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“Done the Session! What Now Coach?”

Posted on October 30th, 2016 by

We enjoy our weekly dosage of speed work. It feels good when we manage to get through another tough Thursday night session before the floodlights get switched off. Undoubtedly, we get a sense of achievement and want more, no matter at what pace we run. While we are still on a high and dreaming about our next running exploits, we don’t often spend much time reflecting on a training session. Wouldn’t it be nice, if we could run every week a bit faster than the previous week? If we would know what needs to be improved, most likely we would give it a go. In this week ‘Hare Brains’ blog we explain how to review a track session.

Let’s go on a journey of guided discovery and revisit last Thursday track session. I took a sample of 4 runners and looked at their pacing and put their training session into context.

Thursday’s Track Session

Last Thursday’s coached track session consisted of sets of long and short intervals. The aim of the session was to develop speed endurance while increasing the pace throughout the session. The session serves as a ‘sharpener’ for the forthcoming 10k club championship race in Regent’s Park.

The session consisted of three sets. The first set involved running 4 repetitions of 1,000 meter at 5k pace, followed by a 400 meter active recovery jog. Next, the session progressed to 4 repetitions of 400 meter at 3k pace with 45 seconds full rest. While the last set of the session, consisted of 4 repetitions of 100 meter (aka strides) at 1,500 meter (or 1 mile) pace, followed by a 100 meter walk. There was no specific recovery in between the sets. However, a 400 meter jog after the last 400 meter repetition and before the strides was possible.

Breaking the total volume of the session down by running and recovery, The session covered 6,000 meters of fast running, following by 2,000 meters recoveries. More specific, 4,000 meters of 5k pace, 1,600 meters of 3k pace and 400 meters at 1,500 meters pace. In total, 8,000 meters, approx. 5 miles.

For a runner with a recent 5 km time of 20:30, the recommend 5k pace for the longer intervals is 1’38’’/lap and the 3k pace for the shorter intervals is 1’34’’/lap. The focus of the 100 meter strides is more on good running form rather than accurate 1,500 meter pace.


Thanks to Strava, I picked 4 runners and compared their splits. No preference on ability levels and by pure coincidence all runners are all male. Their training age is between 1 to 3 years.

For the last 4 weeks, Runner A has average 69 km (43 miles) per week, Runner B 24 km (15 miles) per week, Runner C 41 km (25 miles) and Runner D 46km (28 miles) per week. However, we can apply the same analysis for runners at all abilities.

Runner A Runner B Runner C Runner D
1 1000m 3’38’’ 4’05’’ 3’42’’ 3’24’’
2 1000m 3’44’’ 4’09’’ 3’50’’ 3’44’’
3 1000m 3’42’’ 3’59’’ 3’46’’ 3’33’’
4 1000m 3’47’’ 4’02’’ 3’47’’ 3’41’’
1 400m 1’25’’ 1’30’’ 1’24’’ 1’22’’
2 400m 1’23’’ 1’28’’ 1’20’’ 1’19’’
3 400m 1’23’’ 1’31’’ 1’23’’ 1’19’’
4 400m 1’20’’ 1’33’’ 1’23’’ 1’25’’

Table 1: Splits/Repetition

Let’s assume that each of the runners could always run a tad faster. For example, when the track is very crowded we have to spend a bit more time overtaking and lose the odd second. Others constantly worry about their pace and look every 10 seconds at their watch and check if they are still on pace. This extra effort takes time. Sometimes the weather is against us and it is very windy. Finally, some always run in lane 2 around the track, covering more distance. Regardless, let’s not make excuses and simply look at the data.

First, we want to determine the average pace for the 1,000m / 400m, i.e. their 5k and 3k pace.

Runner A Runner B Runner C Runner D
5k Pace 1000m 3’43’’ 4’04’’ 3’46’’ 3’31’’
3k Pace 400m 1’23’’ 1’30’’ 1’22’’ 1’21’’

Table 2: Average 3k and 5k Pace

Putting the runner’s average training paces into context with the splits we can see that Runner A and D started a bit too fast initially for the first 1000 meter. In contrast, Runner B started more conservative and upped the pace throughout the 1000s, while Runner C maintained the pace after a fast opening 1000 meter. Runner D did the same session off track and attributed the strong headwind for a change in pace.

Looking at the deviation from the average splits. Runners A, B and C fastest and slowest deviated up to 4 and 5 seconds from their average training pace. Approx. 2% to the time of the repetition. Overall, the training session was well executed. Ideally, we aspire towards consistency in pacing and aim to target the 5k intensity for the longer and 3k intensity for the shorter repetitions. If we are +/- 1 to 2 seconds. A high level of concentration and focus is required to achieve consistent pacing. When we are not focussed or not engaged in the task ahead, then we will not be able to perform at our best.

