It’s that time of year again where runners have emerged from their holiday break and begin putting more thought into their spring racing goals and the work required over the coming months in order to get to the start line fit and healthy. E-mails are circulating back and forth amongst training partners from the previous fall racing season, and perhaps new names have come up as potential invitees who might be valuable additions to the group. This article highlights criteria to consider when identifying suitable prospects to form a mutually beneficial training group.
The 13 minute rule
Many coaches would agree that the recommended pace for a general aerobic run be between 30 to 60 seconds per mile slower than your marathon race pace. Assuming the distance of the run is within your comfort zone, this pace provides an appropriate endurance stimulus without leaving you depleted for your next quality workout. Note that there is a 30 second per mile window between the goal posts that separate the fast end of the pace range with the slow end. In other words, for Runner A, who ran a 3:03 marathon this past fall, their marathon race pace is 7 minutes per mile. Thus, their appropriate training pace for a general aerobic run is between 7:30 and 8 minutes per mile. Now consider Runner B, who ran a 2:50 marathon this past fall. Their marathon pace is 6:30 per mile, and thus would do a casual run between 7 minutes and 7:30 per mile. Finally, let’s look at Runner C, who ran a 3:16 marathon in October. Their marathon pace is 7:30 per mile and an appropriate pace range is 8 minutes to 8:30 per mile. To summarize:
|Runner B||Runner A||Runner C|
|Marathon Pace per Mile||6:30||7:00||7:30|
|General Aerobic Pace Range per Mile||7:00 – 7:30||7:30 – 8:00||8:00 – 8:30|
From the table above we can see that Runner A has two options: they can meet up with Runner B and run at the fast end of their range (while Runner B gets to relax at the slow end of their range), or call Runner C and plan to run at the slow end of their range (while Runner C is at the top end of their comfort zone). Runner A can run with either Runner B or Runner C, and the pair should be able to run along, holding a conversation, both enjoying the aerobic benefits of the outing.
This hypothetical example illustrates that your core training group – the people that you log the most miles with during a week – should have a recent marathon time that is within 13 minutes one way or the other of your time. For anyone who is 13 or more minutes faster than you, you are either holding them back from reaping the benefits of the intended run, or they are pushing you too hard, causing you undue fatigue that, over time, will do more harm than good.
Note that if your half-marathon time is your most relevant performance indicator, the “13 minute rule” becomes the “6 and a half minute rule” by applying the formula (13.1miles / 26.2 miles) x 13 minutes. In other words, your “go-to” training partner should be someone whose half-marathon time is within 6 and a half minutes of yours.
The closer the better
When you consider the pace that you performed your last run, imagine if you had to run 30 seconds per mile faster or 30 seconds per mile slower than you did? Most would agree that 30 seconds is a significant enough increment that you would either finish your run feeling more tired than you were hoping, or that you slacked off and ran too easy. Although the 30 second per mile window discussed above is the generally accepted range at which to perform an easy aerobic run, the likelihood that Runner A and Runner B actually average 7:30 per mile, and both finish feeling satisfied, is remote. Therefore, the closer someone is to you in ability, the greater the likelihood that you will find a mutually appropriate training pace. This becomes more important as the paces move out of the aerobic range, and into the lactate threshold (tempo) or VO2max (intervals) ranges. The appropriate range for a tempo or interval workout is much tighter than for a general aerobic run, so the closer someone’s race time is to yours, the greater benefit you will be to one another for a quality workout. This may seem obvious, but I’ve observed numerous people with significantly disparate race performances attempting a “tempo” workout together, but in actuality one person is in their aerobic range, the other is going anaerobic, and both parties are too polite to separate from one another. In these situations, you have to ask yourself honestly “am I just here to play nice, or am I looking to improve?”
My personal experience is that the ideal training partner is someone whose marathon time is about 2-3 minutes faster than mine. That way they are pushing me to continue to improve, but not so fast that I am consistently outside of my comfort zone during runs and workouts.
Check the ego
It seems that every training group I’ve been a part of since high school has always had one person who looks like an all-star during training, but consistently surprises you with how badly they underperform come race time. They are constantly pushing the pace during each run and workout, turning what should be a positive experience into a taxing “race”. You finish the run with this person feeling annoyed and tired. Clearly, this is someone you want to distance yourself from.
Look for training partners who have the same “win/win” objective that you do. They want to work with you and not against you, and hope that you each get fitter and stay healthy throughout the training cycle.
Finding that right mix of people who are both comparable in fitness and fun to be with mile after mile is very good fortune. Consider both the quantitative and qualitative factors discussed above when assessing who you want to align yourself with over the coming months.
About the Author: Greg Wieczorek is a Chartered Accountant and 2:26 marathoner residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has coached his wife Maura from a 4:17 marathon debut to a personal best of 3:05 and helps others maximize their road race potential through his online coaching service Project PB.