Taking A Multi-Paced Approach To Periodization

Try this new twist to periodization training, which involves varying your pace.

Try this new twist to periodization training, which involves varying your pace.

Unless you just jogged here from another planet, you’ve probably learned that if you specialize in a specific distance event, your faster workouts need to center on your current and desired race pace for that event. At the same time, no proper, comprehensive training program takes any kind of fast-paced running off the table. That means that if even you’re prepping for a marathon, you shouldn’t neglect workouts focusing on basic leg speed; similarly, if you’re a middle-distance specialist, omitting tempo runs and other strength-oriented sessions will leave you with an incomplete repertoire.

The formal concept of multi-pace training, like many of the sport’s long-standing precepts, goes by a variety of names. In 1970, the late Frank Horwill formalized this with his “five-pace training” scheme. Horwill observed that the pace of elite runners slows by about four seconds per 400-meter lap as the race distance doubles. He recommended that runners train not only at the pace of their chosen distance, but also at the two “above” and the two “below” it. So a 5000m specialist looking to run 18:45 would do most of her speed work at 90 seconds a lap, but also touch regularly upon her 1500m, 3000m, 10,000m and half marathon race paces—about 82, 86, 94 and 98 seconds per 400, or a pace range spanning 5:30 to 6:40 a mile.

Much-sought-after coach Brad Hudson, who has his athletes follow a progressive rather than seasonal periodization scheme, notes that Horwill has probably influenced his training system more strongly than any coach besides Renato Canova. Most of his athletes focus on the marathon, including Patrick Rizzo, who ran 2:13:42 for 13th place at the 2012 Olympic Trials. Rizzo, who started working with Hudson in 2011 after three and a half years with Hansons-Brooks and a stint with the Boulder Track Club, regards himself as a classic “rhythm runner,” and has no trouble articulating how mutli-pace training factored into his setting personal records in the half marathon (twice) and marathon in his first full year under Hudson.

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“My first year with Brad was the first time I used multi-paced work,” Rizzo says. “I had a lot of trouble early in the training with gear-changing, and even today, it isn’t my strong point. I’d attribute my successes in the last three years to his taking me out of a comfort zone that we distance runners are accustomed to trying to hide within.”

Hudson describes his multi-pace scheme as a funnel, in which his runners move from less-specific, strength-oriented speed sessions to workouts that address not only athletes’ pace needs but their metabolic requirements. Twelve weeks before a marathon, a runner of Rizzo’s caliber might run workouts ranging from 25 x 1:00 (or 400m) at 10K race pace to extended hill climbs, with 8K at a moderate intensity on the flat preceding a dedicated 8K climb. Five weeks before the marathon, the same runner starts doing marathon-specific long runs. The most intense of these may be a 20-miler working down from 5 to 10 percent above goal pace to just under goal pace in five-mile increments, and a 22-miler including 24K that alternates 5K at about half-marathon race pace with 1K about 5 to 10 percent slower than marathon pace.

Non-marathoners stand to gain significantly from mixing things up, too. Hudson likes to prepare his athletes for events one step up and one step down from their primary race, so a 10K runner would be ready to attack 3K to 5K races as well as tackle 15K to half marathon road events. Maggie Callahan, a 24-year-old University of Arizona grad and steeplechase specialist, joined forces with Hudson less than a year ago. She set a personal best at the Payton Jordan Invitational on May 4 with a 10:03.07, and says that both the variety and the difficulty of her workouts in Boulder were unprecedented. She makes special note of the days on which she does hill sprints in the morning and second workouts with short (about 30 to 60 seconds) reps in the evening.

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“The hill sprints are significantly harder than any other kind of sprints or strides I have ever done,” Callahan admits. “The second workouts are a part of a special block in which we have a tempo-type workout in the morning, then 200s or 300s in the evening. I love going to the track specifically for something short and quick, it is really fun to just focus on being fast, with the bulk of the day’s work already done in the morning. It has definitely helped me feel more efficient running fast.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Callahan finds herself doing longer long runs and longer tempos than ever before. “I feel so much stronger now than I did a year ago when I moved to Boulder,” she says, “now that I’m not scared of running an 18-mile long run, or 2 x three-mile tempo runs.”

Rizzo also underscores the mental benefits of multi-pace training. He says that with his 20s now behind him, he needs to keep from settling too deeply into a comfort zone in training. “It’s great to be hitting those feel-good workouts, but it’s even better to continue challenging yourself with new workouts,” Rizzo emphasizes. “Always look to keep the stimulus fresh.”