Multi pace training is term first coined by British coach Frank Horwill and popularized by two time Olympic 1500m champion Sebastian Coe and his coach and father, Peter Coe.
In the purest sense of the word, virtually all distance runners follow some sort of multi pace system, after all, most of us don’t just run one pace all the time.
Horwill, however, has a very specific definition of multi-pace training. He noticed that a 1500m runner needed to have the speed of a good 800m runner as well as the endurance of a 3,000m runner. So Horwill reasoned that a 1500m runner should devote specific workouts to developing his 800m speed and 3,000m endurance as well as specific training for the 1500m. Horwill then went one step further, reasoning that adding workouts at 400m and 5,000m pace would improve the runner’s ability at 800m and 3000m. Thus the 5-pace training model that was adopted successfully by Coe, and used by world class 5,000m runner Tim Hutchings and many other successful British runners of the 1980s and 1990s.
A typical training week for runners under the Horwill system would involve a rotating series of workouts geared to one of 5 specific events, the runner’s primary event, two events shorter and two events longer than the runner’s primary race distance. These specific workouts would take place about every other day with one or two days of easy running in between.
Here’s a link to one of Coe’s greatest records:
The modern day Portuguese school of thought follows a similar system. Their key workouts include shorter reps (200m to 600m) at faster than race pace, longer reps (1,000m up to 5,000m or even longer for marathoners) at race pace, and distance runs at slower than race pace. These distance runs are commonly referred to as tempo runs or lactate threshold runs, although the Portuguese idea is simply to run at a comfotably fast pace based on how the runner feels without setting specific targets as to pace, heart rate or blood lactate levels.
This system has produced many champion runners such as Carlos Lopes, Fernando Mamede and Rosa Mota.
Today, most top runners follow some form of a multi-pace system, alternating shorter, faster training sessions with longer and necessarily slower ones. Multi-pace training makes you a better all around runner by developing both speed and endurance while adding variety to your training, giving your mind a bit of a break as well.