After the session, Runner B asked me about cadence. Cadence is important. Running 180 strides per minute (spm) is an excellent guide. Typically, when runners overstride, they achieve a lower number. 180 spm is on balance a good number with stride length and ground contact time at their optimum. The shorter the stride the higher cadence, though the pace might drop at some stage as it turned out to be difficult to maintain a higher cadence than 180. Alternatively, the longer the stride and the higher the cadence, the more ground we can cover and the better the pace. There is an optimal point for each runner when cadence, pace, stride length and ground contact time are in balance. Maintaining good running form is important. Having a good running rhythm and running relaxed will help us to get more out of every stride. Upper body posture, looking ahead, good arm drive and running with the pelvis in a neutral position will help us running more efficiently.

Runner A and C are of similar ability, while Runner B is a tad slower. Runner A has a recent 5k time of 19’30’’, while Runner B and C don’t have a 5k time yet. In fact, Runner A managed to set a new PB in the next parkrun and ran 19’00’’. Runner B and C both have only a 10k time, Runner B would be around 22’00’’ for the 5k and Runner C around 24’00’’, though Runner C can run much faster. However, let’s not speculate, Runner B and C should test themselves in a parkrun and put their 5k race time in context to their training time.

The Four-Second Rule

From a runner’s perspective, it can be quite confusing to work out the different paces. However, those of you, who train on the tack on a regular basis and monitor your training paces notice that depending on the distance, paces can vary. For example, we all can do a quick 200 meter. However, when it comes to maintaining the same pace for a 400 meter we struggle to maintain the pace. Same applies when we run a swift 400 meter. It would leave us exhausted for 800 meters.

Frank Horwill MBE, a British Distance Coaching guru, spotted that there is a relationship between those paces. Horwill came up with the ‘Four-Second Rule’, which says. Whenever one doubles the distance, the pace per laps increases by 4 seconds. This rule becomes useful whenever we try to identify training paces up / down from the 5k event. For example, for our runner with a 5km time of 20:30 the 5k pace is 1’38’’ per lap. If we train for the next classic distance down from the 5k, the 3k race paces would be 1’34’’ lap. On the other hand, if we run repetitions at 10k pace, then the recommended 10k pace would be 1’42’’. However, keep in mind, it is not an axiom, the ‘Four-Second Rule’ provides a useful guide especially for the shorter distances and training for the track. Predicting half marathon and marathon paces from a 5k time may only work for well-trained athletes.

Let’s apply the ‘Four Second Rule’ for the 5k and 3k paces for our 3 runners.

Runner A Runner B Runner C
5k Pace 1000m 1’29’’ 1’37’’ 1’30’’ 1’26’’
3k Pace 400m 1’23’’ 1’30’’ 1’22’’ 1’21’’
Difference 6’’ 7’’ 8’’ 5’’

Table 3: Difference in Pacing

As we can the ‘Four Second Rule’ would be more a 7 second rule. We can assume that the formula applies to very well trained and experienced track athletes. A slight modification applies for improvers. Certainly, for Runners A, B and C a good start for next week’s session would be to apply their achieved average paces as a starting pace and improve throughout the session.

Becoming competent in pacing

Acquiring the skill of pacing is best explained using the Conscious Competency Model. Noel Burch developed the Conscious Competency Model in the 1970s. The model helps us to describe our learning journey from becoming conscious (i.e. being aware) and competent, being proficient and knowledgeable about something.

When we learn a new skill, we are unconsciously incompetent. We don’t know what to look out for and we cannot see and understand the how to apply the skill. We lack awareness and knowledge.

Once we increase our awareness about the new skills we try to learn and understand some of the nuances, then we become consciously incompetent. We understand that there is something required to apply the skill, though we still don’t fully get it yet and don’t know what to do about it. We have not received the full set of instructions on how to fix the problem through applying the new skill.

Next, even once we have an idea or have been given the instructions how to tackle the problem we start to become consciously competent. At this stage, we have developed the competency, though it still requires an amount of effort to apply the instructions. When consciously competent learning continues through feedback to strive for mastery. For runners, getting to this stage is important as learning and adapting throughout the season, like any other sport is an essential skill to have as an improving runner. If we train the same, we stay the same.

Ultimately, through a lot of practice, we become unconsciously competent. We don’t have to think too hard about applying a skill, intuitively we do it the right way and have developed mastery in the skill.


