Running Proof Points – so how do I stack up?

In my last blog post – read it here – I introduced the concept of Running Proof Points.

As a reminder, Running Proof Points is a way of assessing both your current running ability and also your potential by looking at 3 key areas –

  1. Basic running speed (plus utilising Frank Horwill’s 4 second rule to assess potential over the key distances up to full marathon);
  2. vVO2 max or velocity at VO2 max (plus using Billat methodology to assess predicted 3k speed or speed at 100% VO2 max);
  3. Heart rate response at “Maximum Aerobic Capacity” Pace versus optimum (plus using Dr Maffetone MAF methodology to assess).

The aim is to establish a benchmark, gain an understanding of potential and also set a programme of improvement. The Running Proof Points can then be repeated at regular intervals (propose no more than every 4-6wks) to assess progress.

So how did I stack up?

Well, let’s take each one by one.

Firstly basic running speed – I tried running 400m as hard as possible on two occasions. On the 30th July I ran 63 seconds dead (pace 4:14/mile). Initially I was a little disappointed with this as I was hoping to run 60s dead. However, the 400m sprint is a hard discipline and relies on excellent speed as well as great running economy. Having only had my groin operation in May I clearly had to be a little careful going full tilt. I was sure I could run better with another effort. Indeed the body can adapt quite quickly to a task and execute better with experience.

So a couple of weeks later on the 16th August I attempted the 400m sprint again. This time I ran 60.3s which translates to 4:03/mile pace. This is much more in line with where I need to be basic speed wise to run a sub 16 5k. How do I know this?

Well, using Frank Horwill’s “4 second rule”, if I can run 400m in 60.3s I should be able to run 5k in 76.3s per 400m which is a pace of 5:07/mile or 15mins 53.75secs for the distance. There is of course an obvious caveat that adequate training is completed for the 5k but the basic speed should be there.

To explain further, Horwill’s 4s rule states that as distance doubles from 400m you should be able to run each 400m around 4s slower than previous distance. For women this could be 5s per 400m and for elites it could be less than 4s/5s respectively.

So for me –

400m = 60.3s

800m = 64.3s per 400m, i.e. 128.6s for 800m (2m 8s)

1600m = 68.3s

3200m = 72.3s

5000m = 76.3s

This methodology can be continued for 10k, HM and full Marathon.

So the upshot is I feel confident that I have the raw basic speed for a sub 16 minute 5k.

Some further thoughts on this… The logical next step could now be to work on nailing an 800m in 2:08 and a mile in 4:37. This would further underline my capability to run the sub 16min 5k. If I am unable to do so this points to a lack of speed endurance and running economy.

You may be wondering how you can use running proof point #1 yourself?

My advice would be this –

  1. Write down your wildly important running goal. Lets say its to run a HM in 1hr 30mins.
  2. Work out the pace per 400m to run a 1hr 30m HM. It should be around 1m 42s or 1m 43s per 400m.
  3. Use Horwills 4s rule to calculate pace per 400m for the key distances from 400m to full Marathon. For 400m  – it should be between 78-79s.
  4. Assess your capabilities. Are you capable of running those paces? For HM it will be critical that you can run the 5k and 10k times as these are critical background distances for HM whereas for my 5k target 800m to mile/2mile capability is more foundational. To give an idea you would be aiming for a sub 20min 5k and a 10k between 41-42 minutes.

Moving onto point 2 which is velocity at VO2 max (vVO2 max for short).

VO2 max (the rate at which oxygen can be utilised during exercise) is clearly a critical factor. VO2 max does reduce with age but also can be improved with targeted exercise. Staying with Frank Horwill, he was known to regularly reference the work of exercise physiologists such as Per-Olaf Astrand and underlined that training above 80% VO2 max was the best way of advancing VO2 max. At this point I will state that any runner keen to improve must grasp the following –

  • 100% VO2 Max is 3km pace
  • 95% VO2 Max is 5km pace
  • 90% VO2 Max is 10km pace
  • 80% VO2 Max is Half Marathon pace
  • 70% VO2 Max is Full Marathon pace

