Choosing Your Pack

Most local running clubs offer weekly pack runs which really form the backbone of the global running community. These packs, provide an amazing place for runners to connect, enjoy a great run and chinwag, make new friends, train in the safety of a group and learn some tricks from the "old dogs".  Pack runs play such an important role in the social side of every runners life, that when I start working with a new runner, I always try to still structure these runs into their weekly training plan as far as possible.

This brings me to two challenges faced by runners who are following a training structure to reach their goals while still wanting to join their club pack runs:

1) How do I plan in pack runs into my training week?

2) Which pace group should I be running with so as not to compromise my training plan?

I provide some advice below:

1) How to schedule pack runs in

Club pack runs are generally long steady pace runs of about an hour in duration with various pace groups that one can join. In a training schedule these can easily be slotted in as recovery runs, general aerobic conditioning or tempo runs. When planning your training program, you would put down the pack runs as one of the above 3 types of workouts and then build the rest of your plan around it. For example: If your club has a pack run on a Thursday, then you can schedule your interval workout on Wednesday and join in a slow group as a recovery run on Thursday.

2 - What pace?

Your next task is to make sure that you are running with right pace group. To do this you need to ask the question "What is the purpose of today's run?"

If it is scheduled as a 

a) Recovery run - choose a group that is one or two groups slower than our normal easy run pace. eg. If your normal easy run pace is 5:30/km then you want to go with a group running about 5:45/km, or even 6:00 if you are feeling extra fatigued. Stay at the middle to back of the group and be careful of getting caught up in sprinting at the end. Remember, the goal is recovery. 

b) General aerobic conditioning

Long easy miles are the foundation of every successful distance runner whether you are a 800m speedster or an ultra-marathoner. The mistake many of us make though is that the majority of our "easy" aerobic miles are actually done at a moderate effort and even sometimes turn into tempo runs. The result is we just keep building fatigue instead of fitness. Pack runs can be very helpful in that by having to stay with the pack leader, you are forced to keep the pace easy. Since most groups do tend to pick up the pace as the run progresses, I suggest going one group slower than what you perceive to be your easy pace. As before stay at the middle and back of the pack to keep out of the trap of pushing the pace. 


 3) Tempo run

Choosing a pack whose pace is around your half marathon effort or slightly faster is a great way to get in a tempo workout with other runners to pull you along. Since the group will be heading off at a pace which is faster than your easy pace, I suggest  doing about 10 minutes of easy jogging beforehand so that you are already warmed up by the time the run starts. If you live close to your running club, a great workout would be to run easy to the pack run, do the pack run as a tempo workout, and then run home easy for cool down.

Here I provide two sample weekly schedules that incorporate club pack runs in different formats. The club in the example has pack runs on a Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday:

Sample 1 (One interval session)

Monday - Day off or recovery run

Tuesday - Aerobic Conditioning Pack Run

Wednesday - Interval Session

Thursday - Recovery Pack Run

Friday - Day off or aerobic conditioning

Saturday - Aerobic conditioning

Sunday - Pack long run

Sample 2 (One interval session and one tempo run - advanced)

Monday - Day off or recovery run

Tuesday - Tempo Pack Run

Wednesday - Recovery run

Thursday - Aerobic Conditioning Pack Run

Friday - Interval session 

Saturday - Day off or recovery run

Sunday - Pack long run

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Onwards and upwards!

Coach Kathleen

Professional running coach

Cape Town, South Africa