When we are new to interval training and track sessions, we are perhaps overconfident, set off too quickly as we have don’t understand how to pace and the physiological changes the body goes through when running. We are unconsciously incompetent. We have not developed the awareness and the knowledge how to train. After some feedback and a lot of training, we got pretty good at running fast. Through more feedback and reflection we have developed a better awareness of the various pacing intensities. Through an increase in knowledge about the training, we developed a good understanding and started to be proficient about pacing. With a further practice and more feedback eventually, we reach a point of mastery. In most of the sessions, your pacing is spot on. You experienced improvement in your running on and off the track.

Going through this learning cycle is important. Only once we have explored and understood the problem of pacing, then we can develop tactics for improvement. Runners will most likely only make those right actions, once they have developed the awareness or a coach has guided through questions/answering.


A retrospective is a good way for individuals to pause, take stock and reflect on how their progress has been. Retrospectives have been introduced by the therapist Virgina Satir in a family therapy setting. However, the underpinning principle is universal. The essence of the method is first reflecting on what has happened in the past (both positive and negative) and then deciding on what to do in the future to improve.

Those self-reflections help identify potential areas for improvements. A regular retrospective helps individuals to improve their performance. Discuss the outcomes of a self-reflection with friends, fellow runners or coaches.

I prefer to keep the retrospective simple and limit it to 4 questions:

  • What worked well?
  • What did not work so well?
  • What do you want to do differently next time?
  • What do I commit to improving?

Spending 5 to 10 minutes and making a couple of notes is all that it takes. Once a month, look back through your notes and see where you are and how you are progressing.

It is worth considering to have relevant training data at hand, which will avoid stating opinions and getting locked. Don’t go through a retrospective not too frequently. Otherwise, a retrospective can be rushed and become routine.

Analysis and reflections need time. Often when we see various points in front of us, we can better relate them and come up with better options to resolve them.

As we learned from one of the previous blogs on the Inner Game. You will be more likely learn and improve if you develop an awareness of your strength and weaknesses.

Example of a retrospective

We asked one of the runners to provide feedback based on the questions mentioned in the previous section.

What worked well?

  • Breaking out from work early afternoon and doing it by myself.
  • Deciding to do the intervals along Embankment (mostly on the cycle-path) was good as essentially flat and no obstacles – as close to track conditions as possible.
  • Hitting a rhythm over the last couple of 1ks and a more powerful ones in the 400ms.
  • Maintained energy and speed over entire session, unlike last week when suffered over the last 1,600m.

What did not work so well?

  • Ideally, do this on the track with others, but work commitments will occasionally get in the way.
  • Ease back on the pacing; I was too quick compared to the pacing from last week’s session.  I have a strong feeling that I’ve already become quicker though.
  • As I set distances/rest times on my watch, the rest/jog/walks during the transition between 1ks, 400ms, 100ms was slightly longer than planned as was reconfiguring watch.
  • Sort out how strides should work; build up over 30m, accelerate over 30m, ease back over 30m.

What do you want to do differently next time?

  • For an interval session away from the track, this was a good effort.
  • Perhaps a slightly longer warm-up next time, with a few more strides to warm up the body better for the first interval.
  • Focus in on getting the acceleration/deceleration on strides spot on.

What will I improve?

  • I’ll be following the winter schedule, and should make it to the track.
  • Recalculate 5k/3k pacing based on this session, and follow the pacing strategy/strides profile better than this week.

The retrospective highlighted raised awareness regarding practising pacing in training. It worked well for the runner to create his conducive environment by adapting a track session to the road. In a next session, the athlete will keep a closer look at his pacing and will approach the next training unit with more discipline.


To get out more of your weekly track session, make sure you arrive prepared at the track and know how to determine your training paces. Horwill’s 4-Second Rule provides an easy way to determine 3k and 10k paces based on a recent 5k performance. In doubt, the pace calculator on the Mornington Chaser website can do the calculation for you.

While it is important to practise pacing in training, it is equally important to practice pacing in a race. When going into a race, runners need to have confidence in their ability and need to apply a race strategy. Revisiting your training paces will provide you with a good starting point for your target race pace.

When asked what is the best piece of advice former British running legend Ron Hill could give to any up and coming runners. His answer was to keep a training log. The training log provides an opportunity to go back and check what you have done before and what tweaks you have applied to your training. It’s an important record to facilitate your learning. Technology can assist runners when it comes capture data, though there still is a need for analysis, retrospective and reflection. When we skip this phase, we risk of missing out a valuable learning opportunity.

Don’t be afraid to make changes to your training. If something doesn’t work out for you, then there is no point making the same mistakes over and over again. Self-reflection is a good start turning a training experience into a learning opportunity. Self-assessment is the first step towards improvement. Ask yourself what works well for you, what does not work so well and what could you do to improve and what changes are you willing to commit.

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday (sometimes Sunday).