Coach Blog: Winter Training January 12-18

After last week’s false start in the cold, milder temperatures allowed us to get a little more work done early this week.

The Monday/Tuesday workout was a progression run, 15-10-5min starting at tempo effort to cruise (15k) effort to 8k effort. The streets were a little soggy but the effort was there. This might be a good place to talk about effort vs pace. With the cold temps and bad weather, I’ve been getting concerned emails asking “what should my tempo pace be?” The answer is that pace is less relevant than effort. Of course, in the spring, fall and summer (if it isn’t too hot) you can fairly well equate your tempo effort with what your actual half-marathon pace would be. But in the winter, the snow and cold make that pretty much impossible. So you have to go by feel. I actually prefer to go by feel year-round, but the most challenging coaching task I have is convincing runners to throw away the watch. Winter is a good time to do tis, since if you try to run your actual half-marathon pace in a snow storm, you will end up burnt before you are done, and if you are constantly checking your pace (and believing that it is relevant) on what is a reasonable half-marathon effort, you are going to feel sad.

Tempo doesn’t work by pace. What we know now is that running not only right on your threshold, but a little above or a little below, is the best way to improve your speed at that threshold, and the amount of time you can spend at it. The threshold is a physiological event, not a pace. That means even in good weather, your threshold pace can vary from day to day, depending on how you are feeling. So getting caught up in exact paces is a waste of energy.

One way I try to avoid pace-dependency is to do threshold workouts at different effort levels. This progression run, for example, works just as well as long as you start it somewhere close to threshold and finish faster. We do some “steady state” runs at 30k or 2h race effort that are lower than threshold (in theory, but for some, this might be closer to their actual threshold). We do some fartleks at cruise and 10k pace which are faster than threshold but not in the higher intensity zone.

The Wednesday/Thursday workout, however, was pace-specific. That’s because we did 13×400 at summer goal 5k pace. In this case, we want out legs to move at a specific speed. This isn’t necessarily for reasons of improving VO2max, though for some people it may have this effect. It is more about efficiency: the more time you spend at a given pace, the better you get at it. That is also why in a more specific phase of training for a marathon or half-marathon we would do pace-specific work. This is ok because the goal is efficiency not improving the threshold (though it may also have that effect). So marathoners may do 6x10min at goal marathon pace 12 weeks out, and while this may be in the threshold range of current fitness, it is also race specific.

On Saturday the run was simply a long easy run of 90min to 2h. In these first weeks of the year, the track workouts are going to be more intense, so we are going to back off and do less intensity on the other days.