The 80/50 Principle

Richard Koch wrote a bestseller in 1999 entitled the 80/20 Principle. He refers to the Pareto Principle, which goes back to 1896 and cites numerous activities where 20% of inputs gives 80% of the result. Others have professed something akin to a 90/50 principle.   In comparison, a steep decline – 30% more effort for 10% return.

Let’s look closer at 80%. What is special about that? If we think about various things we do, 80% is pretty good. Better than just getting by. A decent level of success.    I’ve been thinking about how this applies to running. I started with the question of “what is 80%?” I thought about a 10K race. Let’s consider a runner whose current “best,” (i.e., 100%) is 40:00. This is solid running – for a 50 year old man that’s a 75.1% age grade – or halfway between a national and regional class runner according to the WAVA (World Association of Veteran Athletes) tables. For a 50-year old woman this is 85.7%, more than halfway between national and world class.   In the 2017 BAA 10K, 40:00 would have placed in the top 2%. So 40:00 is a reasonable standard.

Coincidentally, I consider 40:00 my current max. So I can write this blog in first person. To run a 40:00 10K, I’d need consistent 50-mile weeks over six days with three hard workouts. I haven’t done that type of training for several years, but I’m pretty sure for it would represent a 100% effort, meaning more than that would invite injury.

So if 40:00 is 100%, what is 80%? Scaling back, it seems about 42:00 minutes. Certainly not in time: 2 minutes out of 40 is 95%. But we know there’s a big difference in 20 seconds a mile over a 10K. It’s a tempo run vs. all-out racing. You will have your own take of what is 100% and 80% for you, but those are mine.

That determined, the next step was to estimate the level of consistent training needed to run 42:00. Rounded, I came up with 30-mile weeks, 4 runs, with one hard or long workout. I feel this is about half the training load (distance x intensity) needed to achieve a 40:00 10K. So, this is where I came up with the “80/50 Principle” – 80% of the result with 50% of the effort.  Of course this assumes everything else (health, work, family demands, race conditions, etc.) is held constant, which is rarely the case. Still perhaps a feasible hypothesis.

The dilemma is I always want to run a 40:00 10K!  Don’t we always want to run our best!  And we can become frustrated and discouraged when that’s not happening. I suggest (first to myself and then to anyone else who wants to listen) there are cycles and circumstances we go through that may limit our training. I suppose the good news is if the 80/50 Principle holds, these down times don’t necessarily mean our race times drop off precipitously. We can still run competitive times.  And if we’re patient, in time we’ll be able to ramp it up, if to not to 100% then maybe 90%. The Pareto Principle might suggest if I can manage a 90% training effort, this would result in a ~40:30 time. Right now, I’d certainly take that!