A majority of running workouts aim to specifically target one energy system while practicing running at a particular pace, often race pace. There’s merit to this idea. This type of workout has important physical and psychological benefits in that it improves both your fitness and your self-confidence.
But incorporating a variety of paces within a single workout can also be extremely valuable. Running at different speeds will develop different energy systems. It will also help to beat the boredom associated with single-speed workouts and it trains runners to practice “real-life race” situations such as changing your pace, responding to competitors and dealing with typical pace-adjusting conditions such as hills, turns and wind.
To start, let’s break down some of the typical paces one might include in a workout:
Strides/sprints: These rapid accelerations are run at 80-90 per cent of “all-out” speed. That’s the same speed, or slightly faster than, one-mile race pace. In workouts, these are usually run for a very short duration (20-60 seconds) often before a workout to rev the engine or after an easy run to develop neuromuscular skills while partially fatigued.
How to include it: Run an easy 10K run with 8 x 100m strides at the end.
Speed work: This terms refers to faster paces used during track workouts for repeats and intervals between 200m and one mile. It usually corresponds to around 5K race pace and is done to improve VO2 max– the maximal amount of oxygen the body can use to produce energy for running.
How to include it: Do a 3K warm-up then 10 x 400m at 5K pace with 200m easy between. Follow with a final 3K cool-down.
Lactate threshold (LT) pace: This is an important physiological indicator that will limit the amount of time you can sustain a particular pace. In short, it’s the fastest pace you could maintain for a full hour of hard running. For most runners, it will fall somewhere between 10K race pace and 10 mile/16.1K race pace.
How to include it: Do a 10-minute warm-up then 3-4 x 10 minutes at LT pace with two minutes easy between followed by a five-minute cool-down.
Tempo pace: This is a comfortably hard pace that can be sustained for prolonged periods and usually used during tempo runs and long interval repeats. Often one’s half-marathon (HMP) or marathon pace (MP) is used in order to practice running specifically at race pace.
How to include it: Run a 3K warm-up then 10K at marathon race pace with a 3K cool-down
Easy/recovery pace: A pace that can be maintained indefinitely and which is used for easy and recovery runs as well as between harder intervals. One way to judge whether or not you’re running at an easy pace is to see if you can comfortably carry on a conversation without being out of breath. A general guideline is your current 5K race pace plus 90 seconds.
How to include it: Go for a 40-minute easy run.
Knowing what different paces are used in workouts can then help us mix and match to create fun workouts. In some cases, you could start with the faster paces and then try to hold or maintain LT or tempo paces later in the workout when you’re already tired. On the other hand, you could try doing the LT and tempo running first to partially tire you out and then finish with speed work to see what you have left.
A few workout examples (which require a warm-up before and cool-down after) might include:
Run 3 x 2K@HMP + 6 x 400m@5KP with 400m easy between followed by 5 strides
Start with five strides then run 4 x 400m@5KP – 2 x 800m@10KP – 1 mile@HMP – 3K@MP with 2 minutes rest between
Run 3K@MP – 1K@10KP – 3K@HMP – 1K@5KP with 3 minutes easy between
Five strides – 3 x 1K@5KP – 2 x 1 mile@10KP – 2K@MP with 2 minutes easy between