Learning From the Greats — John Kellogg

John Kellogg is a huge mystery…he’s one of the reasons that Weldon and Robert Johnson founded Letsrun.com as they wanted to get his coaching philosophy out into the world. John took Weldon from mid-pack running to 4th in the 10,000 meters at the US Championships in the early 2000s. Weldon was one of my biggest running inspirations and heroes growing up and the man behind his success, John Kellogg, has always intrigued me.

There’s a document online found here, that has all of his training wisdom…but it’s a very hard read as it’s not very organized and jumps from topic to topic. I think anyone who wants to coach should read it though…it espouses my view of high-end aerobic, mileage based training versus high-intensity, interval based training.

Here’s a sample portion where he’s talking about tempo running…


For the lion’s share of “tempo” running, malmo has it sussed. KudzuRunner also has it. It’s the kind of running you can find yourself drifting into on a regular daily run simply because it feels so good – provided you have the wherewithall to recognize when enough is enough at that pace and have the discipline to end the run before you start pushing.

The “6-8 miles at half marathon pace” stuff also does serve a purpose (lactate clearance), but these are actually long time trials and are nearly race-level efforts (in a workout atmosphere, they could be race efforts), so they ought to be restricted to one every 2-3 weeks.

That “half marathon pace equals threshold pace” rule of thumb came about by fitting a regression equation to values for running velocity and lactate threshold using graded exercise testing. I’ve calculated this myself with a number of runners and determined that ventilatory threshold corresponded to the extrapolated pace the average runner could sustain for 1:03:47. Ventilatory threshold is easier to gauge since it has a more precise definition than “lactate threshold,” which is difficult to measure because it’s a sketchy concept in the first place. Of course, measuring the pace at which ventilatory threshold occurs still depends on the test protocol; furthermore, no test protocol of less than 30 minutes on treadmill will really tell anybody how long that particular pace can be sustained in a real race on pavement. So it’s all guesswork in the end and you might as well go by feel instead of looking for a specific formula.

The “tempo runs are 20 minutes long” concept apparently stems from the fact that most runners seem to reach the respiratory compensation point after around 20 minutes at whatever their particular “threshold pace” is. The respiratory compensation point is significant because it’s basically a good marker for when the struggling has started. Again, assigning a precise value to “threshold pace” is iffy and largely depends on duplicating the atmospheric conditions, GXT protocol and pre-test rest state present during the laboratory test. For “tempo” runs, you might as well just do the damn things by feel. Notice, however, that virtually all of these GXTs start at a crawl and allow runners to somewhat stabilize systematic functions at each stage (basically, they get to warm up gradually); hence, the “graded” modifier in “graded exercise test.” That’s one thing you should remember whether or not you’re going to use a pace chart to find your tempo pace. Don’t simply run the regression equation-generated pace from the get-go. Just let the pace  happen most of the time. The fitter you are, the more sensitive you’ll usually be about where the floating stops and the pushing begins, and experience will give you a better handle on how much orthopedic (impact) stress is just right for each day, so you can continue building yourself up rather than tearing yourself down without realizing it until it’s too late.

If you learn how to tell where the true “tempo” pace stops and the “pushing yourself” pace begins, you’ll be able to touch on this pace regularly and will become a pretty good judge of how much duration is just right for each day that you do touch on this pace. Note that the duration can vary – it doesn’t have to be 20 minutes – and the pace itself will vary depending on weather, increases in fitness over time, recovery state, and so on.

On a true tempo run, you’re just going with the flow. You can push it at the end (or anywhere in there) if you want to, but experience will teach you how to be smart about how often to push it and what to do in the ensuing days to ensure you keep building rather than breaking.


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