So it can be seen that training at or above HM pace is the best “bang for your buck” when seeking to give VO2 Max a boost. But it is actually the work of Veronique Billat that I draw on for Running Proof Point #2. Billat proposes a running test to assess velocity at VO2 Max (vVO2 max). The basis of the test is a 6 minute maximal running effort. The distance in metres that is run in the 6 minute test can then be divided by 360 (6 minutes is 360 seconds) to give a speed in metres per second. This is effectively vVO2 max and based on the above list is therefore a figure that can be “extrapolated” for 3k pace which is scientifically proven to be 100% VO2 max. In other words, whatever pace you achieve in the 6 minute running test should be sustainable in a 3km race situation although obviously this depends on the conditioning of the athlete. Note that vVO2 max can also be used for future training sessions to boost VO2 max fitness levels but that is for a future blog post. For those who can’t wait study Billat, there are some easily digestible articles online.

So on the 4th September I attempted the 6 minute test. This is not for the faint hearted and certainly doing the test alone is not easy. It takes some mental determination and, depending on your ability, you know you will be going through a hard mile and more.

I had done some “fag packet” calculations and I felt I should land in the 1900-2000m zone. In all honesty I did not expect to get to 2000m as that is obviously 3:00 per km or 15:00 minute 5k pace.

The effort did prove difficult. I felt like I ran well through the first few minutes. I was very keen not to look at my watch but that got harder as I passed through halfway. I conducted the test early morning before work. I have to confess I am not a fan of early morning running, not least because I seem to get stomach issues (I will spare you the details – you get the picture) but also because my legs always feel a bit dead. So I felt like I was slowing somewhat in the last minute or two (the “where did that headwind come from?” syndrome!).

I was relieved when I saw the clock hit 6 minutes! On review in Training Peaks I had progressed as follows through the run –

  • 400m in 1:09.2 (4:38/mile)
  • 800m in 2:22.3 (4:46/mile)
  • 1km in 2:59.7 (4:49/mile)
  • 1 mile in 4:58.2 (4:58/mile)
  • 1,931m in 6:00 (5:00/mile)

This translates to 5.36 metres per second as my vVO2 max rating. I prefer to focus on the 5 minutes per mile reading. Actually I find this interesting because more common convention would be to perform VO2 max boosting sessions at more like 5k pace. But as we saw earlier 5k pace is 95% VO2 max whereas this test gives us a reading of 100% VO2 max.

That said, another more sobering way to look at this is to use a VO2 max calculator to establish my current VO2 max rating. Anyone familiar with the legendary coach Jack Daniels who wrote the running classic “Daniels Running Formula” will be aware of his VDOT calculations which are basically in line with VO2 max ratings. If you calculate VDOT for a 15:59 5k (my dream running goal) you will note that this translates to a VO2 max of 64.7. If however we calculate the rating of 1,931m ran in 6 minutes we will see that VDOT is only 60.6 which suggests around 16.54 capability for 5km (my PB is 16:44). This is a more sensible reading of my current fitness. Extrapolating for the future – if I could improve the distance I can run in 6 minutes by 5% over a reasonable amount of time (say 6-8wks) then that would mean a distance of 2,028m which would translate to a VDOT of 64.4 and very close to what is required to break 16 minutes for 5k! This therefore becomes the target!

Moving onto the final Running Proof Point #3 – aerobic power or efficiency is critical to running success. You need a powerful engine and that is something that can’t be developed overnight. In this regard I like to reference the work of Dr Phil Maffetone. I would say Maffetone is somewhat of a controversial figure in the fitness/running community as many people would argue against his methods (being too one dimensional perhaps?), however the success of his best known athlete – Ironman legend Mark Allen – cannot be ignored.

Maffetones main advice was to train at what he called “Maximum Aerobic Function” or MAF. A formula was proposed to calculate MAF using heart rate. I won’t go into details here but basically the formula is 180-age regardless of gender. There are many potential caveats and adjustments depending on past illness/injury history but lets just say my current MAF heart rate is 180-37 = 143 beats per minute (bpm). Maffetone would prescribe all training at this heart rate level (or within 10bpm lower to provide a range 133-143bpm) whether it be running training or cross training on the bike or in the pool for example.

