McMillan Running System (Part 2)

This article was provided by McMillan Running, a recommended resource for distance runners and coaches.

This is part two of a three part series on McMillan’s Six Step Training System. You can click here to read about Step’s 1 and 2

By Greg McMillan, MS


Step #1: Linking The Lab With The Runner

Step #2: The Four Key Training Zones – Endurance, Stamina, Speed and Sprint

Step #3: The McMillan Calculator

Okay, before we go any further, I know what you’re saying. “This is great but I have no idea what my two hour race pace is and I certainly don’t know what my 8 minute race pace is! Help?”

Wonder no more. For the past 20 years, I’ve been working on a method that estimates your equivalent race performances using a current race time at any distance.

While there are lots of other methods for estimating race performances (and I’ve tried most of them) I haven’t found one that is specific enough, is laid out in an easy-to-read format or that is based on what runners in the real world are capable of doing. So, I created my own and now I’ll share it with you. (I do, however, recommend that you take a look at the other methods listed in the Reading List as they are also very valuable in understanding the training process.)

What is an Equivalent Performance?

When I say “Equivalent Performance”, I mean what would be an equivalent race time at one race distance based on your recent race time at another distance. For example, if you run 41:24 for 10K, you might wonder what you could run for a 5K or for the marathon or for a 30K or 15K. Using my McMillan Calculator, you’ll now know. Of course, I must say that these are “estimates” of what you can run. Actual results will vary depending on the course, the weather, if it’s your day or not and a myriad of other factors. However, I think you’ll find that within a small variation, these estimates are accurate. (Do keep in mind that a 5K runner is unlikely to run the equivalent time in the marathon off of 5K training. The runner would obviously need to train for the marathon to accomplish this equivalent time.)

Naturally, knowing what you could run at an upcoming race based on a recent performance can help take the guesswork out of your race planning. You’ll be able to set more realistic race goals and judge an appropriate race pace better. The results are performances that are more consistent and fewer crappy races.

The Link with Optimal Training Paces

The second, and I think most important function, of the McMillan Calculator is that it also calculates your Optimal Training Paces. As was discussed in the last section, there are certain specific race paces that govern certain training zones. And as you’ll find out in the next section, you can even break these training zones down into specific types of workouts which have even more defined training pace ranges for optimal development. So included in the Equivalent Performance calculations is your Optimal Training Pace ranges.

Believe me, this will really take the guesswork out of your training and give you the confidence that every time you lace up your shoes, you are doing the best training possible to make you faster. The challenge is simply to be patient, obey the optimal training pace zones and sit back and wait for the adaptations to occur.

The McMillan Calculator

To determine your Equivalent Performance and Optimal Training Zones, click here. Simply choose a recent race distance, making sure to choose a distance for a performance which accurately reflects your current fitness level. In other words, put in a good race, not a bad one.

Next, enter your time in hours (if necessary), minutes and seconds of a recent race.  Then, enter your goal time for that same race distance. Hit Calculate and voilà! your equivalent performances for every race distance from the 100m to 100 miles as well as your optimal training paces for all the key workouts.

Go ahead and print a copy of your worksheet as this will be helpful in the remainder of this article.

How to read it

Cool huh? In your hands is now complete information on your optimal training paces and on what you can expect to run at different distances based on your current fitness level. Across the top row is listed your equivalent performance for distances of 100m to 5000m or 5K (see sample below). Underneath, where applicable, is listed the pace per mile for each distance. This will be helpful in planning your pacing strategy for upcoming races. A couple of more rows down lists equivalent performances for distances ranging from 4000m to the marathon with the corresponding pace per mile also listed.


Again, I should point out that these are estimates of what you can run for other distances. As you know, terrain, weather and simply if you’re “on” or not can affect your final time. But, I think you’ll agree that having a close estimate makes race planning and goal setting much, much easier. Over the past several years, I’ve had many athletes evaluate these estimates based on their real world performances and think you’ll find that each equivalent is accurate.

Really for fun more than anything else, I’ve listed equivalent performance for distances you probably will never run, the 100m, 200m, 400m and 500m (and even ultramarathon distances of 50K, 50 Miles, 100K and 100 Miles). While I’ve had a lot of success with equivalent performances at distances from 800m to the marathon, these sprint and ultra distances are just educated guesses. After all, it’s likely that your genetic endowment of fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers plays a greater role in your pure sprinting and ultrarunning ability than any training that you do. But hey, it’s fun to think about your sprinting speed and your endurance capabilities.

