Part I

6 March, 2003.

Let’s start from the very beginning. A male (or female) approaches me for training. It could be you. (If I use he/she in the following posts in this thread, please note that either of them apply equally well to both sexes. What I am saying works for male and females.)

Now I am not a college coach, only used to young studs aged 18 years and up. Which is good, because I get to see a wide spectrum of runners, many of them past-30 and wanting to get back into it again. This has allowed me to gain experience of coaching all ages and all fitness levels and gives me wider knowledge of heart rates (HR) (and not find, as with teenagers, that everyone’s HRmax is simply, “over-200”). Note that many on Letsrun fall into this category, wanting to get back in the saddle and work to improve their times in their 30s and 40s…

Yet I do coach young kids; youngest boy and girl 15 years old, then 17-18 and on up to early 20s… So some of this might in places apply to teenagers. (Having said that, if you are already getting coached, I would recommend that you do what your coach tells you, and don’t chop and change ideas with every book/schedule you read. You cannot beat consistency over time.)

So, a male or female approaches me… I generally want to know some background before agreeing to take them on. Usually I ask for recent race performances. But I am not just looking at the times here, more importantly I want to see the relationship between the race times and distances.

I may get numbers for events like this:

From a young runner; 400m, 800m, 1500m, 5k (maybe)

From an older (road) runner; 5k (maybe), 10k, HM and marathon (maybe)

Right away I’m really looking to see what’s wrong. (If there is nothing “wrong”, there will be a limited amount I can do for the guy). Not what is wrong with the times (eg: they’re slow), but what is wrong with the relationships between the times a) there may not be a relationship, or b) the relationship might be too loose.

Let’s look at what I mean:

Here are some times I might receive (all number are actual real-life examples)

Young runner: 56.x (400), 2.09 (800), 4.37 (1500), 38.30 (10k)

Older runner: 17.02 (5k), 36.45 (10k), 1.24 (HM), 3.10+ (marathon)

Many of you will have seen equivalence tables somewhere. Tables that give points per performance per distance and allow comparisons between (e.g.) 800m and marathon. The Hungarian Tables are one such example. Mercier tables are another.

But no-one suggests that a single person can be equally good at all distances across the board (apart from rarities like Rod Dixon). Your genetic strengths tend to weigh you more in one direction (speed) or the other (endurance). So, some people’s performances get better as the race gets longer (or shorter). And this is beyond/in excess of a training effect, they are just more gifted aerobically (or anaerobically).

BUT there should still be some form of relationship across distances, and this is what I look for when I hear someone’s PR’s.

Frank Horwill once defined this sort of relationship by saying that if a runner slowed up by 16 secs/mile at any distance (actually, I believe he said 4 secs per 400m lap), that runner could then keep going for twice the distance. (Note that better trained runners slow up LESS than 4 secs per lap to go twice the distance…)

So, according to Horwill, if you can run 5.00 for one mile, you can run at 5.16m/m for 3k/2 miles and 5.32m/m for 5k, and 5.48 for 10k, and 6.04 for 10 miles and 6.20 for marathon (plus or minus a second here or there). This is what I mean when there should be a “relationship” between race performances (assuming good/similar level of training for each event).

For better-trained runners, the relationship is even tighter. I have coached one runner like the example just given; has a 4.59 one mile PR. Who can run 5k at 5.20m/m (instead of Horwill’s 5.31). And 10k at 5.31, HM at 5.40 and marathon at 5.59m/m (instead of Horwill’s rule of thumb 6.20m/m). But this runner’s one mile to 5k distances are seldom trained for, or raced, so there might be some secs still to come off of both of them.

Think of it roughly like a clock face: Your one mile PR should be at 12, your 5k PR pace should be at quarter-past (+15 secs), your 10k PR should be at half-past (again, +15 secs), your HM PR should be at quarter-to (again + 15 secs), and your marathon PR should be once again at the top of the hour. (This also fits in with the old rule of thumb that your marathon PR pace should be mile PR pace + 60 secs/mile)

So what is wrong with our runners above? (Remember, Horwill said slow up by 4 secs/lap to go twice the distance. We’ll use his rule of thumb here.)

Young runner:

So, our young guy gets rapidly worse as the race distance increases showing he is poor aerobically. Note that he gets worse even on the next distance up, showing how poor his aerobic conditioning/capacity is. He has NO relationship between his race performances.

Older runner:

Like our young guy, this runner is also poor aerobically. He too has NO relationship between his performances. What we COULD have found is a relationship between 5k-10k-HM but NO relationship between HM-marathon (just meaning that he was not as well prepared for the longer distance as he was for the HM).

Now these times are all plus/minus a few seconds, not hard and fast. So we do not need to quibble on whether it should be +15 or +17 secs/mile. The point I want to stress is the existence of a relationship. I don’t hold hard and fast to Horwill’s 16 secs/mile (as I have shown, for better runners it might be 12-15 secs/mile or tighter still). But I do agree with his concept of a relationship between performances at all distances. I am always working towards it with runners I coach (at least within the range of events in which they wish to be competitive). This relationship can tell a lot about how well prepared a particular runner is for a given event.

Note that there can be two things “wrong” with your PR’s. One, as shown, there can be no evidence of a relationship (usually meaning your aerobic ability is wayyyyy poor). Or there can be a relationship, but it is too loose (instead of slowing up/adding 16 secs/mile to run double the distance, you slow up/add 20-24 secs/mile). In this second instance, your aerobic ability is less poor, but still needs work.

To sum up; if you are well trained aerobically, you do not fall apart (as in the earlier examples) when the race gets longer. And here some of you may like to do a quick check and see how your own performances compare…

So, on seeing these, or similar, numbers, I expect to hear at least one (and maybe both) of two things from the athlete concerned:

  1. Low mileage background in training
  2. Whatever mileage being done is being run “too fast” (for performance level)

On to Part II

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