How to use your vVO2max test

A couple days a go I outlined how to conduct a very practical way to learn your vVO2max (that minimal pace at which you reach maximum oxygen consumption). Now I’ll outline how to use this number to figure out your potential pace for various race distances as well a your ideal most efficient quality workout pace.

There are reliable percentages of the vVO2max figure that every runner runs all distances. Those figures for the most popular race distances are as follows. These are estimates based on large sample groups and many studies. Of course, as with all research statistics an individual may vary.

  • 5Ks are run at 95% of your vVO2max.
  • 10Ks are run at 90% of your vVO2max.
  • Marathons are run at 80% of your vVOxmax. (elite marathoners charge along at about 85%)

These are actual running paces not not heart rates (which have little to no correlation with paces). Therefore, it is not a moving target (which heart rates are). These yield a target pace both for training purposes as well as projections of your capabilities.. IF you conduct a proper training program for those other respective distances. It would also assume that you ran on a flat course without any adverse weather or other conditions (i.e. heat, elevation).

Here are what some calculations look like.

  • If I run a 1600 meter time trial in 6:00 I would divide that pace by .95 and It would yield a slightly slower pace (6:19/1600 or about a 19:35 5K) for my 5K goal pace.
  • 6:00 divided by .90 yields my 10K target pace (6:40/1600 or about a 41:20 10K).
  • 6:00 divided by .80 yields my marathon target pace (7:30/1600 or about a 3:16 marathon).

These will be quite challenging times. The percentages are most accurate with more experienced or elite runners. However, you have to understand that they train far better and more specifically to events therefore are more likely to fulfill their potential. Most of us do not. We try to train for as many races as possible. Often we try to set our 5K and 10K PRs during our build up to a marathon as opposed to focusing our training on those distances. Or, we decide to run a marathon by just adding some long runs into our training.

Here’s another key finding from this little exercise.

  • Your 5k pace is an ideal pace to run your interval training. 
  • Your actual time trial pace (1600) is a great pace for faster shorter intervals and repetitions.
  • True tempo training should be 10K pace up to a pace about 10-15 seconds per mile slower. (Most runners call any “hard”effort a tempo run. It is most often far too slow.) A true tempo run would only last 20-25 minutes not including warm-up/cool-down.
  • And finally, your calculated marathon pace becomes your goal pace training miles. If you don’t train at your goal pace, you won’t magically find it on race day after only doing faster and slower training.

So, when someone asks what pace they should be running for a given workout you must first determine what is the goal of the workout (speed devleopment, goal pacing, endurance, etc.). Then you apply the vVO2max time trial and do some quick calculations. Voila. No more guessing at paces. No more ranges of heart rates which yield variable non-specific pacing

I’m often asked when do the times move to faster paces. The answer is when you run a faster time trial or successfully race to your target time.

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About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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22 Responses to How to use your vVO2max test

  1. Bud says:

    So, to raise up speed should we train on vvo2max tempo (like Billat 5x800m or 30-30 pattern) or on 5k tempo (on 95% of vvo2max speed) on interval session? What about trail runners training for 100k race?

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Bud,
      You got it. The total conditioning effect on speed carries all the way up to ultra marathoners. The major element that is different (and should be different) for a trail ultra-marathoner is that you have to do a significant amount of your training on trails or roads that will mimic your race conditions. But, as far as training and getting faster… you hit it. What’s good for 5k-10k runners is good for marathoners and has been found to be good for ultra marathoners as well – and you don’t have to do all that much of it to get some good results (even once every week with a good Billat workout works wonders). Good luck!

  2. Brett says:

    Hi Dean, Great Website!

    I’ve got a couple of questions regarding vVo2max that I’m hoping you can help clarify.
    Firstly, say I run a the 6min time trial and cover 2km. I understand this to now be my vVo2max pace (72sec 400m)? So looking at Billat’s sessions I’d be covering 1km in 3mins or how ever far it works out to be in 60secs etc with 1-1 recovery. How is this any different to just 1km reps at 3km pace though? or is it the same? Is it because running any faster than this ‘vVo2max pace’ will bring too much lactate which is not the purpose of the session. This brings me to my second question, where does lactate threshold training fit into the equation? I’ve read various research articles about Frank Evertson who studied the kenyan athletes finding they often ran at close to there ‘lactate threshold’ on most runs (obviously very high quality running). Hope you can help clear up some of my uncertanties. I came across your website when I wanted to do some research on the ‘why’ behind the training I am doing. I’m a 5km runner. Thanks!

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Brett,
      Good question and let me first say I am not a physiologist or researcher. I’m a coach. So, my explanations are at a layman’s level and simplified from what a physiologist will tell you.
      A couple workouts that Billat promotes are 15-15 or 30-30 interval sessions. She has found in her research that these yield the best results. The idea is to run hard enough to flood yourself with lactate (an energy source that you have to train your body to use – not something that makes you sore as some people believe); and then recover enough to allow your body to use the lactate floating around in your blood stream. That hard effort is done at your vVO2max pace with a jogging recovery.

