This is important and something that you won’t (currently) find on the pages of Google. It is a uniquely Purple Patch way of talking about an important concept in running. Let’s first define MFP:
- Minimal Form Pace (MFP): The slowest pace you can hold while maintaining all foundational elements of good running form.
- Check out this Meeting With Matt where the sole topic was MFP.
Now that we have defined MFP, let's consider how it applies to you, using two real-life Purple Patch athletes as examples.
Example #1: Great Runner
Purple Patch World Champion, Tim Reed, in a battle for the win, is surely running with great effort; however, he also intimately understands that his best chance of keeping up his speed is to retain the basic elements of form. If on the other hand, his quad muscles get highly fatigued and he leans (or ‘sits’) back in his run, his effort will remain high (it might even increase) but his speed will drop significantly.
Example #2: Weaker Runner
Running may be your weakest leg and you anticipate including plenty of walking during the run portion of the race. Even in this scenario, your goal should be to spend as much time as possible running with excellent form. This concept is the antithesis of hitting the run leg in a race and claiming success because you ‘never walked’. If you slugged through with terrible speed-sapping form, you will almost certainly end up slower than if you integrated strategic walking.
Ultimately, it all boils down to self-awareness. In order to create and maintain the elements of good form, you must establish self-awareness of what those elements are. In general terms, the most basic areas are:
- Posture - You stand straight and tall, and your shoulders are in front of your hips to influence natural forward momentum.
- Arm Carriage - You have tidy and supple arms, carried with a closed angle at the elbow, with the propulsion of the swing happening mostly behind the body.
- Leg Speed - You are able to retain good leg speed and cadence.
- Leg Drive - You are able to generate posterior activation and drive off the back leg to create propulsion forward.
Understanding these elements, we can now apply them to athletes, who can consciously retain them in training, or remove certain elements if needed. Let’s first look at the stronger runner, using Jesse Thomas as an example.
- Goal Race Pace: Jesse’s race pace in an IRONMAN 70.3 is ~ 5.10-5.20 min/mile. Yep. Fast.
- MFP: The slowest Jesse can run with all four elements mentioned above is likely somewhere around 7.15 min/mile.
If I ask Jesse to run at MFP, he will not chase 7.15 min/mile pace. Instead, he will remain calm and retain all the elements of great form. He will tend to settle out around that pace (7:15), but does this mean Jesse always runs at least 7.15 min/mile pace? NO! Here is how Jesse’s training might look in action:
For resilience or recovery, Jesse would consciously remove an element or two of good form to allow him to hold an easy pace. The two elements he would likely remove would be leg drive and leg speed, but he would retain tidy posture and proper arm carriage.
In executing a steady state run, much of it would be around MFP pace, ensuring he was dialing in good form throughout.
Early Season Vs. Race Season Running
Imagine Jesse running an interval session like 6 x 1KM at a strong race pace effort (5.10 min/mile). In the early season, he may recover between these intervals with easy running, but as we edge closer to key races, I would ask Jesse to recover at MFP. This brings the bottom up - more realistic to a race simulation - and prepares him for race performance.
You may be reading this and wondering: what if I'm not able to hit all of the elements of good form? How does MFP apply to me? Let’s review a less experienced runner’s approach. For the sake of the example, we will call him Phil:
Goal Race Pace: Phil's race pace in an IRONMAN 70.3 is ~ 9.30-9.40 min/mile.
At his race pace, it is impossible for Phil to retain all of the elements of good form. In fact, it is going to be tough to truly retain all elements of good form at any pace slower than 8.30. Therefore, Phil may never achieve all elements of good form, but that doesn’t disqualify him from utilizing MFP as a concept for improving. For Phil, he has:
- Walking: With good purposeful form and intentional leg drive and arm swing behind the hip line to work on posterior activation.
- Running Below MFP: He runs with his best sustainable form, with as many elements of good form as possible (he will likely miss on real leg drive in his running).
- Running At True MFP: Short intervals of work to get him truly running with form. These might be very short, but effective, speed-based intervals.
So how does he approach sessions?
For many, there is no such thing as easy running. In fact, some are unable to achieve all elements of good form for more than a few steps. In an easy run, this athlete would mix short bouts of good form based running (as many elements as he can sustain) with purposeful walking.
When a weaker runner approaches an endurance run, we know that they will be unable to retain all elements of good form throughout the run. In this case, we would ask for ‘best form’ running (MFP) broken up with purposeful walking. There is little point in practicing poor form over and over. Notice that there is a minimal difference for a very weak runner between easy and endurance running, so integrate more walking (with purpose) when running for recovery.
Race Specific Running
When doing interval based runs, or race specific prep, the weaker runner has the opportunity to mix running speeds for the first time. In these sessions, the athlete would have a mix of running, running stronger (intervals), and walking for recovery. A weaker runner cannot return to MFP running to recover as the cost is too high, so they would simply walk.
To summarize, MFP is a tool for training and a feeling that you should chase. It centers you around retaining the best elements of form in your running (or walking) throughout the sessions. It is neither a pace, nor a heart rate, but a framework to drive your flow and feeling forward. You will have a different relationship with MFP based on your running ability, but it will be of high value for you if you embrace it.