in both approaches. If you approach your training diligently for endurance events, following a plan (which is what My Finish Line as a community was created for in the first place) is important in order to condition your body to perform what you will ultimately ask from it; and getting the requisite miles in is exceptionally important, but don’t be afraid of running quickly for as long as you can as well as running as far as you are advised to.
To quote a famous line on how to finish a marathon “start slowly and then run slower”; it is always useful if your slower pace is still quicker than the time you ideally want to finish.
Therefore – enjoy some speed sessions within your endurance!