Training at pace, is it a good thing?

Runners World tweeted a very interesting article this week written by Jenny Hatfield about the benefits of training by effort rather than your relying on your GPS device to run ‘at pace’. The article got me thinking, what are the benefits of using GPS to train?

Three things in particular struck me about this.

Firstly, training on effort is a vital component in the armoury of anyone who wants to progress in their running, but people need to work out what time of training they respond best to. Some, myself included, are pretty lazy at training and given the choice will always go for a steady run given the choice. Having a target pace can make you work harder than you otherwise would have, delivering a better result from the sessions. The same is true for people who perhaps tend to overtrain. Thinking about pace, you can restrain yourself and reduce the possibility of injury. The proliferation of GPS devices has probably made the ‘pace’ approach to training the norm, and so many people will not ever consider running on feel, when it can be an important part of the training mix. It’s about how the individual, how they train and what mix of approach will benefit them most.

Secondly, many of us approach races with a target time in mind, often attempting to get a personal best, a qualifying time for another event, or to provide a benchmark for the next block of training. To achieve this, you have to have a good idea of the pace required, course, weather and other factors allowing, for you to achieve that target. Sometimes in a race, you might need to vary your plan, your watch doesn’t work, the conditions might be against you, or you might get into a race with someone. Cross country is a great example where over reliance on your pacing isn’t going to do you favours, you need to be able to get through on perceived effort and learn to be able to finish strong.   There probably isn’t a ‘better’ way to approach your race, so try both approaches and see what delivers better results.

Third and finally, I believe that if you’re looking to get better, varying your running week to week, with a good mix of recovery, steady, and more intense sessions is critical. For many, a mix of pace, and perceived effort sessions might be the best approach. I would encourage people to experiment and reflect on what works best from them. Talk this over with someone else, and also consider what makes you happier while training. Enthusiasm and enjoyment are just as important in achieving your goals.

Probably most important in this debate is to listen to your body. If you’ve decided to run at 7 min mile pace, but your body part way through is saying no, listen to it. If you’re struggling you might be fatigued and at an increased risk of injury. It’s better to stop and go again in a few days time than having to sit out for weeks because of injury.

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