Taking the Mystery out of Running Calculators

Finding the right pace for training runs, track work and tempo runs sometimes seems to be a mystery only known to expert runners and high dollar coaches. Or if you could find the formula, it was in the back of a book by Dr. Jack Daniels and while it all made sense (sort of) you still had to read mice type charts and do some math. I’ll be your trail guide to help simplify and sort of the training pace calculator craziness, twists and turns.

Does it all really matter?

That’s a fair question. It could all be gobbly gook made up by people with PhDs trying to sound smart and make a buck! Just go out and run, run, run, and you’ll eventually get faster- right? Without engaging in PhD gobbly gook, there is a scientific basis for running at certain speeds or effort levels for specified distances or amounts of time to get maximal results from your training. There is more than one way to zero in on the right pace /effort. Heart rate monitor training is great for beginning runners and those with a fetish for statistics. Running by feel works for experienced runners and those who are tuned in to their bodies. Pace calculators are essential for track workouts, race strategy and goal setting. The best system is some combination of these methods that fits your training plan and personality.

Reason #1 to use a running calculator- Measure race performance

Was that 5K when you won your age group your best performance? Or was it that 10K the month before? Or your awesome marathon? Use one of these calculators to compare your performances. According to the McMillan calculator and the USA Track and Field (USATF) Age Graded calculator, my best races have been my 10Ks. My Half Marathon time should be almost a minute faster but my 5K and 15K times are fairly comparable. I can also plug in my times from college and get an age graded score. My college PRs score about 4% higher than my current Masters PRs. So by that measure, I’m getting close to being as good an athlete as I was in college. I’m not running anywhere near the same times but on the age graded scale I can still race my former self! The other major benefit is that it moderates your expectations for a new distance or a race you have not run before. You can plug in your current 5K time and get an idea of a reasonable Half Marathon goal. You should moderate the calculator prediction with what you know about yourself, your training and the race conditions you’ll face (hills, heat etc.) but you won’t go out way too fast for the Half Marathon if you stick with the guidance of the calculator.

[Click on the images below for a larger view]

McMillan page1

USATF page

Reason #2 to use a running calculator- Run the most beneficial training paces

Most runners log regular training runs too fast and do their tempo runs too slow. The track interval paces are all over the map with some going way too fast and some afraid to push the pace. The McMillan calculator and Runworks calculator will give you training paces for various interval distances and types of runs. For me, those paces match up really well with what my coach recommends and with my goal times for various distances.

The way I approach interval work is usually race pace. I’ll run 800s at 5K goal pace for example. Mile repeats would be at 10K goal pace. This is more of a mental exercise but also gets me targeted physically on the right effort level for a race performance. The training principle of specificity! The calculators help me target those paces and get the specific training I need to reach my goals.

McMillan page2

Final Thoughts

Pace calculator tools are useful for planning your training, setting race goals and setting correct effort levels during all types of runs. The four below are some common and well respected ones that I’ve used. They don’t all use the same methodology so the results will be slightly different depending on which one you use. Think of them as guard rails to keep you on track, not exact targets.

Runworks Calculator: http://www.runworks.com/calculator.html

McMillan Running Calculator: http://www.test.mcmillanrunning.com/

USATF Age Graded Calculator: http://www.usatf.org/statistics/calculators/agegrading/

Score My Run App for iPhone: http://www.scoremyrun.com/

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