So the critical aspect for the runner is – what pace in miles per minute can you run at your MAF heart rate? This is important and the key is obviously to make it as fast as possible. Most people have the same experience when they first try this as they get a shock at how slow their MAF pace is! Indeed, many people struggle to keep their heart rate below or in line with MAF which Maffetone suggests is due to a weak aerobic system. He advises patience and discipline to ensure the pace/heart rate is stuck to. He also advises a “MAF Test” every 4-8wks to test whether the MAF pace is improving as a result of the careful training plan. The MAF test would involve a warm up then a 4 mile run at MAF HR and then a cool down. The average pace at MAF HR would be recorded and trends over time analysed.

It would be perhaps logical for Running Proof Point #3 to simply be a MAF test. However, I was more intrigued by a pace table Maffetone includes in his seminal work “The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing” that indicates how MAF pacing translates to 5k times.

Below is an excerpt from the table –

MAF Pace/5K Pace/5K Time

  • 8:00 / 6:30 / 20:12
  • 7:30 / 6:00 / 18:38
  • 7:00 / 5:30 / 17:05
  • 6:30 / 5:15 / 16:19
  • 6:00 / 5:00 / 15:32
  • 5:45 / 4:45 / 14:45
  • 5:30 / 4:30 / 13:59

It can be seen above that, theoretically, for me to run a sub 16 minute 5k I would need to have a MAF pace (the pace I can run at an HR of 143bpm) of between 6:00 and 6:30 per mile pace. Therefore my approach to Running Proof Point #3 is to run 4 miles at 6:30/mile pace and record my average HR. I will then compare the average HR to the required MAF HR and measure that over time.

So on the 28th August I performed the 4 mile test. This was my first run following a 2 week holiday in which, although I did get some running done (including incidentally the 400m run test where I ran 60.3s), I knew I would have lost some basic running fitness.

In the end I ran 4 miles in 25:59 (6:29/mile pace) averaging 166bpm. This is a full 23bpm above my MAF HR of 143bpm!!! For me this is clearly the weakest of the 3 Running Proof Points and one that I certainly need to see improvement on over the 2018/2019 winter season.

So, in summary…

I believe I have the raw basic speed to run a sub 16 minute 5k. That said, any improvement in my 400m time below the current 60.3s would clearly feed through to longer distances. My vVO2 max was pleasing but short of the distance required to suggest a fitness level to run anywhere near sub 16 5k. I must improve my VO2 max and I would argue that a minimum of 5% improvement needs to be targeted. Finally, my aerobic power seems woefully short if the Maffetone method and field research is to be trusted. I will be looking for a consistent training cycle to help with this, critically in terms of running volume in particular. I also believe “bread and butter” lactate threshold running – starting with 20 minutes straight and building to 2x 20mins and even 3x 15mins – will be critical.

I hope you have found these Running Proof Points interesting. Perhaps they have provided you with some food for thought for your own running.

In the next article I will move onto how I plan to train to improve in all 3 areas. The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed all of my Proof Point tests were conducted in August/early September and therefore I will be planning re-tests in late September/early October. However, these will need to be carefully built into my training schedule as I now move into the race season and particularly cross country.

Looking ahead I have the Northern 6 stage relays on Sunday 23rd September and the first North East Harrier League (NEHL) fixture on Saturday 29th September.

As I mentioned in the first post, I would love to hear from you – what are your goals? How do you plan to achieve them?

Thanks for reading and happy running!



Running Proof Points – a methodology for assessing current running ability and pinpointing key areas for improvement

So far 2018 hasn’t been the greatest running year for me.

Readers of my Blog will know that I’ve had a few unfortunate injuries back to back. I tripped and broke a rib in November 2017 then, after building my way back up to a 10k PB (35:23) in February, had another accident (bizarrely in a place about 100yds from where I broke my rib) leading to an eventual groin operation in May.

That said, most setbacks turn out to be positive depending on how you deal with them mentally as much as physically.

I chose to handle my latest setback like any other athletic endeavour. To tackle it head on, take the rough with the smooth and come out of it stronger.

