Proper Pacing for Training and Racing

September 26, 2016

Mike Ricci



Proper pacing for training and racing

Pacing dictates how fast you run, bike or swim for every workout and race. Whether it is training in the proper heart rate (HR) zone or how to gauge the effort properly for an interval type session. If proper pacing is not practiced in training then when race day comes you’ll be clueless when it comes to how hard you know you can race. Here is some insight as to the best way to approach pacing on your key interval workouts.

The best way to get maximum benefit from all your workouts is to develop a habit and feel for good pacing. Almost every running world record has been set with a negative split (2nd half of race faster than the first). Most athletes and coaches accept this as the best way to not only race but for training as well. If you do the second half of all your long runs slower than the first half then when race day comes this is most likely how you will run. Which means you won’t be racing to your true potential.

All of this has to be figured out and executed in every training session. Take for example a set of 100’s in the pool. Lets assume you can swim two or three 100’s in 1:30 at your best effort. Now when your workout calls for 10 x 100 hard on the 1:50 you should have an idea what you can hold or negative split for this set. If you start out swimming 1:30 pace you will fade and not receive the maximum benefits of the session. Best to pick a pace that’s hard for all 10 and maybe even ease into the set for the first 2 or 3. Start out in the mid to upper 1:30’S and every couple 100’s drop a second or two so the last 2 are close to or at 1:30. Pacing this way will also help to develop a feel for the water so on race day you don’t explode before the first buoy. If you are concerned about holding up people in your lane just wait until the half way point and turn the screws on the last half and enjoy watching people come off your feet.

A set of 800’s on the track should be done the same way. The first few will feel “easy” or at least under control even though you are running them hard. The reason for this is your HR is at a rested level and your legs are fresh. After you do a few then you can start to turn up the effort as the fatigue sets in. Better to start out too slow and finish fast than the opposite.

Keep a log of your times so you can start to learn the best pace to start your interval efforts. A good drill for running on the track is to check your pace every 200 and adjust to your predetermined goal pace. Then run some more intervals without checking. This forces you to recognize your breathing rate, leg turnover, effort etc associated with your pace. If you never pay attention to these indicators you will never get that “feel” for pace. For some of these types of workouts HR is not a good indicator because the effort is so short that your HR doesn’t have a chance to reflect your true effort. HR can also be skewed with heat, fatigue and hydration so this is another good reason to develop a feel for pace. The goal for any of these interval workouts is to finish at least as fast as you started if not faster.

The same is true for a long run or ride. If you run easy for the whole run and are still slower in the second half then guess what? You are running too fast at the start and you will race like that too, which equals a below true potential performance. Long easy runs should be slow enough that you can do the second half a few seconds per mile faster and still hold a conversation or at least 4 to 8 words at a time. If a person running next to you can hear you breathing at your easy pace then you are not going easy enough. A good long run option is easy for the first half or third then some type of structured speed work or tempo to break up the last half. Maybe even alternate your long runs with easy for entire run (still negative split though, and changing the pace up by 5 to 10 seconds per mile) and a long run with some tempo or LT running especially in the second half. Most top marathoners will run easy for their long runs and then finish it off with 3 to 5 miles at or above LT.

All of this takes practice but is easy to learn if you can pay attention to your pace compared to your effort in training. When your interval sessions are done this way you will be making the most of each workout, which will translate into becoming a faster cyclist.

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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