Simplifying the running jargon: Training pace

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Running jargon surrounding training pace can be confusing, especially when you are starting on your running journey. So, Tom Craggs, National Endurance Manager (Off Track) with England Athletics, has used his expertise from coaching top athletes to help us all to better understand the complicated running jargon and how to maximise training benefits.

Training to Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

If you do not want to invest in the latest tracking technology, or simply want to remove the pressure of training using a GPS tracker or heart rate monitor, then you may find training to perceived exertion works for you. This will often be measured on a scale from 0-10 where 0 is no exertion and 10 is maximum exertion. Tom is experienced in training top athletes using this method.

“We might use a talk test, so how many words can you speak at a time. Is it fully conversational? Is it short sentences? Is it 3–4-word answer pace? Is it a pace where you might only be able to speak one or two words at a time.

"You can also get a sense of what that might be as a score out of ten, with zero being sitting down and ten being giving your absolute maximum and coming into the finish line of a race and you’re really giving it everything you’ve got. As you start to train more you will get a really good sense of where each session fits on that scale and how it is individual to you."

Easy vs. steady state running

“Easy running is essentially an easy conversational fully relaxed pace, so if you are training to heart rate this is going to be 60-75% of your maximum heart rate, if you are working to perceived exertion, imagine this is 2-3 out of ten. It’s a pace that you could run, whilst feeling like you could hold a full conversation and you wouldn’t be struggling to chat to somebody next door to you.”

“Steady state running is a little bit harder than your general easy running, so we’ve moved beyond that fully conversational pace and you’re now probably running at a pace you’re working a little bit to hold but you’re still under complete control. It’s probably the pace that you would naturally default to.”

RunTogether runners running at the speed of chat

Which is more beneficial for training?

“A lot of us find an easy pace quite difficult to achieve. When we go out our ego takes over a bit and we end up pushing the pace. The problem if we do that is that these easy runs become more like steady state running.

“We don’t accrue all the benefits that you would get from a fully conversational paced easy run, where we’re building capillary density, mitochondria and our body is learning to burn stored fats more effectively. We also end up feeling a bit more tired, which means on our hard days it becomes more difficult to go and work at the intensity we want to. It will also lift your overall training load quite a lot and potentially risk injury.

"It is important to learn to run at the speed of chat, learn to enjoy your easy runs and keep them genuinely relaxed."

Threshold running

A threshold run is completed at an intensity just below the point where lactate builds up in the bloodstream causing your running to slow down. The point at which this occurs is known as our lactate threshold and is dependent on an individual’s current fitness level. This pace should feel hard but still comfortable over long periods of time. This helps your body to improve efficiency at clearing lactate.

RunTogether group run

Interval training

Interval training is an opportunity to run faster and push yourself outside of your comfort zone. These sessions will be made up of blocks of high intensity work with rest in between.

“Interval training sessions allow you to work a little bit harder when you are running. They will be structured with you working for different blocks of time and different intensities. Generally, you will be working between a 3k race pace and a 10k race pace. Sometimes the intervals will be quite short and a little bit faster and sometimes they will be around 3-4 minutes long. This is getting your body used to running around the race intensity and a little bit quicker. It will allow you to build your fitness more quickly.

“Make sure you are disciplined with these sessions, as it can be really easy to get too greedy with the pace on the first couple of intervals and see the session falling apart later on.”

What is cross training? And who is it for?

There is a misconception that cross training is only useful for injured athletes, who are currently unable to run. However, this is not the case! Cross training is a useful training tool for all runners to build their fitness without the impact of running.

“Cross training is anything that is working your heart and lungs that isn’t going for a run. You might jump onto a bike, or rowing machine, or get in the pool and do some swimming, or some aqua jogging.

"Having a good sense of your perceived exertion will help with cross training, as people will often measure their running intensity by using a GPS, so they know what pace they are working at and how far they have run, but when cross training they don’t know what this equates to."

“If you are new to cross training then it will take your body time to adapt. A great way to start is to mimic the volume, in terms of time, that you would do running and try to translate that into cross training.

“It’s a great way to supplement your training adding in a bit more resistance and stimulus than you get just from your running. So, do mix it in and don’t feel like you need to run all the time to get fit.”

Group interval training

Summary table

Training Description Conversational pace? Benefits Challenges
Easy runs Conversational, relaxed pace.
RPE = 2-3
Yes, can hold a full conversation Building capillary density and mitochondria
Body is learning to burn stored fats more effectively
Ego can take over so it is easy to run too fast, so you are more tired for higher intensity days
Steady state runs Working harder, but still in control. Probably default pace when going out the door for a run.
RPE = 4-5
Yes, able to speak, but in shorter sentences   Do not get all the benefits of an easy pace
If doing steady state running too often, then it can become stressful on the body and increase injury risk
Threshold runs Comfortably hard. Run just below threshold level. RPE = 7-8 Only one-word answers are possible Improves the body’s efficiency at clearing lactate
Builds endurance
The science and technology to measure threshold level is not available to all, so running pace is determined more by feel than science
Interval training Blocks of work with blocks of rest to allow higher intensity training.
RPE = 8-9
No conversation is possible Gets your body used to running around race intensity and a bit quicker
Allows you to build fitness quicker
Psychologically challenging, especially in the early weeks
Easy to be greedy with pace at start of session and see the rest of the session suffer
Cross training Exercise that works the heart and lungs without going for a run e.g. rowing machine or swimming.
RPE 1-4 = easy and 7-9 = higher intensity intervals
Will vary between different forms and intensities of cross training Good for building fitness and working heart and lungs whilst reducing the impact of running
Low impact can be great for those returning from an injury
Be careful not to increase the volume of training using an alternative form of exercise
When new to cross training it might take a while to adapt and figure out the right intensity and duration for you
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