Underneath the equivalent performances are listed four boxes: Endurance Workouts, Stamina Workouts, Speed Workouts and Sprint Workouts. These boxes contain the optimal training pace range for each of the key workouts that I recommend. No more guesswork as to the proper pace for your best training and racing. Just look up the workout and read across to find the fastest and slowest paces you should run to receive optimal training results.

For the Endurance Workouts box (sample below), I’ve listed the optimal pace ranges for three types of workouts: recovery jogs, long runs and easy runs. Remember in an earlier section where we defined the parameters for ideal Endurance zone training? Well, here it is specific to you and your current fitness level. Just keep your pace in the appropriate range for the workout you’re doing and the results will amaze you.


Like the Endurance Workouts box, the appropriate pace ranges for the three other training zones are listed (see samples below). In addition, I’ve given a breakdown into appropriate paces for varying distances of repeats so if you’re doing a variety of different repeats then you know exactly what times you should run. For example, if you are doing a Speed workout of 1200m, 2 x 800m and 4 x 400m then you simply need to look for those repeat distances within the Speed workouts box. This will give you a goal time range for each of these distances. The same goes for some of the stamina workouts and the sprint workouts.

Also, note that there are two categories for the Speed and Sprint Workout boxes. One for Speedsters and one for Endurance Monsters. I’ve found that these two types of runners need slightly different pace ranges for optimal training. Simply click on each type of runner to see which one best describes you. Then, choose the pace ranges for your type.

Finally, it’s important to note that there is an optimal pace “range” not just one target time. This takes into affect your day-to-day performance variations, meaning that if you feel “on” one day you may run near the fast end of the range while if you feel sluggish, you may run near the slow end. As long as you stay in the listed pace range, you’re training optimally.

I always suggest that during your first workouts, just shoot for the slow end of the range. Training too fast, too soon is the quickest way to failure. As you do more and more workouts, you should find that the same effort level results in faster and faster times until you are running at the fast end of the range. If the slow end feels too fast or the fast end feels too slow, then it’s likely that you are in worse or better shape than the race performance you entered in the calculator. Another race might help refine your estimates of your current fitness level.

Next step

Now that you have a detailed worksheet for your optimal training zones, in the next section, we’ll discuss the intricacies of the 12 optimal workouts, most of which are listed on your worksheet. Armed with this information, you can start today to create an optimal training program that will lead to your greatest success.


Step #4: The 12 Key Workouts

As we get into section 4, it’s a good idea to print out your McMillan Calculator worksheet that you calculated in the previous section. In this section, you’ll learn the details of each of the key workouts listed on the worksheet along with some information on a few other recommended workouts.

At this point, you should see things coming together. It’s becoming clear that the training process can make sense and be individualized to your particular fitness level. This knowledge will begin helping you today as you head out for your run. You’ll have a complete understanding of the how’s and why’s of each workout.

Delving Ever Deeper

Now that you’ve learned the basic adaptations that occur from training in the various zones, let’s get a little more practical and specific and define the key types of workouts that result in optimal improvement in your running. While there are a multitude of names given to workouts in books, magazines and through conversations with scientists, coaches and athletes, my goal is to provide the specific parameters which define each type of workout. Consequently, you’ll be able to read or hear anyone talking about any type of workout and make comparisons to the workouts defined below.

My experience has been that most runners don’t focus enough on the details of the key workouts that they do. They peruse the internet or books or magazines and find a plan to follow. They see speedwork or intervals or a tempo run and just go to the track or roads and run as hard as they can for the number of repeats or for the distance listed in the schedule. This is missing the point. You must know exactly what the purpose of each type of workout is and exactly what pace range, heart rate and effort level is appropriate for you. This is the only way that you can improve the quality of workouts and thus receive the greatest adaptations to the training.

Endurance Workouts

While Endurance is the overriding theme behind endurance training, there are actually three distinct purposes for endurance workouts. The first is to recovery from a previous workout or race. The second is to improve your endurance – the ability to run for longer and longer, and the third is to maintain your aerobic fitness level and maximize your aerobic capacity.

These goals are consequently represented by three distinct types of workouts: Recovery Jogs, Long Runs and Easy Runs. We’ll discuss each in detail so that as you venture out for a run, you’ll know how to train optimally for the particular workout you are doing.

Recovery Runs

You might find it helpful to think of a recovery run as a slow jog. In fact, I usually list recovery runs as recovery “jogs” just to reinforce that the run is very slow. The correct pace is 7:00:00 (seven hour) and 10:00:00 (ten hour) race pace and your heart rate must stay below 65% of maximum (though it’s okay for it to reach around 70% by the end of the run). Believe me, you’ll find it difficult to run this slow at first, but you must. If you want to improve and get more from your training you must keep the effort very, very light.

