top of page

How coaches can use a simple metric to inform programming

Coaches have a ton of metrics to measure training and inform programming. As an endurance running coach you can track volume, pace, cadence, heart rate etc etc. One of the most useful (and novel) metrics I have tracked this winter is critical speed. Previously, I have written about using critical speed to predict marathon performance (London Marathon Prediction) but it can also be used to track training by charting each session’s volume and duration. So for example if you done 12 x 400m in 65 seconds that would equate to 4800 metres and 780 seconds. If you add all your sessions to an excel spreadsheet and create a scatter plot you get a graph which looks like this:

This is real life data from Andrew Butchart who I coach. He is the Scottish Record holder over 5,000m with a 13.06 clocking in the London Diamond League in 2019. Pretty much since then he has had a significant injury which kept him out of the game until September 2020. Off the back of his injury, our goals this winter were to keep it simple, keep it consistent and aim for a good indoor season prior to pushing on and prepping for the Olympics in the summer.

Next, I have added in target times for the 3,000m (7.35) and 5,000m (13.00) to give a point of reference as well as added in a trend line. The trend line describes the relationship between volume and pace for all the sessions Andrew has completed November 2020 to February 2021. Strictly speaking you are meant to use a linear trend line (i.e. a straight line) but I have used a polynomial with 2 degrees of freedom (i.e. a curved line). I have done this because in the real world runners have a training sweet spot for their event (where the data is more or less linear) but at either end it tails off. That is, it is slower than you might expect (from the bulk of that data) at shorter and longer distances.

Perhaps the most exciting thing (for me, i’m sad), is that the trend line dissects the chart at almost exactly 7.35 and 13.00 minutes for the 3,000m and 5,000m, respectively. That means the volume and pace relationship of sessions has been about right for a 7.35 and a 13.00 minute runner. So if you do this does it mean you will run your target times? Probably not, for a number of reasons. The main one is that training is a lot more complex than that. It is the blend, placement and building of sessions over a period of time that moves athletes forward. Working the different energy systems progressively to move the athlete forward is an art not necessarily a science. Also you have to have the right amount of races and the right race at the right time to achieve your true potential. This indoor season, Andrew ran one 3,000m race in 7.40. After that he picked up a niggle and didn’t quite push on as much as we wanted and also there were literally no races he could run in. This is real life. But I am sure he would have run about 7.35 given the opportunity (fast track, good pacers etc) at the optimum time (tapered, fresh, injury free etc).

Moving on, the bigger volume sessions where done in November and December. And even then the relationship between session volume and session paces held true. Perhaps more importantly though, although larger volume sessions where done in November and December (which is as expected from typical coaching wisdom), Andrew still touched speed (which is less expected), albeit less often than he has done in January and February. In fact, you can hopefully see that all types of training are present at all times but just in different frequencies depending on that phase of training’s goals.

There are some sessions that are way under the trend line. This is because there are always sessions where the volume and pace relationship cannot work for one reason or another. In Andrew’s case, the majority of these session are either tempo workouts or fartlek type workouts where pace isn’t easy to maintain when not on a track. It’s important to recognise that not all sessions have to be bang on and using things like grass, dirt tracks, and road is going to slow things down but it can also help with reducing the chances of injuries as well reducing boredom. But importantly, the physiological effort is the same (perhaps one day we could add in a conversion factor for the terrain and weather conditions which would probably bring those points closer to the line).

Finally, does this take in to account recoveries between reps and sets. How does that affect this? Whether you do over distance — under speed or under distance — over speed type of sessions the relationship should hold true just as long as you’re using conventional recovery durations. For example, going back to the 12 x 400m example, at sea level you should use 60 seconds rest between reps and 90 seconds when at altitude (above 1800m).

So nothing fancy, nothing complicated, but (hopefully) a nice little tool for you to keep track of your training load relative to your racing goals.

Have you done this before? If so leave a comment with how you got on? If not, have a quick look at it with a few sessions, it’s very easy to do. If you need help, drop me a message. It’s not perfect but hopefully it’s another tool to help with your coaching. I look at this as well as a whole host of other metrics in Tableau. It’s probably way over the top for most people but I enjoy the process :-)

84 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page