On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Thursday, February 25, 2010

McMillan, or musings on an upcoming half

Yeah, I'm not even going to pretend like I have a run to discuss.  I left for work a few minutes before 8am yesterday and got home about 8:30pm.  And then, after I got home, I spent over an hour catching up on work emails that I hadn't been able to answer while at work.

Instead, I want to talk about the magical, mystical prognostication machine that is the McMillan Running Calculator.  You tell this internet daemon a recent race time - say, 1:46 in a 10m race - and it predicts what a comparable time for different race distances would be.  Thus my earlier contention that I might, maybe, possibly, if things go well run a 2:20 at the half this weekend.  (A Boston 2:20, ahem, or 2:20:53 per McMillan.)

Runners know: McMillan's right, or at least he's pretty darn close.  I love it.

Except... I have a question: how good is it on paces for non-races?  Of the many calculations it gives you, it offers an assessment of what paces you should be running for your every day runs to maintain your race pace.  For me, using the above example, I should be running 11:51-12:21 for my everyday runs, 11:51-12:51 for my long runs, and 12:51-13:21 for my recovery runs.  But that's slow, even for me.

Do I just not do enough non-average running?  Should I be incorporating tempo runs and steady state runs and fartleks and speed work, etc?  Or should I stick with what's working?  (It's sort of rhetorical.  I think rather obviously the latter.)

Anyway, the weather this weekend has changed from perfect (40 degrees and sunny) to miserable (30 and "wintry mix", with winds).  With it, my outlook on this race has changed from "2:20 or BUST" to "finish, and don't forget to bring warm, dry clothes with you for the ride home."  What can I say?  I'm a fair weather racer...


  1. Nice blog, Tracy.

    Here't the thing about the McMillan calculator - it assumes that you are properly trained for each race distance. What I mean by that is that if you can run a pretty fast 5K, but aren't properly trained to go the distance in the marathon, the McMillan calculator will miss the mark. Likewise, if all you do is long slow mileage to build up aerobic capacity, but don't do any anaerobic work, then you'll be great at the marathon but useless at the shorter stuff.

    I would use McMillan as a guide to test whether your marathon goals are realistic. Midway through your marathon training, run a 10K or half-marathon, then plug the results into the McMillan Calculator. If its reasonably close to your marathon goal, keep at it. If its way off, perhaps reassess your goals.

    I've always ignored the suggested training paces that McMillan puts out. But they can also give you an idea of what aspect of your running needs work. For example, you say that for your half-marathon time McMillan predicts what you feel are very slow training paces. This probably means that your speed/anaerobic systems are in decent shape, but your endurance/aerobic capacity needs work. Translation - you need more long runs at a slower pace.

    Confused yet?

  2. Thanks for the comment - not confusing at all! That makes perfect sense.

    Even when I was more fit than I am now, I've always struggled with this disjoin between "race" and "training" paces. My 10m prediction run was faster than I ordinarily do my LSD runs, but if I follow McMillan's suggestions for training paces, I'd basically be walking - a fast walk, but 13:21 is much slower than I typically run.

    It seems like I'm left with a few possibilities: 1) Taking my training run times as an indicator, I should be racing faster; 2) Using my race paces, I should be doing more slower, longer training runs; or 3) McMillan is nonsense for back-of-the-packers. I don't completely believe #3 (although I can say that I don't push myself to the limit regularly, or even really challenge myself too often), so I guess I'll have to experiment with 1 and 2 and see what comes of it.

    I haven't done speedwork in a while - that might be the next step.