Anybody who knows me will know I’m a thinker. Some would say I maybe think a little too much!

The time out for the operation certainly gave me a lot of time to think about my running (and life for that matter). Not only that, it gave me time to study running even more.

Although I’ve always studied the sport of running pretty much since I started jogging around the streets of Newcastle upon Tyne in 2011/12 I’ve probably not always fully absorbed the info I’ve read. Or indeed stuck to task on a methodology, probably chopping and changing methods and approach too much.

But this time I really studied, particularly Frank Horwill and Jack Daniels. Coach Brad Hudson based in Boulder Colorado has been inspiration, not least his Instagram account showing close up the training his athletes do in pursuit of their goals. I’ve also been inspired by the scientific research on VO2 max conducted by Veronique Billat in France and I keep Dr Phil Maffetone in view as building a powerful aerobic base (and taking care of your body) simply can’t be ignored.

Everything that you need to know about running and how to improve has already been written. I am a strong believer that anybody who jogs or runs would enjoy it more the better they are (myself included). In this regard knowledge is power.

Sometimes to get better at something doesn’t simply mean doing more of it mindlessly. Science shows that there is a cap on how much fitness gains can be achieved from simply increasing mileage. Certainly running is a skill of that there is no doubt. The brain and body will work together to improve and you will become fitter/more skillful the more you run.

However, by increasing your knowledge whilst practising the art of running you will surely improve more quickly.

That’s why I have put together what I call “Running Proof Points”.

Running Proof Points is a way of assessing both your current running ability and also your potential by looking at 3 key areas –

  1. Basic running speed (plus utilising Frank Horwill’s 4 second rule to assess potential over the key distances up to full marathon);
  2. vVO2 max or velocity at VO2 max (plus using Billat methodology to assess predicted 3k speed or speed at 100% VO2 max);
  3. Heart rate response at “Maximum Aerobic Capacity” Pace versus optimum (plus using Dr Maffetone MAF methodology to assess).

The purpose of the above 3 metrics is to understand current ability and potential and establish the benchmark from which a training plan for improvement can be developed.

Suffice to say, improvement in these 3 metrics can only mean one thing – better race performance and, ultimately, the achievement of personal bests.

Indeed, I am using Running Proof Points myself in my continued goal of running a sub 16 minute 5k.

What I know is the following: to run a sub 16 minute 5k (my #1 running goal) I need to be able to –

  1. run 400m in approximately (and perhaps no slower than) 60 seconds (note: this assessment is on the basis of Frank Horwills “4 second rule”),
  2. I need a VO2 max rating of ~65mL/(kg·min) (based on Jack Daniel’s VDOT) and
  3. I need to be able to run comfortably (aerobically) at around 6:30/mile pace or slightly faster at Maximum Aerobic Capacity (taken from Dr Phil Maffetone Maximum Aerobic Function methodology).

These 3 criteria form the basis of Running Proof Points.

Why are these metrics important?

Well to run well over any distance you need to have good basic speed and economy (how much oxygen you consume when you run), you need to maximise your VO2 max (how much oxygen you can consume) and also maximise your efficiency below anaerobic threshold (your aerobic efficiency). This also relates to lactate threshold, the point at which the body can clear lactate acid at the same rate as the body produces it. This is a key indicator for what type of pace an athlete can run for 1hr and also is a good guide to half marathon potential in fitter runners.

As I said, I am using this template myself and I have tested myself on each of the 3 criteria over the last month. The results are encouraging on the one hand but also, and perhaps more critically, help me to pinpoint where I am weak and where I need to improve on the other.

In my next post I will explain exactly how I tested myself on the 3 Running Proof Points and also what my results mean and how I plan to address my training over the next period.

I hope you have found this article interesting and also perhaps thought provoking.

One of my aims though this blog is to help and inspire any runners out there who have the aim of simply improving their running. I strongly believe most everyone has a tendency to underestimate their potential.

If you want to improve but feel like you need some help, perhaps in the form of a running mentor, I would love to hear from you.

My email address is

Thanks for reading and I will post the second article in this series next week.