Analysing your pacing data

Even pacing gets you faster times in training and racing.

In his ‘How and Why’ series – coach Sean Tait, founder and run technique coach at Off the Mark – drills down into the major challenges facing TRAIL readers. In this article, published in TRAIL 34, he addresses the benefit of analysing your run pace.

I record all my training runs but I never look closely at them. How can I use my training files to improve? What am I looking for?” Nadine

Firstly, it is great that you’re recording all your workouts Nadine. There are so many benefits to doing this. It can answer questions surrounding your weekly and monthly running mileage, the life-span of your running shoes, and acts as a training diary, along with so many other benefits.

Tried and tested

In my last seven years of training runners as a dedicated career, I’ve learned that there is no one-size-fits-all equation to train a runner. Every time you think there is a magic technique you find an exception to the rule shortly after. Everyone’s body works differently, and responds differently to training stresses.

Where am I going with this? Anybody who has recorded all their training activities over the last few years can go back and pinpoint which events they really did well in. From that you can look a lot more closely at the type of training you did and determine exactly what works for you.

How many times a week did you train? Who did you train with? What ratio of mountain to road running did you do? What was your ratio of intensity to endurance training, and what was the nature of those sessions?

Sure your body can, and will, change over the years, so it’s a little bit of a moving target with respect to finding out what works for you, but hell, that’s a really good place to start.

The converse is also true. For your worst events, what happened? Were you under stress over that period? Did you overtrain. Usually it doesn’t take long to see the errors in our ways when we look back. Already, your data is worth its weight in gold.

Batman pacing

Batman pacing is a term I use to describe a pacing effort that begins fast, slows in the middle, and speeds up at the end. If you look at this represented on your pace graph you will see Batman’s head. In the image below you will see an interval set of three repeats over flat terrain. You can see that Batman photo-bombs every interval, in a varying shape and form.

Batman pacing chart training Sean Tait analyse data analyze

So what have I got against Batman, you ask? Science has shown, over many years of analysing individual human athletic performance, that a constant effort is the most effective pacing strategy to achieve your best. Minor fluctuations in effort bare little consequence, but it’s the big definitive ones that do.

In the Batman pacing scenario, the athlete goes out too fast, faster than they can maintain, and then slowing in order to recover from their over-excitement. Then usually as the effort is coming to an end, they get the motivation to put themselves into the red again. These spikes in speed form Batman’s ears.

The solution is to start out at a pace that you can sustain for the entirety of the effort. You should find that your percieved exertion feels fairly easy at first, but grows increasingly difficult. You can get feedback from your data as to whether you are training and racing at a consistent output.
Obviously when looking at an event or interval over changing terrain, there will be fluctuations. But the same principle applies: You are teaching yourself to perform to an even effort, and your data can really help teach you that.

Training Checklist

To do a full-proof sweep of your training, you can use this checklist to ensure that you are drawing the correct feedback from your data, and
ultimately getting the most benefit from recording it:

1 a) Was your training CONSISTENT?
b) Or did you have some large gaps of inactivity?
The body deals best with a sustained, regular training routine.

2 a) Was there VARIETY in your training?
b) Or did you just repeat the same run every session?
Variety causes the body to develop more diversity in your fitness.

3 a) Was there a natural and gradual BUILD in weekly training volume?
b) Or do you have big weekly spikes some weeks?
Overloading volume on any one particular week might seem like a good idea, but it often results in injury or excessive fatigue in the
weeks that follow.

4 a) Did you have a RECOVERY week of slightly reduced mileage, each month?
b) Or did you just continue to pile on the training?
A recovery week allows the body to engage in a deeper recovery and to rebuild stronger.

5 a) Were your easy training runs done at a UNIFORM pace?
b) Or do you tend to slow towards the end of them?
Slowing down usually shows that you are starting your runs out too fast, and will result in additional training fatigue.

6 a) Did you have enough SPECIFICITY in your training?
b) Or were you not able to get onto your specific race terrain, and under race conditions, much?
You need to prepare your body for the specific conditions and terrain that you will experience on race day.

7 a) Did you experience a gradual TAPER in training volume in the 2-4 weeks leading up to your event?
b) Or did you keep pushing the mileage?
This allows the body to fully recover from all your training so that you go into the race both fit and fresh.

8 a) Did you feel lively and STRONG the week before your race?
b) Or did you feel tired and run down?
Feeling spritely is often an indicator that you have fully recovered from all the training, even though this can be a frustrating time for an excited athlete.

If you answered YES to the a) questions, it suggests that your training was well structured and methodical.

If you find more b) questions hitting home, you need to consider adjusting your training.

Leaderboards

There is no greater feeling than holding a Strava KOM (king of the mountain), or even just pipping your mate on a segment, even if they didn’t even know it existed. We are all out for a bit of reassurance that we are improving, and segment PRs (personal records) are really good feedback to us, right?

PRs are usually a sign that our shape and fitness is improving, but if we have to exert more effort each time to achieve it, then have we really improved? Are we just disrupting our training session?

There is nothing worse than heading out on a run (and cyclists are even more guilty of this) with your friends only to have them up the pace to have a shot at ‘their’ segment. Although all this data can be very handy and beneficial, it can sometimes be distracting and encourage us to train at an elevated intensity on a given day.

Most trail runners are competing in (and training for) events that last longer than one hour. This means that the bulk of their training still needs to be aerobic (easy-paced). Therefore, we will be racing in heart rate zones 3 or 4 (with a bit of 5). It makes sense to not go all out on all of our intervals, and spend time training in these zones.

So perhaps pick a segment, maybe a five minute climb, and aim to do a few controlled hill repeats at a target effort. When you get home you can analyse if all your efforts were consistent. All five segment times should be similar. If they get slower, you went too hard in the beginning, and if you picked it up on the last hill repeat again – Whoops… Batman is back!

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Making sense

You don’t need to be an experienced running coach to draw value from data. There are certain things that are obvious. Remember to use your activity history to learn more about what has worked for you in the past. This is going to get you pointed in the right direction.

Scan your pace files for Batman. If you see him appearing everywhere (and you probably will) then you have some work to do in kicking out a more steady effort.

Lastly, don’t get caught up in going for all-out segment PRs, you are better served using segment times as tool to gauge consistency and improvement within your desired training zones.

Got a question? Email sean@offthemarktraining.com 

Additional reading

Do you live in a flat area and need a mountain? Read Sean’s article on finding ways to mimic mountain training.

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