While pace is an apt tool for benchmarking progress and for measuring performance, it is not a useful metric for training. I implore you: ditch your pace-based training.
Efficiency: When an athlete chooses to use pace as a training metric, she will generally function in a heart rate zone referred to by coaches as the ‘black hole of endurance training’. None of us, even the most masochistic, can function much above lactate threshold for extended periods of time on consecutive days. Most of us are also too impatient to put in the work that feels like it wasn’t work in the lower heart rate zones. This leaves uncoached athletes defaulting to a ‘fun-hard’ pace - and that’s the black hole. This pace, what most pace-based athletes slot themselves into thinking it will make them stronger over time, is too hard to serve as recovery and too easy to support an increase in your lactate threshold.
Your ANS: When you consistently work at too high a heart rate zone during endurance training, your autonomic nervous system becomes activated. This isn’t a good thing. When you perform in your sympathetic nervous system, you lose your capacity for empathy and critical decision-making; your body consumes the limited stores of glycogen in your organs and other easily-accessible sources before beginning to burn muscle; and extended activation of the nervous system can lead to thyroid dysfunction, mental health disturbances, and illness or injury. I host single-topic webinars on this and other nervous system phenomena. Sign up for the waitlist to learn more.
Alternatives: Athletes might measure their training using climbing grade, elevation gain/loss, distance, duration, watts, or time in zone. While pace is nearly always the poorest measurement of training impact, time in zone is the best way to meter your endurance production. Nested within this strategy is the need for the athlete to train alone much of the time. Given that your level of recovery, heart rate variability, and, ultimately, the appropriate level of output during each training session fluctuates from session to session, a training buddy is more likely to cause you to over- or under-train than to support your training. Over time, time-in-zone training will result in you getting faster - there’s simply no need to check in all that frequently to validate that this is the case.
When is pace useful in endurance training? Pace-based training only has its place in the repertoire of the most elite mountain runners and even for those athletes only in metered doses during narrow periods of their training. Personally, the only time I’ve ever employed pace-based training was during my training for a fifty mile FKT and I’ve only suggested pace-based training for one client in my six years of business. Nuff said.
Quit with the competitive thinking already; learn your individual zones; and watch your performance rise while incidences of overtraining, insomnia, and injury decrease. Releasing the ego's attachment to pace and measuring the success of your session only by time in zone is of vital importance, not only to your fitness but to your health.
I’ll be hosting a special session entitled Your Zones later in the month. Be sure to sign up and learn all about the alternative to pace-based training.