      The best way to improve your lactate threshold is by doing reps at or faster than LT pace. Slower running has minimal effect on LT.
      Your longer 5k pace reps are good workouts and will contribute to your LT development – why? Because it is faster than LT pace which is typically around your 10k pace (88% of vVO2max). vVO2max paced workouts will also contribute. The key then is just a training issue of how much and having the right purpose behind workouts that match your running goals.

      BTW – You are right about the Kenyans. They will run upwards of 35% of all their running at this pace or faster.

      As a 5k runner, a true tempo run pace will not be your best direction for training because that is a few seconds per mile slower than 10K pace. You are training yourself to run slower than your race. (It’s not that this is useless but just not as good an investment on your energy input.) You need to err on the 5k pace (race specific) and faster (vVO2max and speed work) to develop your speed and neuromuscular training.

      The trade off in doing reps faster (i.e. 3K race pace) is that either you cannot run as long a rep; or you cannot run as many reps. So, your goal should be to increase your 5K workouts (longer reps and reduced recoveries over time). Then add much faster vVO2max and true speed work in shorter intervals. Your 3K efforts are in between – not bad but neither race specific nor really advancing “speed” nor recovery. So, that is where I question purpose. All workouts and paces have to have purpose related to one’s goals.

  3. Brett says:

    Thanks for the indepth reply Dean, I think i’m starting to understand it now!
    Ok, so having run my time trial 6mins and covered 2km, the 5km race pace is 95% of this? So all 5km pace training is at this speed I’m guessing. Does it matter what distance/recoveries I choose for these?
    Lastly, If doing billats 30-30 session, how will doing ‘stop start’ work help me to run continuously over 5km, or is the idea of this training to get used to the lactate in your system so its easier to run at 5km speed?
    Its great to be able to talk to someone about all these training questions, thanks.

  4. Dean Hebert says:

    Good questions.
    Yes it does matter distance and recoveries. Early season you may do something like 12×400 @ 5k pace with 1:00 walking recovery and by the end of season have progressed to 20×400 @ 5k pace with :45 second walking recovery or maybe a 1:00 jogging recovery. Also you need to move to progressively longer segments such as 8×800; 5-6×1200; 3-4×1600. With the longer reps (1200-1600) you will look at perhaps 3:00-5:00 recoveries early and move to as little as 2:00 later on.
    30-30s are not stop start. They are hard efforts with easier gliding pace (think similar perhaps to marathon race pace but NOT jogging). This IS a continuous workout.
    As for intervals and the breaks THAT is how you increase overall mileage at race pace. If you didn’t do that and went out and did 3 miles @ 5k pace you would fail because basically you are asking yourself to RACE a 5k in practices several times a week. A formula for failure. Instead you break it up and look at cumulative miles at race pace – 20×400 is FIVE miles at your 5k pace. THAT is what makes you strong enough to do a full 5k at your goal pace… eventually.
    All these elements are integrated into a comprehensive training plan. No workout stands alone or in a vacuum and has all the “magic”. It is the combination of all that has the “magic”!

  5. John M says:

    I can vouch for the efficacy of these 30-30 sessions and other sessions based around vVO2max. I first read about them here last year (thanks, Dean), and started basing my training regime on them. I just did a new PR of 17:58 in a 5K, knocking 15 seconds off my previous PR, and at the age of 51 I was expecting to be slowing down, not speeding up. I credit the highly targeted speedwork with this improvement.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Great to hear! These are pretty awesome sessions and the great thing is that you don’t need a track for them. No excuses for not getting a quality run in. Well done and congrats on your PR.

      • John M says:

        The only difficulty I have found is accurately measuring my pace over a 30 second interval. GPS watches are nowhere near accurate enough. What I’ve done recently, in fact, is used http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/ to measure out a 400 metre stretch in a local park, and then worked out how long I should take to do the distance at my vVO2max pace. In my case that’s 82 seconds, so in fact I’ve been doing more ’82-82′ sessions of late than 30-30s.

  6. Brett says:

    Thanks for the great feedback Dean. I tryed these the other day, definately a good workout. Another question though regarding the 30-30 session. Lets say vVo2 is 72sec 400m (as time trial was 2k in 6mins). For the 30-30 sec session do you have to keep it to 30 secs, which is something like 170m or can you make that more even and just do 200m reps at 36sec (72sec 400) with 100 rest? Do you still get the same training effect? Also, how many should you be aiming at doing?

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Billat’s research actually is very specific. Her results for the best physiological results were 15-15 or 30-30 (seconds) it is not a 1:1 ratio on distance. In the scientific view it is not the same as doing 1 minute:1 minute or 45-45 or any other combination. Remember scientists are not coaches. They use technical scientific data instead of practical data.
      So it brings up a couple points:
      1. This does not mean that other combinations are worthless. It means that the optimal combination was 15-15 or 30-30.
      2. For practical purposes you are right, it is 170 meters for you. BUT, practically we usually do 200s. Does 30 more meters matter? Not really. But is it EXACTLY what her research says – No.
      3. The further you vary from her research the less optimal your workout. It does not mean it’s is a bad workout. There are many interval sessions and combinations you could perform. The point is this one combination happens to have produced the best results in her research.
      4. The goal is to progressively add reps. 16 reps @ 30 seconds will give you 8:00 minutes of your workout @ about mile pace and 8:00 easy. You want to progress to 25 or so. (It’s relative to an athlete’s conditioning.)

