Running
Triathlon
October 4, 2017

The Pros And Cons Of Training By Pace

Unless you’ve been off grid or living under a rock, you’ve likely noticed the growing popularity of training by pace.

The sense of satisfaction you get from pushing yourself and seeing the pace go up gives you a sense of fulfilment and achievement. The kudos you get on Strava only fuel this feeling and your ego swells with pride.

I get it.

With the introduction of pace monitors, tracking your output has become the “in” thing and has never been easier. But, like anything, training by pace has both its pros and its cons.

As discussed in our last postheart rate, feel and pace can all be used as a “measure of intensity” to guide a runner through a training session or a race. Each of these methods has pros and cons and today, I will be discussing what I believe are the pros and cons of training by pace.

The Good: The Pros Of Training By Pace

Pace Is Objective.
Unlike feel, which is a subjective measure, pace is an objective measure of intensity. Because it’s objective, training by pace leaves little room for interpretation. You’re either running at your desired pace or you’re not.

Pace Is Immediate.
Pace responds to an increase in effort, just as your car speedometer does when you hit the gas pedal. Assuming similar terrain, an increase in effort is immediately reflected with an increase in pace – there is no lag.

Pace Is Output.
The numbers on your pace monitor reflect the output of the work you are doing. Without any objective feedback, you can feel really good and think you’re going really fast when in reality, you’re not. You may just feel great because you’re running at a low pace, even if it feels like you are moving fast.

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The Bad: The Cons Of Training By Pace

Pace Excludes Effort.
Because pace is a measure of output, the numbers on your pace monitor are not taking into account how hard you are working to produce that pace.

Many runners that I speak with, have set a goal time, calculated their pace and then set out to run at that pace for as long as possible. This is shortsighted.

  1. You can’t keep pushing harder and harder forever. At some point (relatively quickly) you will plateau and will stop improving.
  2. Pushing yourself hard all the time is a high-risk way of training that significantly increases your chances of suffering an injury or getting sick.
  3. Pushing yourself hard all the time leaves you feeling constantly tired which can leave you moody and negatively affect other areas of your life.

The goal then, shouldn’t be to increase the pace by upping the effort. The goal should be to increase your pace at any given effort.

For example, if today you can run at a heart rate of 140 bpm and produce a pace of 6:00 /km and in 3 months you run at the same 140 bpm heart rate and produce a pace of 5:30 /km, you have become more efficient and you have developed your aerobic speed.

Pace Excludes Environment.
In a similar vein to the above point, environmental stress is not reflected in the numbers on your pace monitor. Producing a given pace in hot and humid conditions, over tough terrains like sand or grass, or on hills is much more difficult than in cooler climates on a flat, concrete surface.

Pace Fuels Ego And Can Lead To Shortcuts.
A fast pace indicated on your pace monitor helps to fuel your sense of self-esteem and makes you look good in front of your friends and training buddies. Unfortunately, this ego-fuelled training often pushes you to train above a level that you’re currently conditioned to handle and will often lead you to take shortcuts in pursuit of your ‘goal race time’ pace.

Instead of training at the pace and effort that you should be given your current fitness level, looking good and the worry that you’re not on track leads you to push the pace before you should.

In Closing

Pace is a great metric to track for runners but it should be used carefully. Because pace is a measure of output, it’s very easy to push too hard, too often. and will regularly lead runners into taking shortcuts in pursuit of a goal time that may or may not be realistic.

For a more complete picture, use heart rate in conjunction with pace to monitor your internal and external performance. Over time you should see that your pace at a given HR improves – this is the goal!

AuthorBen PulhamBen Pulham is a former professional triathlete and the founder of Coached, a heart rate training programme that helps you optimise, track and enjoy your training.