Science is a great thing – it can help us learn, develop, and plan for a better future. When it comes to running, science is no different. Most top runners these days incorporate some scientific elements into their training programs. Runner’s World published this pace chart to help racer’s easily determine their per mile times for the most popular race distances. That’s great if you’re used to running a certain pace, but in my case I know that as a typical 8:15-8:30 race runner, it’s really not possible for me to enter a race and consistently hit 7:45 or 8:00 over a long distance. How then, do I get from where I am now to where I want to be. Recently, I came across something that uses a bit of scientific jiggery pokery to do just that and could potentially be a very useful training reference.
The McMillan Training Calculator, found on Greg McMillan’s web site, uses some simple calculations to determine optimum interval times for various distances and pace times for different types of runs, based entirely on the athlete’s predicted finish time for a specific race. Sound complicated? It’s really not … I tried it and it was actually pretty accurate.
I chose the 10K distance as my benchmark for the analysis. I entered my time of 51:36 from this years Scotland Run and provided the other qualifying information such as age, experience, gender, etc. The results were surprisingly accurate when you allow for the inevitable individual variations between athletes – my predicted race time for the mile was under by 5 seconds, for the 4 mile distance it was under by 20 seconds, and my predicted race time for the half-marathon was over by 30 seconds. Interestingly, the calculator predicted a marathon finish time of 4:02:06 based on my current level. That’s only two minutes over my goal time and, given the error rate based on my other distances, very encouraging.
But I don’t want to keep running at the same pace all the time. Part of the enjoyment of competing in races is going out there and trying to improve on my personal best times. So with that in mind, I changed the time on the calculator to 48 minutes – a personal goal for the 10K distance. The new predicted race times 6:37 for the mile, 32 minutes for the 4 mile, and 3:45 for the marathon. All of which are within range of my personal targets and therefore not unrealistic.
But the best part of the calculator is not the predicted finish times, it’s the pace times that it recommends for training runs – the times I need to be achieving on a daily and weekly basis, so that my body is used to running at that speed. Like the predictions before, the pace times for my current level were all plus or minus 2% of my current training level. After I ran the calculator for my goal time, I was able to see what my pace times need to be in order to condition my body to achieve that goal – and frankly those pace times are not that scary. I’m already running within range for my endurance workouts: the long, recovery, and easy runs. It’s the stamina and speed runs where I need to lift my pace. My body has become too used to running within a very narrow range of paces, and if I’m going to meet my goals over the coming months I need to start pushing myself more on the speed and tempo runs. Right now I’m hitting 3:45 on half-mile speed intervals, that needs to come down by 15 seconds to around 3:30. On my tempo runs I’m averaging 8:20 per mile, but need to take that down to around 7:50. It’s going to be a challenge, but if it brings with it the kind of results that McMillan’s calculator predicts then it will all be worth it!
* When I used the calculator I had to enter my current time for the distance. However, I could not get the application to work when entering just the goal time, it asked for both current and goal times. Even then, I saw no difference in the results. My suggestion … run it twice and save/print the results to get a comparison of where you are now (use current time) to where you need to be to achieve your goal time. When I used that approach everything worked fine.
If you have better luck using the current and goal time comparison, why not use the comments to let me know.