How to Predict Your Race Pace

How fast you should run your next race? Use these three fitness tests to predict your race time.

As if running weren’t hard enough, many runners face the challenge of predicting race pace. Almost every athlete who’s raced a few times has a goal time or pace in mind for a particular race, especially when he or she is starting a training program for a half or full marathon. Assessing whether this goal time and pace-per-mile is feasible, however, can get tricky.

It is important to assess your fitness level periodically throughout the training period – not just when race day is right around the corner – because your fitness level changes. This type of assessment serves two purposes: it allows you to see if your training is on track for your goal time and will give you a realistic idea of what your pace should be. Clearly, your fitness level changes as you train, so your race pace should reflect that (whether you’re getting faster or facing setbacks like an injury).race pace

Particularly long distance running such as the marathon or half-marathon, assessing fitness and determining race pace is essential to training phases as well as to race day game plans. Although race pace is also important for racing shorter distances, the consequences of, say, taking the first two miles out too fast, are generally less dire. The first method works for estimating your marathon goal pace, and the second work for shorter distances.

To predict your race pace, try these three tried-and-true prediction models: Yasso 800s, the Galloway Magic Mile, and Jack Daniel’s VDOT tables..

1. Yasso 800s: Repeats

There are two ways to approach this method, which was formulated by Bart Yasso, an iconic road racer and chief running officer at Runner’s World magazine.

The first is to take your goal marathon time (e.g. 3 hours and 50 minutes) and simply substitute minutes for the hours and seconds for the minutes. In this example, that would result in a 3 minute and 50 second 800-meter pace (7:40 mile pace). If you can run 10 x 800m in 3 minutes and 50 seconds each with a jog in between each 800m of equal time (3:50), you may assume that you are able to run the marathon in 3 hours and 50 minutes. Run these 800m intervals on a high school track (most are 400-meters per lap, so 2 laps = 800m), run .5 mile intervals using a GPS watch on a flat road or bike path, or use a treadmill. Some say that Yasso 800s are a little too optimistic, and recommend adding five minutes to the final goal and 800m time for a more accurate prediction. This would make this fitness test the equivalent to a 3:55 marathon.

The second way to approach Yasso 800s is to run the 800m intervals at a consistent, even pace that you can repeat ten times. Your rest jog between each 800m interval should be at a one-to-one ratio. So, for example, if you run  800 meters in 4 minutes, then you should jog for 4 minutes to recover before you start your next 800m repeat. Finding the steady and even pace for this workout can take some experience. The goal, remember, is to maintain the pace for the entire workout. Learning how to run certain paces is part of the fun; this ability will develop over the years.

If you’re a beginner runner, use the pace-per-mile at which you run tempo runs or 10k races as a ballpark pace for the 800s. If you go out too fast for the first few 800s, and you find yourself slowing down drastically during the later 800s, you may want to come back next week try the workout again using your average time per 800m as your benchmark. It’s best to be conservative at the beginning.

As with the first approach, take the average time you ran for the 800s and use this as your predictor by substituting hours for the minutes and minutes for the seconds. So, if you averaged 3 minutes and 30 seconds for your 800s you are predicted to run a 3 hour and 30 minute marathon, which is a 8:01 minute per mile pace. Again you might want to add 5 minutes for a 3:35 marathon and a 8:12 minute per mile pace.

Whichever approach you chose, incorporate the Yasso 800s workout into your half or full marathon training program two to three months before race day. Start with 4 repeats, and work your way up to 10 in subsequent weeks. Be sure to do your last 800 workout at least 10 days before your race.

2. Galloway’s Magic Mile: Time Trial

Former Olympian and current coach Jeff Galloway has created another method for predicting race times and pace. It’s fairly simple: After a good warm-up of at least 10 to 15 minutes of running plus some acceleration-strides run one mile as fast as you can.

Convert your mile time into seconds and multiply it by 1.3. This will be your marathon pace per mile in seconds. For example, if you run your mile in 6:20, which converts to 380 seconds, multiply that time by 1.3. 380 x 1.3 = 494 seconds = 8:14 per mile pace. That pace predicts a 3:35.46 marathon time.

Galloway’s method includes adjustment factors to predict half-marathon, 10k, and 5k race paces, too. To find your half marathon pace time, multiply your mile time trial (in seconds) by 1.2. For a 10k, multiply the mile time by 1.15. For a 5k, Galloway suggests adding 33 seconds (in this example, 380 + 33 = 413 seconds = 6:53 per mile pace for a 5k).

3. Jack Daniels’ Running Formula: Tables and charts

Jack Daniels is a world-renowned running coach and exercise physiologist who outlined his training philosophies in the well-read and dog-eared 1998 book Daniels’ Running. In this book he published extensive pace tables that are based on an adjusted VO2max value named the “VDOT,” which you can use as a measure of fitness. All you need to calculate race pace is your finish time from a recent race. Now, as a coach at The Run S.M.A.R.T. Project, he’s updated the physiologically-sound charts in an easy-to-use Running Calculator, which will soon be available on Run.com.

Enter the distance and time for your recent race, and click “Calculate” to see your race pace, training paces and equivalent racing times. To find your goal race pace, click the “Equivalent” tab and see your predicted pace-per-mile for distances from the 1500m to the marathon.

To use the VDOT tables, you simply look up a time you have recently run for a particular distance and read across to the VDOT column, assigning a VDOT value to your time. You can then use this VDOT fitness value to predict the time you may run for another, yet-to-be run distance. Simply find your VDOT value and scroll across to the distance for which you are training. Daniels provides an additional table that uses the VDOT value to determine training paces for various training runs, such as intervals and tempo-runs.

 

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