Recovery jogs should be used the day (or two) after a hard workout or race. Intuitively, this makes sense, but I’ve found that recovery jogs are severely lacking in the training programs of U.S. distance runners. We seem to get caught up in our normal pace or the pace of our training partners and end up running too fast on our recovery days. Slow down. What’s the rush? Remember, the goal is simply to get the muscles warmed up and blood flowing to deliver essential rebuilding nutrients to the muscles. These jogs work out the tightness that occurs from hard running. There is no other goal of a recovery jog. Therefore, these runs last only 15 to 45 minutes – the shorter the better.

Long Runs

Long runs need no introduction as most of us include one every seven to 21 days in our training programs. The purpose is simply time on your feet. Challenging your ability to keep running improves your endurance and is a cornerstone of distance training. While there are debates on just how long and fast your long run should be, the general recommendation is that you keep your heart rate around 70% of maximum. The appropriate pace is between 3:45:00 and 8:00:00 race pace with the runs lasting at least an hour and up to three and a half. They are slow runs with the challenge of simply running a steady pace for the entire duration of the run. Keep the effort easy and resist the temptation to increase the pace just to get home sooner. Give the body time to really feel the stimulus of a long run. It will reward you with greater endurance adaptations that will serve you well in later workouts and races.

Easy Runs

The final true Endurance workout is the easy run. The majority of your training is likely to be comprised of easy runs and the purpose is to fully develop your aerobic fitness and then maintain it. The pace for easy runs can be as fast as your 3:30:00 and as slow as your 6:45:00 race pace. Your heart rate is around 75% of maximum though it can reach 80 to 85% near the end of the run. Easy runs last anywhere between 15 minutes and an hour and a half. Again, one of the common mistakes we make is running our easy runs too fast. Keep them steady but don’t get into a pace where your breathing becomes noticeably faster.

Stamina Workouts

Stamina workouts introduce steady, medium-paced running into your program. The goal is to develop your ability to run a steady pace for long periods of time. Specifically, you increase your lactate threshold pace which leads to faster race times. The challenge with each of the four types of Stamina workouts is to keep from running too fast. These are moderate efforts and running faster does little but shorten the amount of time that you are in the correct zone. It’s much better with Stamina workouts to challenge yourself to go longer at a given pace than faster. I also find that its beneficial to do these workouts without a watch. Go by effort. Learn your body.

Steady-State Runs

Steady-state runs were once a staple in the training programs of U.S. distance runners but somehow fell out of favor. Runners now seem to have only two speeds, slow and fast – no in-between. But the steady-state run is one of the most beneficial types of workouts especially as you complete your base training and during the initial parts of your Stamina phase (see Lecture 5). The appropriate pace range for steady-state runs is between your 1:15:00 and 2:30:00 race pace. Your heart rate will likely be between 83 and 87% of maximum and the runs should last at least 25 minutes and can go as long as an hour and 15 minutes.

These are pretty tough efforts not because of the pace but because of the duration of running so be prepared to increase your concentration to stay on pace and to take a good recovery day afterwards in order to reap the full benefits. Begin with shorter steady-state runs of 25 minutes at 2:30:00 race pace and build to one hour runs with shorter (25- to 45-minute) steady-state runs at 1:15:00 pace.

Unlike the three Endurance workouts discussed above, steady-state runs are the first workouts that require a warm-up. For all the remaining workouts, you should begin the run with 10 to 20 minutes at an easy pace. Following this warm-up (which may also include stretching and faster “strides”), you can proceed into the continuous steady-state run.

Tempo Runs

Tempo runs are slightly more intense than steady-state runs and are designed to increase your stamina. As the name suggests, you really improve your running tempo or rhythm with these workouts. They last between 15 and 30 minutes and are run between your :40:00 (40 minute) and 1:15:00 race pace. Tempo runs are meant to be “comfortably hard” so don’t push the pace. Your heart rate will likely be between 85 and 90% of max.

Like the steady-state run, tempo runs are continuous efforts but you must preface them with a thorough warm-up.

Tempo Intervals

Tempo Intervals are like fast tempo runs broken into two to four repeats with relatively short recovery jogs. The appropriate race paces for tempo intervals are 0:30:00 and 1:00:00 race pace and they should last between eight and fifteen minutes. Unlike the previous workouts, Tempo Intervals are the first workouts to allow for a recovery jog between hard efforts. In this case, you jog two to five minutes between each repeat then start the next one.

A tempo interval workout that I’ve had particular success with is two (or three) times two miles at 0:40:00 race pace effort with three minute recovery jogs between repeats. Following a thorough warm-up, these provide a great training stimulus to prepare you for an upcoming 5K or 10K race. The effort required, the pace judgement and the mental discomfort all help immensely when race time comes. Do this workout seven to 14 days before your next 10K.