  7. John M says:

    I’d be interested in Dean’s take on this myself. There seem to be a number of variants of these Billat vVO2max workouts, with intervals of 30 second, 1 minute and 3 minutes (with equal time recoveries). I don’t recall seeing any rationale of why you would choose one over another, though, apart from something I read somewhere (can’t recall where, unfortunately) which suggested the shorter reps were particularly beneficial for older runners. That’s why I felt happy to concoct my own variant, based on the time taken to cover a measurable distance instead, so I’m doing 82 second intervals and recoveries. My understanding of the number of repeats is that it should be at least 16 (I don’t know where I got that from either), with the critical upper limit being the point at which you can no longer sustain the pace.

  8. kreso says:

    I run on bilat vvo2max test 1415meters, what is the best way for marathoner to run LT tempo workout, intervals or continously for 4 miles or something like that at 10 tempo (for me it’s 4:37/km and faster)?

    • Dean Hebert says:

      The answer is both continuous and intervals will improve LT when done at the right paces. If you are truly doing a “tempo” run it should be at a pace just slower than your 10k race pace. It’s about 15k race pace but only if you can complete that in an hour or less… otherwise that is too slow to get benefits…you have to move to 10k pace. So to do about 3-4 miles (20-25 minutes) @ that pace is a true tempo run for most runners. Do NOT copy what elite runners do. Age group runners are not capable of maintaining correct paces as long as them.

  9. kreso says:

    I must say that when i follow your ideas before 2 years (training on 90% of vvo2max speed for LT training, 2x 10 min @ that speed) that i make my PB in half marathon, so i trust you a lot. Als i have very good results with 30-30 Billat. What kind of training do you suggest for losing weight (fat). Long slow runs (2-3h) vs. vvo2max intervals (or HIIT intervals ) or both?

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Cool! Good to hear.
      As for losing weight there are a few variables. First it is simple math.. more gotta go OUT than goes IN. Diet is #1. Working out augments diet. It does not replace it. So, 1 mile of running is ABOUT 100 calories. 35 miles a week is one pound. ABOUT. (I don’t quibble about whether it’s really 85 or 120/mile point is unless you have been tested under lab conditons… 100/mile works). Harder workouts burn more calories per minute AND have the effect of an after burn (higher basic metabolic rate) for up to 14 hours later! That means that taken all together.. interval and faster workouts are the way to go for weight loss – as well as of course total mileage. But, long slow runs DO NOT aid in weight loss more than short fast and in fact short fast is the current recommendation.

  10. John M says:

    I vouched for the efficacy of these methods back in August. Well, I’ve continued to use them, doing a Billat-style session every week, and they’ve REALLY worked. Since I turned 51 in July, I’ve got PRs in 5K, 5 miles, 10K, 10 miles, 20K and half-marathon, with age-gradings above 80%, and I credit this training with making the difference.

  11. Dean Hebert says:

    John,
    Great to hear. I also use these with great success with my runners. There are too many runners out there who thing that they’ll just add some more miles and get better as a runner. Keep up the good work.

  12. kreso says:

    Yes, Billat style – never miss. Once, i used it for ultramarathon, i don’t have any long run longer than 20 miles, only Billat and tempo, and in the race, i run (and walk, it was trail 50 miles) very smoothly, that suprise me a lot.I used to do a 25×30-30 intervals.

  13. Dean Hebert says:

    Kreso – that is exactly what is being shown in research now on marathoning and ultramarathoning… FAST does it. Thanks for sharing this experience. It’s always good to get a real life example of what research says.

  14. Brett says:

    I’ve been including some billats into the training and it is going well.
    A question though, Is it possible to work the billats backwards? by that I mean start with a goal time (Say 10km in 40mins) then work out what paces you need to run for the 30-30s (as these are usually carried out faster than 10km pace). Or is this counter-productive as you would be training faster than you are capable as you haven’t done the time-trial? (hope that makes sense)

    Also, how do billats work for training for a mile race?

    Thanks and a happy new year.

  15. Dean Hebert says:

    Brett,
    What a great question! If you never did a TT you could back into it with a known time or goal time. I have never done that. But, use an online calculator dropping DOWN in distance from 10k to get an estimate for your mile equivalent (or that goal 10k time mile equivalent). My only caveat is that for many runners – non-elite – this will usually yield a pace just a bit sluggish – just my observation in less than elite level runners. You would modify the workout by using less reps of Billats and then gradually increase them over the weeks. BUT I would NOT compromise on the PACE of that workout. Just do the amount you can handle now.. and grow them. I would like to hear how that goes for you.

    Yes, you can do Billats for mile prep. You bet! BUT the pace of course would err on the faster yet side… certainly not slower.

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