Finding your Pace
One of the most difficult things for a young endurance athlete, and also for the coach of a young endurance athlete, is finding the appropriate pace to be training at. You may know what a PB pace is and you may know what the ultimate target pace is, but what is the best training pace? A common guess is a training pace somewhere between the PB pace and the target pace. However, this will normally result in training sessions being far too slow to allow the athlete to handily achieve the target. The reason that the training pace would be too slow is due to the “Gravity Effect”.
Now the heart rate folks are going to find our concept uncomfortable. If your athlete has big dreams but is not aerobically fit then there is little chance that your athlete will be able to work at the pace rate that is being suggested in this article without having them work at heart rates that are out of the ‘zone’. All this means is that your athlete is not being realistic if they think that they can hit their target finish pace without being able to train at the paces suggested here. The reason that we can make this claim is that this work is based on the actual event times that the top athletes in the world are achieving right now.
Understanding the Gravity Effect
The Gravity Effect is highly apparent when watching archery and target shooting. The effect of gravity has a significant impact on the projectile. For target shooting the projectile is the arrow or bullet. For an endurance event the projectile is the athlete. The farther the point of launching the projectile is from the target, the greater the Gravity Effect. It works like this:
The Gravity Effect is obvious when considering a projectile that travels through the air. It is not quite as obvious, but just as impactful, when the object travels over the ground. The pull of gravity still operates with exactly the same force for objects, like endurance athletes, that do not travel through the air. To counteract the impact of gravity more work needs to be done to move forward at the same pace. If the work being done remains constant, the pace will slow.
To account for the Gravity Effect on an endurance athlete the training pace needs to be set higher than the target pace to account for the extra work that needs to be done to overcome the effect as the distance becomes longer.
Accounting for the Gravity Effect
We can readily calculate the Gravity Effect if we have available performance data for elite endurance athletes in a relevant distance range. For our data we have taken the PB times for the top male Race Walk athletes who have recorded times for 5km, 10km, 20km and 50km distances. Our sample consists of 15 athletes (a larger sample would be better). Here’s what the data looks like:
From this data we now have a rough predictor for 10k, 20k and 50k times based on the 5k time that an athlete can attain. There are some anomalies in the actual 5km times for some of the athletes as this distance is not as frequently recorded as the other distances making some of the PB marks less fresh than they should be based on performances at the longer distances. However, it is universally the case that the 5k time for any of the athletes is done at a quicker pace than that of the longer distances and that the pace for each successive distance is slower than for shorter distances in all cases.
Finding the Pace
With this data we now have a baseline that can be used to predict the quickest training times that need to be attained in order to achieve the longer distance target time. A pacing chart would look like this:
To find the correct short distance target pace use the 3 columns on the right-hand side to find the goal or target finish time for the desired distance. Move across the line to the left-hand side to find the appropriate kilometre pace for training as well as the required 5km finish time that is needed to be able to hit the 10k, 20k or 50k goal time. The idea is that the athlete must be able to hit the 5km time before they can hit the 10k time and so on up the scale.
The chart also contains km pacing for 75% to 95% of the training pace (in 5% increments) as a large volume of the training work is done at a percentage off of the target training pace.
If you find that the prescribed training pace is too fast for the athlete to manage for short duration training then the finish time goal is not realistic for the athlete at this time. Choose a more realistic target, or find the short duration training time that the athlete can manage and work backwards to the predicted target distance finish time.
The Warning Label
This method for determining an appropriate short distance training time for an endurance athlete is not meant to be an exact science. It is a rough guesstimate that is based on a small sample of reliable data. When considering the target finish times keep in mind that, depending on the specific characteristics of your athlete, it is a range and not an absolute number that you are working towards. A reasonable range expectation would be somewhere between the time above and the time below in the chart.