Cruise Intervals

The Cruise Interval workout was popularized by the running coach, Jack Daniels. They, like the other Stamina workouts, are meant to increase your lactate threshold pace. Cruise Intervals are like shorter and slightly more intense tempo intervals. They last three to eight minutes and the pace is between 0:25:00 and 0:45:00 race pace. Like tempo intervals, they are followed by short recovery jogs (30 seconds to 2 minutes). You’ll probably find that it’s easy to run too fast on these. The tendency is to treat them like regular long intervals. However, keep it under control and work on a smooth, fast rhythm. Control in training is key to improvement.

Speed Workouts

Here’s where we get to the fast stuff. These workouts are what most of us think of as “speedwork”. They last between 400m and 2000m and are run between 0:05:00 and 0:25:00 race pace. The goal here is to spend time at your maximum aerobic capacity (or VO2max). Because the pace is faster, you must take a recovery jog of about half the distance of the repeat (or jog for the same duration as the faster running). So if you run a 1200m repeat, you would jog for about 600m to recover. These workouts allow you to maintain your speed over a longer period of time.

Sprint Workouts

The final workouts are Sprint Workouts. These help your top-end speed and consolidate your stride and form.

Anaerobic Capacity Intervals

Anaerobic Capacity Intervals comprise the first workout. Like the Speed Workout described above they are repeated hard efforts with recovery jogs in between. They last only 100m to 400m and are run at about your 0:02:00 to 0:08:00 race pace effort with very long recovery intervals. It’s usually recommended that you take two to five times the duration of the fast running as a recovery jog before starting the next hard effort (or one to two times the distance of the repeat). For example, if you run repeat 200m, then you would jog for 200 to 400m before beginning the next one.

The goal is to flood the muscles with lactic acid and then let them recover. Your leg strength and ability to buffer lactic acid will improve, allowing you to sprint longer.


You’re probably familiar with “Strides” though you may call them windsprints, pickups, striders or stride outs. They’re not unlike the fast accelerations that you do right before a race. Strides work to improve your sprinting technique by teaching the legs to turn over quickly. It’s really the neuromuscular system that we’re trying to develop here which is why they are shorter than anaerobic capacity intervals. They last only 50-200m because unlike the anaerobic capacity intervals, we don’t want lactic acid to build up during each stride. This inhibits the nervous system and interferes with the neuromuscular adaptations that we want. Accordingly, after each stride, you must jog easily for a minimum of 30 seconds and up to a minute and a half to make sure the muscles are ready for the next one. Not allowing for sufficient recovery after each stride is a common mistake. Take advantage of the longer recovery. It will allow you to put more effort into each stride which really helps develop your speed.

As you might imagine, the pace for strides is very fast – 0:01:00 to 0:06:00 race pace. Note that this is not all-out sprinting. Run fast but always stay under control. These are quick efforts where you practice good form. You’ll be amazed at how much your finishing kick improves with these workouts.

You can incorporate some strides or “pick-ups” during the middle of your run or at the end. To perform, run fast for 15 to 25 seconds then jog easily for 30 seconds to a minute and a half before beginning the next one. Begin with four strides and build up to ten to 20.

Other Workouts

Hill Repeats

It’s rare that you find a great distance runner who didn’t get fast by training on hills. Kenyans and Ethiopians all train on hills. I find that hill training is one of the best workouts that you can do. It provides great stimulus to the cardiorespiratory system, develops your ability to buffer lactic acid, strengthens the legs, practices leg turnover that matches common race distances like the 5K and 10K yet avoids the pounding that is associated with traditional speedwork. When hills are encountered during races, they pose no threat to you and you can run them better and more efficiently than other runners, both uphill and downhill.

To perform a hill workout, find a hill with a medium slope that takes between 45 and 80 to ascend. Run up at an effort equivalent to your 0:05:00 and 0:15:00 race “effort”. Focus on good form with powerful push off and strong arm swing. Jog down the hill slowly to recover. You can also practice your downhill running technique by running down the hill occasionally at 5K race pace. Keep your body under control and add these descents in gradually as you will undoubtedly be sore afterwards.

While the above Hill Repeats outline the common type of hill workout, I also recommend running on hilly courses often, especially during your base and stamina phases of training.


Now that you have all the ingredients for your training program:

  1. an understanding of the link between physiology and training adaptations,
  2. your individualized McMillan Calculator Worksheet and
  3. an understanding of each type of key workout,

it’s time to put the pieces together to create your best training plan.

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